chrisrocheB&WChris Roche is a fitness professional with more than fifteen years of experience.  He belongs to an elite group of fewer than 60 Schwinn Master Trainers worldwide and is certified by CanFitPro, the American Council on Exercise, and the American Academy of Health, Fitness and Rehabilitation Professionals (among others).  He is also a Master Trainer for Tabata Bootcamp.  (You can find a more detailed bio here.)  Chris and I sat down to chat on December 10 via Skype.

My questions for Chris are reproduced in bold.  Where the question comes from a reader, I’ve indicated his or her name.  Where no name is listed, the question is mine.  Chris’s answers are listed below each question.  I took notes as we talked but I didn’t record the interview, so I’ve paraphrased and condensed his answers rather than offering direct quotes.  Any direct quotes I do use are enclosed in quotation marks.

What are the secrets for taking on a class and growing it to maximum capacity?  How do you fill the last few bikes?

Chris:  I think the key is to develop a rapport with the class.  Greet them at the door.  Learn everyone’s names.  Circulate off the bike.  Refill water bottles.  Talk to everyone.  If I think someone will be okay with it, sometimes I’ll check in mid-class: “How are you doing, Barb?”

Stay in touch.  I create a contact list and ask riders to give me their e-mail addresses to receive updates.  I also use Twitter and Facebook.  I explain the next month’s ride in advance (usually at the end of the previous month).  Typically I focus on the training intensity, so people can choose whether to come out based on how it fits into their training.

“I allow for personal feedback by having them email me suggestions of comments (like, don’t like., want more of) and especially about music suggestions.  If I email ‘Lisa’ and tell her I put her favourite song in my play list and even found an incredible REMIX of it,  AND I’m using it for a hard hill climb,I know two things.  ONE: she is showing up to class and TWO:  She will kick butt on that hill!  :-) (and she will tell people I did that for her!)”

I encourage people to bring a friend to class.  I also encourage people doing weights to come on in for the warmup, or just the initial part of the class.  Often, they’ll stay for the whole thing.

From Ann:  How do I ensure my class is challenging for athletes but still welcoming for beginners?  I end up saying, “push yourself!  a little faster! a little harder!  but if you need to stop, that’s okay!”

Give riders complete permission to have fun – it’s their ride, they’re the boss.  If people like you, they’ll come back.

I also make a point of introducing beginners to a regular in my class.

Every instructor wants to see people lined up out the door for their classes.  What are the common attributes of the instructors who generate this kind of following?

Chris:  First, these are people who’ve been working at their craft for years.  They’re involved.  They know their riders and make them feel confident.  Always create an environment for success.  It shouldn’t be intimidating.

Arrive early and help with set up.  Plan your classes well in advance – not as you’re walking from your car to the studio.  [Cynthia: None of my readers do this, right?]  Arrive with a fully planned class and playlist in hand.

My motto is: “focus on the fun, the fitness will follow.”

I pick up regular riders with some frequency.  I’ll see them every week for a long time, but after 6-12 months they’ll drift away and I’ll only see them occasionally.  Is this just the way of things or is there something I can do to keep them?

Chris:  There is attrition over time.  Keep saying hi when you see them, check in with them from time to time via Twitter or Facebook.  Just stay in touch in a friendly way.

My classes are made up of about 50% regular riders and 50% drop ins, so I almost always offer an interval ride.  Is there a way to incorporate some elements of periodized training into my classes?

Chris:  I plan my classes monthly.  Every class I do that month is the same profile with the same music.  My regulars know what to expect and can alter their training accordingly.  I offer choices to drop in riders: “Can you work harder?”  If not, that’s okay.  [Cynthia: See Ann?  You’re not the only one!]  I start in January with an endurance class to build a strong base.  February moves into higher-intensity training and in March, I use an interval class.  Using the same class for a month allows riders to focus on their progress.

I don’t find that people ask for more variety.  Other exercise and nutrition programs don’t change weekly.

From Marianne: How do you motivate riders to push each other forward?

Chris:  Have riders high five the person to their right and left to encourage each other.

Another thing I do is put the riders into teams of three and ask them to choose a team leader.  First interval: everyone works hard.  Second interval:  The two teammates cheer on the leader, who goes breathless.  I’ll choose a winner from among all the team leaders.  Later in the class both teammates will get a chance to go breathless while the leader cheers them on and I’ll ask each team leader to choose a winner.  [Cynthia: can’t wait to try this one!]

From Kate:  What are some encouraging things I can say to motivate my class to give their best performance?  From Ann:  Do you have any advice for coaching a heterogeneous group of riders (high school to mid-80s)?  They don’t use heart rate monitors.

Chris:  I try to motivate people individually.  I describe intensity via confidence: “if you know you can complete two minutes easily, add more resistance until you’re not confident you can complete.”  I will say, “How do you know if you don’t try?  Find out by doing it!”

People will work harder if they know an interval is short.  I always tell them how long an interval will be.

Sometimes I’ll hold up a hand and ask everyone to do the same.  “I say, “NOW ..DON’T PUT IT BACK ON THE HANDLE BARS….PUT IT ON YOUR RESISTANCE DIAL,” and say, “I can’t make you turn it, but if you can – try.”

I use a game where I split the class into five groups.  Each group goes hard for 30 seconds at a time.  If someone in the group slows, they lose a point.  At the end of the game, I declare a winning group.  [Cynthia: I get motivated just thinking about this one!]

From Marianne: Are you willing to share one of your profiles (using the Schwinn protocol for zones and stages?)

Chris:  Yes!  I’ll send one along to Cynthia.  [Cynthia:  Here it is (in Word format): Chris Roche Ride and as a PDF (header cut off): Chris Roche Ride].

How much time do you spend in each of the Schwinn intensity zones?  [Zone 1 = easy, warmup; Zone 2 = moderate, comfortable challenge; Zone 3 = hard, uncomfortable challenge, race pace; Zone 4 = breathless, anaerobic.]

Chris:  I think it’s important to know your riders.  Beginners need lots of permission to do their own thing.  I spend most of my classes in Zone 2 and Zone 3 – mostly Zone 2.  If you use Zone 4 too much you need lots of recovery time.

The latest thing in exercise is high intensity interval training (HIIT).  How would you incorporate HIIT into a cycling class?

Chris:  In a true Tabata class, you do only one set.  I’d start with a really good warmup for 10-15 minutes using differing intensities and positions.  To incorporate high intensity intervals, you could do 20 seconds of hard work followed by 10 seconds off.  Repeat eight times for a total of four minutes, then recover.

Giving appropriate recovery is the most important thing.  If you’ve gone anaerobic, you usually want to offer at least a minute of recovery, but there’s no rule of thumb for how much recovery time to use.  You might plan to use two minutes and then modify as you go.  I like to ask my riders, “Are you ready to work again?”  How can you be confident they’re ready if you don’t ask?

The rest of the class would involve only Zones 1, 2 and 3.  You can ask people to hold Zone 3 for 1-2 minutes, followed by recovery.  (Some people can sustain 3-5 minutes in Zone 3 without going breathless.)  Ask “how long can you go and still have a sprint in you?”  You could design a whole class around the concept of ‘peak and sustain’.

High intensity intervals aren’t appropriate for everyone.  You can suggest that people skip one or more of them if they don’t feel ready to do them all.  Anaerobic is a window of opportunity, not a unit of time.  Riders should push for as long as they can, then back off.  The interval is as much as they can do.

From Kees:  What music do you use?

Chris:  I get music ideas from several places.  The Schwinn Facebook page is great.  I’m best friends with Shazam.  I’ll listen, Shazam, then find the song on iTunes.  Rdio has differing subscription levels. has subscription-based and free content.  The My Fitness DJ Pro app loads music and coaching cues that will scroll as the music plays.  [Cynthia: downloaded this one – thanks Chris!]

From Marianne: Are you on Spotify?  What’s your handle?

Chris:  I am not on Spotify.  Unfortunately it isn’t available in Canada yet.  (I live in Toronto.)  [Cynthia: there are multiple on-line rumours that Spotify is coming to Canada in 2013 but no firm announcement yet.]

How do you choose music for a ride?

Chris:  Totally by feel.  Be brave.  Go past top 40, the stuff everyone is playing.  Go past your own musical tastes.  Find a unique remix, explore a different genre.  Try something totally experimental.  My friend Ava uses polka music in her classes and wins instructor of the year.  If I tried that, I’d be strung up.  Listen a lot and Shazam everything.

Having a signature musical style will definitely draw people to your classes, but eventually even those who love your genre will want a change.

When I plan rides, they don’t change much but the music does.  Sometimes I’ll use the same ride with completely different music a year or more later.  You can recycle a previously planned ride with new music and the ride will feel different.

“Re Organizing Play Lists: Pretty much here is the deal: Aside from special presentations etc I need only 12 playlists so no big deal.  My playlists are always on my ipod and in itunes.  I feel we try to save wayyyy to many play lists for some ‘just in case” reason that may never happen.  At the end of the year, and sometime even before that I delete playlists from my itunes and ipod.  (I have even deleted RIDES from my documents. Some are saying,, OMG what? Is he crazy??   Find a new road!)  The songs are still in my library and I can make another list. This “encourages” me to be creative again and not fall back on what was. It’s my musical way of ‘burning the boats’.”

“BIG QUESTION:  Why are you keeping allllll those playlists anyway?  If you haven’t used it in 3 months, delete it. Move on!  BE BRAVE! HIT THAT DELETE BUTTON!  Just like clothes,,, you have to do a purge once in a while. You will feel soooo good when all those lists are gone.  So don’t be a play list pack rat!  Say NEXT! and have fun PURGING!”  [Cynthia:  O, I am not brave enough…yet.]

What’s your favourite indoor cycling song?

Chris:  A remix of Silver Strand by the Corrs.

Do you have any tips for assisting with bike set up?

I trained one of my regular riders and now she helps me do bike fits at the outset of class.

From Marianne:  If you are subbing a class and you see some contra-indicated moves, do you correct people, or just explain why you’re doing something a certain way?

Chris:  I will comment to the class as a whole, or ask everyone to check some aspect of their form.  I get off the bike and wander around.  I’ll make eye contact, maybe touch someone or wink at them.  When I get back on the bike, I’ll say, “If I touched you or winked as I walked around, I noticed something about what you were doing [that you could improve on.] What was it?”

The other thing I’ll do is call out people for doing something right.  I’ll get everyone to look at how they’re doing it.

You must get asked the same questions again and again.  What are the top three things experienced instructors want to know more about?

Chris:  The #1 thing experienced instructors want to know about is class design.  They want to make their classes more interesting.  Often, I’m trying to get them to simplify their classes.  I want them to bring the outdoors in.  It doesn’t have to be fancy.  People don’t jump up and down on the treadmill – they just run.  There is no wrong way to design a class if the recovery, intensity and cadence are all appropriate.

The #2 thing I get asked about is contra-indicated moves, things like hovers, pushups, jumps.  I think the easiest answer is that if left alone, the biomechanics look after themselves.  If I have to tell you where to put your hands, it’s probably not going to work.  [Cynthia: I love this common sense approach.  Our bodies know what to do.]

The #3 thing I get asked is, “Does this ever get any easier?”  I think you just get better at doing it longer – it becomes second nature to coach without losing your breath.  “For those reading this that are lovers of cycling and new to teaching, ESPECIALLY those who have been teaching for years then add cycling to their skill set….BEEEE PATIENT!  Coaching is a skill and can also be just as much fun BUT all skill takes time to develop. So, final answer…BE patient, courageous, safe and Focus on the fun!”

“Thank you so much for asking me to do this.  I love love love the blog and I am totally happy to reply directly to or through you to whomever has any addition questions.”

Thank you so much Chris, for taking the time to share your expertise with us.  I’m going to bet that every single instructor who reads this interview will take something new from it that they can implement in their classes.  I know I did.  Want to follow Chris on Twitter?  Find him at @TdotChris.