Earlier this summer, I was approached by the group fitness manager where I teach indoor cycling to ask me about creating a special cycling class for kids, 10-14 years old. Having done that previously, I inquired about the group’s overall fitness goals, fitness levels and goals behind such a class. With that information in mind, I created a 3 month program called “Summer Fit, School Fit” with the goal to get kids actively involved in one cycling class per week, for three months and concluding this program in time to start school in September. Here are some recommendations, tips and tricks to help you deliver a successful indoor cycling class or a complete indoor cycling program for this age group:
- Always lead, but accept the chaos: In the first class, I attempted to setup each kid properly (seat height, handlebars, etc.) but managed to confuse all of them. Kids have a shorter attention span and trying to explain the mechanics of the bike and its setup proved to be futile. Case in point: I had 20 kids and when I started setting up the first bike, the remaining 19 kids were already on their bikes and pedaling away. However, here is an interesting observation: within a few seconds, the kids who were setup too high or too low stopped, dismounted and asked for my help. Needless to say, I spent the first 20 minutes setting up bikes and then, we finally got the 30 minute class started (and did only 10 minutes of work!!).
- Assign bikes & tag them with setup details (if repeating the class): Much like in a school setting, kids gravitate to their favorite desk (and thus a bike) and tend to keep it for the rest of the school year. After struggling with the setup, I used index cards to write each kid’s name and their setup numbers (I was using Kesier M3 bikes which have numbers and letters on the handlebar and seat). I taped the card to the corresponding bike. In the next class, we were up and running in 5 minutes as each kid went directly to their bike and looked at the card for easy reference.
- Don’t be concerned with ride mechanics or power, but focus on safety: From the first class, some kids just wanted to pedal so fast to get the computer display to show the highest possible RPM’s. I tried to explain some of the fundamentals of speed and resistance, but that was too technical. Kids want to have fun and that theme should remain paramount. So without much fuss, I instead shifted the focus onto safety and asked the kids to make sure the seat is securely locked, their feet are secured in the cage and showed them how to apply the emergency break. Three simple safety procedures that they can all remember.
- Focus on fun, and use teams drills: Trying to get the kids to focus on a climb or a specific routine was challenging at times. However, trying the same routine by using a team approach yielded better results. For example, I split the group of 20 in 4 teams of 5 kids each. I gave them unique names (Team Blue, Team Red, etc.) and when the routine started, I assigned each team a task. This way they remained focused on one objective. When one team started a task such as a climb, I asked the remaining teams to pedal at moderate speeds but cheer on the team that is currently climbing. Because their friends were on that team, kids felt engaged and participated in all of the remaining drills. As we alternated turns, every kid got a chance to participate in a drill and cheer their friends.
- Curate a playlist: All of this would not have been easy without a properly curated playlist. So how does an adult like me curate a playlist for 10-14 year old kids? Simple, call on your kids (if you have any in the age group), your nieces, nephews and friends’ kids. Ask them what is popular, what they listen to, names of artists, characters in favorite TV shows and the like. You want to show that you are connected to your participants. So the playlist included songs they are familiar with, songs they can sing to and songs that come from popular TV shows or movies. While there are plenty of songs and playlists to choose from, I picked songs performed by Kidz Bop which are mainstream and clean (click the image to enlarge).
- Don’t forget hydration & recovery: Both of these elements are equally important for adults as well as for kids. I brought a case of water to class as I did not expect the kids to have water bottles. Sure enough, they did not and having water on hand is much better than having to stop for a water break and disrupt the follow of class.
- Breaks, engagement & rewards: Treating this class as if it were in a school setting, I give the kids 1-2 minute breaks every 10 minutes and asked them about their reaction, what they liked and what they did not like. Keeping them engaged prevented them from drifting away and becoming distracted. Next, I engaged them with simple Q&A (while on the bike as well when walking around the room) such as what is their favorite subject in school, favorite teacher, favorite foods, best movie and so on. Once they were given an opportunity to participate, they appeared more at ease on the bike and getting back to drills was not as difficult. Finally, I purchased small gifts to hand out when they answered my questions and also give them additional gifts at the end of each class. Some of these gifts included sports bottles that can be refilled, medals for completing a routine, glow sticks, glow bracelets and the like.
- Follow proven recommendations: Spinning(R) suggests that “Spinner bikes are suitable for individuals who are at least 4 feet, 11 inches tall; however, this is not an exact minimum height, because leg and torso length are also determining factors.”
- Define program rules: As a good steward for indoor cycling programs, you and your facility’s general manager should collaborate on ensuring that the following rules are in place (adapted from Spinning.com):
- Be sure to have a signed permission slip on file from a parent or guardian before any participant under the age of 18 gets on a bike.
- Get a parent or legal guardian’s contact information, a release of liability waiver, and any relevant health information (e.g., if a child has asthma).
- Request that participants who have asthma or other medical conditions inform you, and that they bring their inhalers or other necessary medications to class.
- Have a strict, no-nonsense policy against horseplay on or around the bikes.
- Be sure that shoe laces are securely tied and not in danger of getting wrapped up on a pedal or crank arm.
With the program I designed and implemented, I felt that a significant impact can be made on kids who may not participate in regular physical activities. By sharing with them the concept, application and benefits of indoor cycling, my hope is that those kids, one day, will embark on their fitness journey and chart a course for a healthier and more fulfilling lifestyle. Ride On. Tom