Last weekend I attended my second Advanced Instructor Module (AIM) for a Les Mills program; this module focused on RPM. This post is about my experience.
The two trainers were Mark De Luccia (presented on RPM 65) and Heather Bedell (presented on RPM 43). Both were very approachable, yet I got more of an RPM vibe from Mark than from Heather. My gravitation toward Mark was due to several factors: I was assigned to his group to evaluate, I’ve seen him on a recent masterclass, and he’s also a software developer.
With 26 attendees, I wasn’t able to connect with everyone. (We needed two trainers because there were so many people there.) Everyone had a chance to introduce themselves (name, home town, release they trained on, and something interesting about themselves). One person trained on RPM 17, and I found it strange that no one trained on any releases from the RPM 40s range.
To get things started from a learning prospective, we all took the RPM quiz:
- What are the 6 Ps? (The main 3 Ps are position, pace, and push; the others are physical intensity, pedal, and profile.)
- Where are the “dead spots?” (The pedal crank is at 12 o’clock or 6 o’clock.)
- When did Lance Armstrong win his first Tour de France? (1999)
- When sprinting for 1 minute, what do we coach at the halfway point (3o sec)? (Give options to reduce load or slow the legs.)
- Why does RPM not advocate using a neutral spine position on the bike? (It doesn’t align the body to generate power as effectively as a flattened back.)
- What is the proper ankle/foot position for sprinting? (Ankles fixed, toes dipped)
- Rhythm Is a Dancer is from what release? (RPM 35 as a Mountain Climb track)
- What resistance do we use when riding on the beat? (Racing load)
- What is the 60-minute format? (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 3, 6, 7, 8/9)
- What does RPM stand for? (Raw Power in Motion)
The bikes were arranged in four circles/groups, bikes facing inward so you could see and hear your teammates. Mark pressed play for the music, and then whoever was presenting that track coached to their group for about 2/3 of the song. (The trainers were just looking for enough of an idea of how people coached, so we didn’t have to teach the entire track.) After the music was paused, whoever just presented hopped off their bikes to chat with their trainer.
I was assigned the Speed Work track (Raging Bull). My feedback was very positive — good foundation and riding technique on the bike, solid and clear delivery of Layer 1 (what) and some Layer 2 (why) cues. The only area Mark found for me to work on was to coach more on how to ride better (e.g., how I can help people ride more efficiently when sprinting).
The beginning of the education section was very similar to the BODYJAM AIM 1 (e.g., the Nielsen survey, the essence of the program). Here are some notes I jotted down:
- Workouts come and go, but experiences stick.
- You should be able to coach someone who is blindfolded on the bike. (Think about making sure the person in the back of the studio is able to get the same experience as someone in the front row.)
- When sprinting, think about being like a duck on water. That is, the upper body is solid and moving fluidly across the surface, while the feet do the propulsion.
RPM is geared toward those looking for high energy, challenge, and power. It’s about riding to the rhythm of powerful music where you can discover your athlete within to achieve a calorie-burning endorphin high.
For the next phase, we learned about effective coaching and how we can be more like an authentic cyclist.
- There needs to be a slope of vocal/coaching intensity. For example, you can’t motivate people at the end of a track by being easy-going (as you would in the first minute or so). Also, you can’t bark orders at people when setting up a track. The intensity should grow throughout the track.
- The RPM coaching zone is 70-100%. Someone in the 0-69% range is someone who doesn’t dress like a cyclist (e.g., t-shirt and workout pants) and is a cheerleader on the bike. Someone above 100% is someone who is so hardcore that he wears his helmet to class and forgets about connecting to participants (i.e., every track is a Mountain Climb track).
- We watched a few minutes of a Tour de France race. Each cyclist demonstrated an impressive level of fitness, showed good pedal technique, and a fluid cadence with the feet.
- Some of the most important things we can coach during class…
- Optimal cycling position
- Use of core muscles
- Efficient pedaling technique
- 3 Ps (position, pace, push)
Effective cycling and drills
- We ride with a flat back. To understand what this feels like, lay down on the ground like you’re about to do sit-ups. Note that you can fit your hand underneath the small of your back — this is a neutral position. Now tilt your pelvis up to remove the gap so that you can’t fit your hand underneath — this is the position you should use.
- When sprinting we shift forward in the saddle. This moves the knee over the push point (3 o’clock position), making this a quadriceps-dominant position so that the Type-II muscle fibers can be used more effectively. This position also reduces the input of the hip extensors, thus shortening the lever. (In other words, it’s easier to move the legs quicker when the leg has less of an arc to travel.)
- Core muscle engagement helps for increasing stability and for keeping the back in alignment. An engaged core provides a solid base of support for the legs to “push against.” When sprinting without good core muscles, the energy is transferred to the hips, making us bounce on the saddle. To strengthen these muscles, take CXWORX or do similar exercises (planks, hovers, crunches).
- Pedal in a circle, not a box. Most people mash the pedals down, because about 65% of the energy comes from that part of the cycle, and it’s easy to rely on momentum to bring the other foot around. Use the non-pushing foot to pull the pedal up from the back.
- Each part of the pedal cycle uses a different combination of muscles.
To apply some of these principles, we did some drills:
- No-hands drill — ride in Cycle Set position and then hover your hands 1″ above the handlebars for 10 seconds. If your core muscles aren’t engaged, you’ll fall forward; if the muscles aren’t very strong, you’ll feel tension in your back or on the tops of your legs.
- Hamstring drill — while off the bike, stand in a neutral position, then put one foot forward. Think about scraping something off the bottom of that foot as you slide it backward. This engages the hamstrings, which are the same muscles that are used when pulling the pedal up from behind.
- Pedal cycle drill — with one foot on the pedal and the other foot hovering above the opposite pedal (to keep the hip alignment correct), focus on each quadrant: pushing, scraping, lifting, driving.
- RPM basics drill — we paired up to assess one another on bike setup and all of the positions used in class. The focus is to make sure spinal and knee alignments are correct and that good cycling form is maintained.
As with most of the other Les Mills programs, coaching is done in layers:
- Layer 1 – Setup: teach the choreography (position, pace, push)
- Layer 2 – Educate: teach how to ride better
- Layer 3 – Challenge: motivate, inspire, and take participants on a journey
In Layer 2…
- What kind of pedal technique should we use?
- What’s the profile of the terrain (e.g., small hill, long flat)?
- What level of physical intensity should we be striving for? (Use a numbered scale, describe how the muscles should feel, or explain perceived exertion (e.g., breathless).)
- Give feedback using CRC (connect, recommend, commend).
- Give options to reduce intensity.
In Layer 3…
- Build excitement.
- Motivate people to continue the effort despite their fatigue.
- Use imagery to distract people from physical discomfort (e.g., imagine you’re cycling outside on a sunny day).
- Drive intensity.
Coaching like a presenter
- Be clear and concise.
- Use Layer 1 cues first to make sure people know what to do (before telling them how to do it better).
- Think about the verbiage around resistance changes. For example, is it a small gear or a big one?
- Coach the feeling of the current block of work.
- Use the current pace and resistance language (e.g., slow pace, racing load, medium pace, attack resistance).
- Be an educator as well as an instructor — explain the how and the why.
- Let your cues land. Don’t give rapid-fire instructions; add silence to let people apply what you’ve just said.
- Create reference points for resistance and for blocks that have repeated choreography.
- Ride hard and instruct with feeling. When you’re really pushing yourself (as opposed to holding back on effort so you can coach), you will look more authentic and your coaching will be more geniune.
- Coach the template
- Block 1 — mostly Layer 1, some Layer 2, very little Layer 3
- Block 2 — less Layer 1, mostly Layer 2, a bit more Layer 3
- Block 3 — mostly Layer 3
As a group we went through the same setup as the first presentation (i.e., coaching the same track to the same group of people). I used some different cues and focused more on how to sprint more effectively.
For my last assessment, Mark agreed that I was very much sitting in the 70-100% zone for RPM. My action plan is to start focusing more on Layer 3 coaching, which is something that will be covered in AIM 2.
The main takeaway from AIM 1 has been that my techniques for learning and teaching releases have been extremely effective. (There’s another blog post in the works for exactly what my process is, so stay tuned.) My attention to detail and studying how the presenters on the masterclasses coach each track have given me examples of coaching that sits in the essence of RPM.
There were so many times that I found myself just smiling for no particular reason. I loved the energy I got from other people who cared enough to spend their Sunday improving themselves as instructors. We all encouraged each other and were candid about wanting constructive criticism. There was no doubt in my mind that I felt like part of the family/tribe.
I had not initially intended to become an RPM instructor. However, the process has helped me really appreciate the program and what it offers to participants. Understanding why we do certain things during class makes me push myself harder because I can internalize the intent; my goal as an instructor is to give my participants access to that knowledge so that they too become empowered.
I can’t wait to apply what I’ve learned for the upcoming launch of RPM 66 and in preparation to attend the next level module.