Training Versus Exercise…Your Thoughts?


The subject of training versus exercise comes up occasionally in online indoor cycling forums and groups. And it has got me thinking…we need to find a better way to package “training” so it’s not as scary.

Why? Because training works so much better than exercise!

I’ve got my own ideas, but I’d love your input into this. I’ll be posting a series on base building and periodization following this but I’d like to get you thinking about the topic on a deeper level.

Real work is hard. And I don’t just mean tons of sprints and HIIT classes. Those are popular, but in reality, a periodized training program that starts off seemingly “easier” and then progresses to harder training—one that builds a base, develops the aerobic system, improves lactate threshold and FTP, and provides meaningful high-intensity training sessions with plenty of (properly applied) recovery—is far more challenging and successful at meeting most people’s goals than a whole bunch of haphazard interval classes with tons of sprints or random Tabatas. Sure, the latter drills raise your heart rate and get you breathing hard, but without progression and a plan, they are not likely to lead to any substantial long-term results.

While every person has his or her own personal goals—a cyclist training for an event obviously has a different goal than most of our participants in our classes—the means to the end is not as different as you might imagine. The truth is that, with a few exceptions, training more like a cyclist (even for a non-cyclist) will most likely lead to a greater chance of meeting an exerciser’s goal of burning more calories, improving general fitness, or fitting into a certain dress than if they simply went to haphazard classes here and there without a greater plan.

The reasons why would take several chapters of a book to explain…but suffice it to say real training trumps fluff exercising any day! And what I hope to convince you (and your peers and riders) of—there is no reason that they can’t be just as fun.

Especially when your goal is to burn calories. Gosh, I hate that “C” word but I recognize what a lot of people come to cycling class for and that some clubs and instructors promote their classes as a way to “torch calories.” 

SoulCycle classes, and the other classes like it, continue to be popular around the world. The SoulCycle wannabes want what SoulCycle has achieved (that is, the revenues) but many in the industry recognize that the public has been hoodwinked into thinking that type of exercise (translation: not real “training”) will actually lead to long-term success and full-body results.

Don’t get me wrong…there is no denying some people have lost weight in those classes, especially those who went from doing little to nothing on a consistent basis prior to discovering SoulCycle and going frequently. And they should be commended for finding something that holds their attention and keeps them active. But, there is no long-term plan, there is no progression, and it doesn’t get any harder over time.

In actual fact, those classes are not really all that hard to begin with. All you really need to do is simulate the class on a bike with power and include super high cadence, tap backs, a weight segment with 2- or 3-pound weights. Your average wattage will be miserly, which means your true caloric burn will be less. I wish that I could secretly hook up power meters to their bikes and record the data to prove my point. Alas, that’s not possible. But with this type of exercise class, plateaus are inevitable.

And I get it…not everyone wants to work that hard and many come for the mental and emotional or the social benefits—it’s one of the great things about what we do on bikes that go nowhere. But you know as well as I do that there is a large percentage who do say that they want to burn more calories and/or lose weight.

Anyway, I digress…this post is not meant to be a discussion of the techniques in those types of classes. Rather, I am posing a question to you all:

What do we need to do to teach the public, our potential market of customers, that “training” is better than just “exercising”? Instructors say things like “My riders don’t want to train, they want to exercise,” but we know without a shadow of a doubt that a structured training program is more effective than haphazard exercise (even if they go to the gym 3–5 times a week), regardless of their goals. A structured training program will help them burn more calories, lose more fat/weight, stay more committed, fit into their clothes better, live longer, and gain all the heart-healthy benefits of cardiovascular training they are seeking. Notice there are no “performance” benefits mentioned there!

The conundrum…how would you package a training program to the average gym-goer?

  • Is it packaging?
  • Perception?
  • What can we do to better package our “training” to attract the average exerciser?
  • Are they scared of “training”?
  • Is it too hard?
  • Is it too complicated (perceived)?
  • Messaging? Have we been using the wrong words to describe it?
  • Is it simply getting better at educating participation on the benefits?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Let me know if you’ve incorporated any structured training plans into your curriculum, and if you’ve been successful or not. Have you charged separately for these training packages? What kind of success have you had?

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