It’s almost 5:00 PM and I’m rushing to get to my next appointment.  I know if I’m not on time there will be consequences.  If I’m not ready, prepared, and in the right room, there won’t be any opportunities left.  All seats will be gone.

I walk up to the reception desk, friendly but intent on moving forward.  I check in, grab my tag and walk into the next room.  People are talking, there are a few places left, but many of the seats have already been claimed.  One good seat left.  I grab it.

From there I leave briefly to get everything set – water, towel, clip on shoes.  What?  Curious?  I’ve just taken you into an excercise class that I participate in at Harbor Athletic Club – spinning.  It has nothing to do with my work, and everything to do with the relationships we rely on to provide a successful outcome.

I got hooked on spinning sometime last winter.  I’ve always loved to bike on trails but obviously don’t have the option in our winter season.  A friend asked me to join him.  I find it works me harder than I would myself, within a comfortable enviroment, and provides me different levels of feedback that are very constructive.  It’s really one of the only places I go to have someone coach me.

It Begins

For me, the experience begins with warm up and my own music.  I have the chance to set up, make the bike adjustments and get my legs warmed up prior to the structured work out.  Kevin, our coach, has been prepared for some time – he knows how hard he wants us to work, where we are in our overall conditioning, what music to use at what pace, and how to begin the 65 minute time period.  The music is on, Kevin is ready, and I am ready to let everything else pass from my head for the next hour.

The Workout

Kevin takes us through a few songs for warm-up, instructing us on what pace and the roadmap he’ll be taking us through tonight.  I appreciate the context and  roadmap, although his workout names scare the hell out me sometimes, e.g. – buzzsaw.  We’re ready for the climb.  He instructs us to add 4 – 5 gears and get out of our seat.  He tells us how long and when to move back down.  The beat of the music is timed exactly to the cadence of our riding.

Several songs have passed and we have gone up and down through two different music tracks.  I like the fact that Kevin is not the “drill sargent” or the “cheerleader” instructor.  I find both very annoying.  The sweat has already begun, and while we work hard, now moving into a much faster pace.  The 26 – 30 people in the room are a bit less mouthy and are concentrating on following the instructors request.  We now move into a more challenging sequence of songs, alternating strength, intensity and speed of our spinning.  An occasional thought flows through my head about cutting the resistance since I’m not a major road biker like most of my colleagues, but I do the pace as fast as I can.  Every one is working really hard – young & old, novice & expert, gym shorts and lycra.

At this point I wonder if one bottle of water is going to be enough.  I look at the clock and realize we’re only half-way through the workout.  Kevin works us through some very fast spinning cycles followed by some recovery.  On one level, time seems to pass very quickly with his instructions and incorporation of alternative rock songs from several decades. 

I am drawn to glancing at the clock which seems to be running backwards at times.  The more I look, the slower it goes.  We’re entering the final stage going back into a simulation of the Horribly Hilly Ride.  Who on earth would actually want to ride that for fun?  I wonder.  At this point I’m completely soaked and Kevin is encouraging us every now and then, telling us how many seconds are left with each segment we push and recover through.

End & Recovery

Kevin has taken us through the physical peak of our workout and is telling us to deep breathly, taking us through a series of stretches and requesting we replenish our water.  No problem there.  I still have a bit left in the bottle.  The music has slowed, the sweat seems to come out even more and I look down at the odometer.  A short time, which seemed like forever while I was there, but now almost 28 miles later.  Could we really have biked that far?  Maybe the reading is in kilometers.

Turnabout – Fair Play

I’ve thought about this experience that I voluntarily participate in over the last few weeks in the context of coaching.  It’s something I volunteer to do, an activity where someone else is coaching me, trusting in some one else’s expertise, and one that I don’t particularly enjoy every moment I’m in the bike.  I wonder if that’s comparable to the coaching I do with others on leadership?

Get the right coach:  I’ve taken spinning from other instructors.  I’ve enjoyed aspects of their classes but Kevin is by far my favorite.  Calm tone of voice, information released as I need to know it, descriptions of how it’s helping, and of course, great music.  Coaching is made better with the right environment, with the right coach, who can set up the right conditions for your success.

Live in the moment:  The less I think about the big picture and the more I concentrate on the finite technique or instruction that Kevin is passing my way, the better I do.  This isn’t the time to focus on the big picture.  I find that I progress better by turning off my own coaching voice, dialing in Kevin, and listening to the signals my own body is sending me.  Is this all I can give?  Is there a bit more speed in those legs?

Establish continuity of experience:  Kevin offers the class three times each week, over the course of several winter months.  When the warm weather hits, they move outside for group rides.  With that continuity, I know what to expect from Kevin.  Even though the workout is unknown to me when I sit down, I know he’ll walk through and describe it as I need it, I know he’ll have great music, I know many of the same colleagues will be there with me.

Reflect on my overall experience:  I don’t track results from session to session, nor are we asked to; however, I find progress comes in waves as I compare how I did today, compared to where I was last year at this time, or what I can do over a month ago.  More than anything, I know that Kevin has wrung the energy out of my legs and from my lungs.  It’s that good tired feeling.  The feeling of accomplishment.

So this is how coaches work with their athletes – their leaders.  A combination of the unknown to the known; setting up the environment and context for success; pushing people further than they’d go on their own; and having them experience success through feedback that they can often experience and reflect on themselves.

Well done Kevin.  See you next week.  Turnabout is fair play after all.