Playing the role of both student and teacher

There are two roles in the learning process, teacher and student (or in this case cyclist and coach)  The student’s job is to focus on one aspect of what they are trying to learn and learn it in isolation from all the other distractions. At the same time the teacher’s job is to both make sure that one aspect is being practiced correctly, while keeping an eye on the bigger picture.

The learning process on the internet if far from perfect. The person learning is asked to play both the role of the student and the teacher – that’s not easy and often doesn’t work. To make this work at all, you’re going to need to understand each role, so here goes:

The student:

As the student, your job is to focus on one aspect of what you’re trying to learn. Keep in mind the three stages of motor skill learning: Cognitive – you must first get a mental image of what needs to happen. Associative – make it work, slow and controlled at first. Autonomous – it starts working without much thought.

The teacher:

You need to view the work from a different perspective, which is hard because your eyes are mounted firmly in the front of your head.  This is where technology helps. You’ll want a video camera pointing at you from the side and a monitor directly in front of you. This acts as the teacher’s perspective.  You will also need the ability to critically assess what you are doing – this is perhaps the hardest part of self teaching. Don’t let what you think you’re doing blind you to what you’re actually doing.

Switching roles:

To make this simple, I’m going to say that the student role focuses on one thing while the teacher’s role runs down a checklist. For example, when doing the one leg hip flexor drill, the student’s job is to lift the foot up and over the top at a slow and steady speed. The teacher’s role is to look at the monitor (you from the side view) and go down the checklist:

  • Foot going over the top without that “thunk” noise?
  • Hip not moving?
  • Not speeding up or slowing down?
  • Not using momentum to continue the motion?
  • Not cheating by bringing in other muscles to do the work?
  • Foot not pointing down at the top or bottom?

How often you switch roles depends on where you are in the learning process. In the cognitive stage you’ll probably need to run down that check list pretty often. As you get into the associative stage, you’ll need to make that shift less and less. When you’re at the autonomous stage, you could put a movie up on the monitor…


Setting up the trainer area

It goes without saying that you’ll need a bike on a trainer.  There are a lot of trainers out there, from the simplest fan units to smart trainers controlled by smart phones – seems the world is getting too smart for it’s own good. What we need for learning purposes is simple constant resistance.    Here’s my quick run down of trainers and resistance types or modes:

Magnetic induction:  This is just a metal plate spinning between rows of magnets. The advantage in the learning process is it’s a linear resistance, which means to produce more power the back wheel must turn faster. It’s the simplest of trainers, and it’s also the best in terms of learning with gravity, because gravity is also a constant. The least expensive and perhaps best unit I know of can be found here.

Fluid resistance:  A fluid trainer works on the same basis as the old wind trainers which moved air. The resistance is exponential because the faster the fan spins the more air it encounters. The down side of the wind trainer was the noise – there was a lot of it and it didn’t stop at walls.  The fluid trainer is a wind trainer that moves oil in a casing instead of air in the open.  In terms of simulating the resistance you get on the road, fluid trainers are wonderful. Because they alter the amount of resistance, they make doing interval workouts harder to control.

Smart trainer:  A smart trainer is some sort of electronically controlled resistance unit which is software driven.  There are all sorts of modes which let the user ride a virtual course, or hold constant wattage or climb a hill of known incline…  For the learning process they are a pain because they like to change things.  I’ll go over the modes they offer as I learn them, you’ll notice that constant resistance isn’t one of them…

Ergometer mode:  In ergometer mode the wattage is set and the trainer alters the resistance based on cadence to keep the wattage output. That means greater resistance at low cadence, lower resistance at higher cadence.  If you’re looking to do a workout at a known workload, this works.  For the learning process it doesn’t.

Slope mode: In slope mode the trainer simulates the trainer simulates the bike and rider going up a slope of known grade. If this were a calculation and set resistance I would be pretty happy about it.  It’s not. The people writing the apps for smart trainers wanted them to feel like riding on the road, so acceleration and deceleration factors are built into slope mode. Again, not perfect for the learning process…



Front wheel support:  For fitting purposes I like to keep the bike level. In training, there are lots of reasons to bring the front wheel up. First, the trainer lacks the inertia of your body weight moving forward, so weight shift is always going to be towards the front. For hill climbing work on the trainer, raising the front end is just simulation of conditions. There are a number of front wheel supports on the market, Cyclops makes one called the Climbing Block which has 3 different heights. To be perfectly honest, you can use anything that lifts the front end – I’ve used phone books many times.

Feedback: What you think you’re doing and what you’re really doing are two very different things. You need a way of gaining an outside perspective, which is where the video camera and monitor come in.