Drafting With Style

Jeff Burden

drafting (verb) – A group of cyclists riding in a close line one behind the other, taking turns riding up front pulling the line before peeling off and linking onto the back.

Cyclist: Jeff
Insta: @jeffreyness
Studio: New Trail Cycling

When Jeff Burden leads a cycling class, he brings it!!!! From his signature blond Mohawk to his hearty laugh, passion for music, and shy, yet lively personality. There’s never a dull moment when you take Jeff’s class! We sat down together at a local coffee shop, and he candidly shared when his passion for riding sparked and about his recent health scare.

Q: When did you first take up the sport of cycling?
A: So it’s funny when I was a kid, my grandmother gave us our first 10-speeds. Mine had training wheels on it. I have a twin sister. Both of us had training wheels. She was riding out having fun, and I was still spinning on my training wheels. That should have been a sign that I was going to be an indoor cycling coach. 😉 I was pedaling and going nowhere, but I kept at it, and eventually, I was riding all around town!

Q: Who or what influenced you to become a cycling instructor?
A: I was a sports science guy in college. Teaching fitness classes, personal training, and what have you. When I realized that I couldn’t grapevine, I needed a cardiovascular modality that I could teach because I wanted to teach group fitness. This was back in ’99 in college. I took a spin certification and started teaching spinning classes for UNC (the University of North Carolina). That’s how I got started teaching!

Q: How do you prepare for teaching a cycling class at New Trail?
A: I figure out what kind of profile, what kind of challenge I want for the class. Do I want it to be hills, fast, a mix? Once I figure that out, I find music to put with it to make it fun, to capture the highs and lows of motivation. It’s kind of hard because I like so much music. I’ll usually go to different places and listen to music to find inspiration, and then I slowly piece it together. Before class, I get into performance mode. I was almost a music major. I sang opera and jazz in college. I still have some songs I recorded up on Spotify. I sing in bands and write music. (Unknown factoids about Jeff! They should be used for future New Trail Cycling trivia questions.😉 )

Q: What is your greatest reward in teaching cycling?
A: When you’re in front of a group of people, and you’re challenging them, and you’re encouraging them, and they’re appreciative at the end, all the glows and smiles on faces, that’s reward enough. Especially if you have a magical class where everything falls into place, and everybody’s happy at the end, and they keep coming back. That’s great! Also, when they improve after stringing a few classes together — they see their progress and become more confident, especially if they’re a beginner rider. When they feel empowered, that’s always awesome.

Q: What is your favorite style of cycling class to teach, and why?
A: It depends. I ebb and flow. I teach a lot of different formats. Not just cycling. I’m a kettlebell guy; I do TRX work, yoga, and more! But at New Trail, Sunday morning is a prime time — I get to entertain and motivate. It’s a great group! Afterward, I do a core stretch; it’s a nice restorative wind down that everybody appreciates. I get gratification from every format. Different parts of my personality come out; I like it all!

Q: What is your favorite time of day to teach, and why?
A: That’s a good question. I’m a night owl, but I think Sunday morning is a great time to teach — the excitement and anticipation. It’s not too late; it’s not too early. You’re awake and ready! I guess if I was playing in a pro sport like the NFL, you know everybody’s ready for game time. It’s exciting. That’s how I feel about the House Ride class on Sunday at 9:45 a.m. Sunday football — the jets are flying overhead, the anthem being sung, the crowd roaring. That’s the mindset I get into on Sunday mornings.

Q: What is your favorite style of music for teaching, and why?
A: I’m pretty eclectic with my music. Lately, I’ve been gravitating more toward hip-hop and R&B. Thinking, okay, it’s going to be a party, you know, and I want songs that I can get into, and that everybody else can get into, and then mold the class from there. That’s my phase now. I’ve played everything from rock to Mongolian rock band chanting.

Q: What is your favorite song on your current playlist?
A: I’m into old school Eminem right now for whatever reason. He’s such a smart Alec and so edgy. I’m vibing on the edgy side now. I think edgy goes well with my personality. It’s fun to push the envelope.

Q: How do you engage people of all fitness levels in your class?
A: If they’re brand new, I tell them it’s your ride; don’t make a judgment from your first ride because there’s a learning curve. Give yourself at least five rides before you determine that you like it or not. Also, we have a Motley crew of instructors with different personalities and styles. I might not be your cup of tea, but I’m sure there’s somebody in our group who will resonate with you. I encourage newbies to find their niche where they’re having the most fun and then build a base from there. For those with a few rides under their belts, I try to keep it entertaining. For experienced, seasoned riders, I try to press buttons to drive them further. I hope to challenge everyone overall, but one person’s definition of challenge is different from another. I try to figure out what motivates people. Some people like singing in the back of the class, and having a good time. Others are about metrics, focused on the numbers. I try to acknowledge and encourage people in class; let them know that I truly see them and recognize them for doing the work. Everybody’s personality is different, so things are always changing depending on the group that’s in front of you.

Q: You served as a Marine. Does your military background influence your teaching style in any way?
A: Oh, definitely! I can crack the whip. When I sing call and response, it’s Marine Corps influenced. It may seem like I’m a DJ, but the call and response element of my teaching is to get people involved and engaged, which is a Marine Corps thing. When you’re running, and the drill instructor is singing, and everybody has to sit back, it’s not only a morale booster, but keeps everyone focused, and coaching them to exhale. When you exhale, it keeps you in balance and keeps you from overworking and exhausting yourself. So there’s a spiritual motivation part of it and a scientific method to it. I can see how hard they’re working. I can gauge if they’re exhausted. If I want them to be exhausted, I’ll throw out a call and response. If nobody calls and responds, then I know they’re putting in the effort. Some sneaky tricks that I use to observe the crowd. You can’t make it obvious.

Q: Last year, you suffered from Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), and you had to be on leave for a while. Did that health scare cause you to make changes and/or influence your teaching style?
A: It was a pretty surreal ordeal. As far as taking care of my high blood pressure, it’s always been in the background. I knew it was a ticking time bomb, but it was kind of a pride thing because my mentality was I’m in the wellness fitness realm, I should be able to get these things under control myself. But different variables go along with that. Long story short, it has changed my style. I’ve been teaching riding for over 20 years. In the beginning, I was young and cutting my teeth, then I started getting in my physical prime moved by the music exclusively. A good thing about New Trail with the monitors and the variables is that you can focus on coaching, and play around with the metrics more than just being a dancy, raw, raw guy. That’s in the rearview mirror now. I can still be enthusiastic and charismatic and smart with coaching and give people a great ride, whether I’m a frothy mess or not. Because of my CHF, because of the medications I’m on, I can’t really go for it. Plus, I’m mindful of being aware and being present, and of where I am physically, so I have to play it by ear as far as that goes. Some days I’m an open book, and some days, I don’t want the attention for my CHF. It’s funny because when I came back from the hospital, people around me — landlords, whoever would be like, oh, I’m on blood pressure meds too, but I don’t like to take them: even my sister, my family members. But you don’t want to learn the hard way. If you’re aware that you have high blood pressure being proactive is what you need to do. If not, it’s going to eventually put you in a situation; hopefully, one that you survive. You know, there was no guarantee that I would survive. I could’ve had a stroke or kidney failure. It’s surreal because you don’t know. You could be just hanging out, having a good time, and have a heart attack or something like that. In retrospect, I see the signs, but when I was going through it, I didn’t know the signs. I did a happy hour on a Friday, and then myself and a couple of the other instructors walked over to Kalypso’s (Sports Tavern). We stayed out late, and when I got home, I thought I felt wiped out because I stayed out later than usual. I woke up the next morning, and I was supposed to go to karaoke, but I was like, I had difficulty breathing the whole day. That should have been a sign. I should have got it checked out, but I went the entire day. I even did a little kettlebell workout for the Gram (Instagram). I had my double 20, I had my double 62 pounds, and I was cleaning rack squats. I had just started a recording for Gram, but at the top of my squat, I couldn’t catch my breath, and I was like, this is unusual. And so I was like, well, whatever, I’ll suck it up for the Gram. So I did a few sets, and then when I was looking at the recording, I saw that I was, you know, I’m not a slim guy, but my stomach was puffy through my white shirt. I thought I was retaining water, but at 2:00 a.m., when I was gonna go to bed, I still couldn’t breathe. I was like, this is not good! So I drove myself to the emergency room, and they kept me there and said we are going to transfer you to the heart vascular unit. They did it, and they kept me there for a week to try and get my blood pressure under control. Now I have to weigh myself every morning, and if my weight is two or three pounds more, then I have to get checked out. I have to check my blood pressure to make sure it’s down. It was funny, not really, but when I got back from the hospital, I went to the emergency room two or three more separate times because I was freaked out about not being able to breathe well. A lot of it was asthma and different things like that, but not knowing, any little subtle symptom I experienced, I went back to the hospital cause I didn’t want anything to go wrong. Being aware and mindful and being wise about my nutrition and all that good stuff. Yeah, it’s been life-changing. I was chomping at the bit to get back on the bike. My first couple of weeks, though, I didn’t know if I could get back on the bike cause I didn’t have any energy. I jumped right back into teaching, but I was so exhausted I was like, I can’t do this anymore. But once I got adjusted to my meds and everything — got my feet under me, I said okay, I’m ready to get back! But it was hard. I was like, wow, I was staring mortality in the face!

Q: Is there anything you would like to share?
A: I encourage people who have never tried indoor cycling to give New Trail a shot because it’s a pleasant atmosphere. It has something for everybody, and it’s not overwhelming or pretentious. I’ve known Liz, the owner, for about 12 years. She’s good people, and it’s a great place to be!

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