On the Theory of Music and Spinning

Posted: January 11, 2015 in Bike, Motivation
Tags: ,

For the past four months or so I have taken on a new role in my active lifestyle progression, that of a “spin instructor”.  And I love it. I like to think that I have a very unique way of leading classes in that I – myself – very seldom ever get on the bike, like, at all. I know, I know…but you’re supposed to be spinning right?  Well, yeah, they  are.  Me?  Who says so?  Allow me explain.

My argument here is that it’s not my  workout – it’s their  workout.  Instead, I prefer to walk around and motivate, assess their form, provide face-to-face encouragement – maybe goad them a little bit if I think they happen to be dogging it – and otherwise orchestrate what’s happening within the class much the same way a conductor conducts an orchestra. The conductor’s not actually playing  anything; he’s simply acting as the instrument through which all the moving parts are harmonizing together towards one cohesive effect.  In my case, that overall effect is my class collectively kicking ass. And they do.

Some instructors might argue with me, of course, that instructors should be riding along with the participants and, of course, they are entitled to their opinion.  But over the past three months, my class has risen from 4 casual drop-in’s to a regular group of 20 (plus drop-in’s), so I’m confident I’m doing something right.  My personal thought is that I can’t necessary max myself out as I repeatedly ask them to do if I’m also supposed to be motivating and encouraging them.  And any instructor that tells me they can keep up with a steady banter while their heart rate is soaring like a jack rabbit on crack during maximum effort, I will ‘tsk tsk’  them and call ‘bullshit’.  The very definition of “maximum effort” is that it’s impossible to speak for all the gasping for breath, so if you can do that then you’re not really  giving it 100% – I don’t care what they say.  For my purpose, I’d rather be standing in front of them and driving the pace than being a silent leader at the front of the room huffing and puffing through the another Tabata interval.  No, sir!  Not me.  I’m not willing to do that. Instead, I circulate through the class coaxing as much out of my participants as they are willing to give.  I am my own unique and beautiful snowflake after all.

Another part of being an instructor I have found is having your workout prepared beforehand, including the all-important playlist to accompany it.  Hey…without music, spinning sucks. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Music is to spinning what this kid’s selfie:

…is to total awesomeness.

Oh yeah.

And, believe me, there is nobody who loves their music more than I (click HERE – need I say more?).  In fact, you could say that I obsess about my spinning playlists as I like to keep them fresh and evolving.  It is a personal pet peeve of mine to attend a class regularly and hear the…exact…same…music…each and every time.


I mean, seriously, variety is the spice of life and having to hear the same ‘ol ho-hum, vanilla flavored, shoot- me-in-the-face boring techno tracks (I actually promise a “Techno Free Zone” for my participants) being played over and over again to the very definition of tedious. In my opinion, it’s just detracting from the fun (well, whatever “fun” there is in having your ass handed to you) and therefore the intensity, and the lesser the fun and intensity the lesser the overall ass kicking.  And in my class, that simply will not do.

So that brings to light every instructor’s dilemma: do I use the commonly accepted music that everybody expects to hear, or do I keep things different by keeping an ever-changing playlist of songs that happen to motivate me in my own workouts no matter how obtuse or unknown they may be to the rest of the participants?

I personally opt for the former.

When I first started putting together my playlists, I spent a lot of time trolling various websites for spinning-themed and spinning inspired playlists being used by other instructor’s in the spinning business.  My conclusion: spinning music sucked. If the recommended songs weren’t already dead to me after years of attending countless spin classes, they were just more of your typical mindless electronic pap that I’ve come to despise.  I still felt I had to cater somewhat to these “spin standards”, but I then noticed that people for the most part were disengaged with these more “popular” tracks; they were more or less just going through the motions.  After all, how many times can you do the same set of intervals to the same song before that’s all that song is – a pyramid of 30/45/100 sprints.  If that same song should ever get played over any in-store music system while you’re standing in line buying Q-Tips or something, you’re likely to instinctively start breathing heavy and preparing to pedal your ass off, anticipating what’s coming next.  It becomes that programmed and ingrained.  I still can’t listen to ‘Madness’  by Muse without my quads beginning to ache, no matter where I am or what I happen to be doing.  To that effect, I had a former spin instructor that liked to play percussive drum tracks while doing sprint sets and now I can’t even sit through a drum solo without getting the urge to pedal my ass off at 120 rpm.

However, if I happened to slip in something more random from my own musical bag of tricks, I noticed my participants giving me a bit more, well, ‘umpf’, ‘hutzpah’, ‘giv’er’ – whatever you want to call it.  The routine was suddenly new again and they had no preconceived notion of what was coming next be it a sprint, a fast and aggressive climb, a time trial, or a long, gradual slog to the top of a mountain pass; they had no idea.  The workout was FRESH again and they had to wait for instruction – mine – on what to do next.

And I’ve never looked back.  If you keep it interesting they will come.

So I’m sticking with the concept of choosing music that inspires me from my own broad spectrum of musical taste.  What makes my heart go?  What motivates me in the saddle?  What puts that power into my pedal stroke?  If I’m motivated, hopefully, they will be to and I can drive them to the same end result of a total and thorough, yet fun, ass-kicking. That’s the goal anyway. And there is nothing to satisfying for an instructor as when a class is totally clicking together with “fuck yeah!”  moments of complete awesomeness, all choreographed together with songs from my big list of “Spin Class Awesome”.  Think of the possibilities!  How many other chances are you ever going to get in life to coax 14 strangers in the same place at the same time, to listen to Ten Nugent and not complain unless they are also mentally (and physically) grinding their way up an imaginary Cul de Mente?  And who else but a spin instructor can successfully combine cheesy 80’s schlock rap (‘OPP’ by Naughty by Nature) with urban punk (‘Fork in the Road by Detroit Rebellion) and old school trip hop (‘Teardrop by Massive Attack) and not hear a single gripe or moan? It’s a thing of beauty, believe me.

My own workouts now are typically spent discovering new music to use in my playlists.  Okay, first, they are intended to motivate me, but my secondary motive is to find those new kick ass tunes to inspire my classes with.  When I hear something I like, or that gets my own motor running so to speak, then that song will typically be immediately absorbed into that week’s spin playlist post haste.  The real trick is in deciding how that song is then going to best serve your participants within the boundaries of your workout’s intent, be it tempo “race pace” work, high intensity interval training (HIIT), climbing, etc.

To that effect, here are six of the better off-the-wall tracks I have found and used recently with my classes.  All of them worked perfectly within the context of the workout I had prescribed for them, and ending up with great results for the participants:

  1. Sweat Shock ( Roddy Walston & the Business) – Ideal for a fast and aggressive out of the saddle climb.
  2. Rise or Fall (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) – It’s intense and never-ending tempo never lets up for its entire 4 minutes making it perfect for sprinting, or “descending” with a fast cadence after a hard or heavy climb.
  3. Yin and Yang and the Flower Pot Man (Love & Rockets) – Who could have ever foretold that this favorite 80’s Goth standard with its runaway training rhythm would remerge as a suitable spinning tune 25 years later?  I use this song to inspire my participants by offering them the option to “break away” from the rest of their group (their choice) by dropping their resistance and maintaining a fast cadence throughout its entire six minutes.
  4. Sophisticated Honky (Orgone) – Don’t let the name fool you, this is a great funky (and fun) number best utilized for a steady “recovery climb”; perhaps between interval sessions.
  5. Vampire (Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears) – Forget for a moment that the band name is the “Honeybears”, this track is awesome for a “graduated climb” where participants are encouraged to increase their intensity/pace in short bursts while keeping in pace of the song.
  6. Going the Distance (Bill Conti) – I have a rule: “You MUST go hard to Rocky!”  Don’t laugh!  I’m not alone in feeling this way. I use this two and a half minute movie opus as a last opportunity for the class to “empty the tank” by increasing their intensity (as represented by watts) along with the music, culminating in the last 30 seconds being an all-out 100% drive to the finish. Guaranteed to get your participants competitive with one another, leaving themselves 100% spent and thoroughly content in their effort.
  1. Jeff C says:

    Makes so much more sense too. Good shot on that! And thanks for the links 🙂

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