Spinning My Wheels

Row-of-spinning-wheels-in-a-modern-gymWhen I was away for Thanksgiving last week, I took a spin class at a gym near my parent’s house. As I have mentioned before, I generally like spin classes, but find them to be like that little girl with the little curl right in the middle of her forehead…and this class was not of the “very very good” category.

I realized that I am spoiled by the spin studio near my house. It has a stadium set-up, so you can see the instructor from wherever you are, a kick-ass stereo system, motivating instructors with interesting and fun playlists and an all-around great vibe. The place I went to over Thanksgiving did not have a stadium set-up and even in the second row, I could not see the instructor. Bummer. As for the rest ? Stereo system pretty good, vibe pretty good, instructor so-so…but the music! Alas, the music.

I find music an essential part of a spin class. When running, I love listening to music – keeps me from getting bored and also helps to shut my mind off a bit (seriously, I talk to myself so much inside my head, I need a break sometimes. A 2-hour run without music would probably result in me being in a irreconcilable fight with myself). I LOVE music while running, but I do not NEED music while running, at least not for short or mid-level runs.

A spin class is somewhat like my old fave, the aerobic class, though, in that music really is an integral part of the class. It sets the mood, the cadence, and dictates the moves to a significant extent. So when the music disappoints, the class really feels like work.

Here are some music pointers I gleaned from last week’s class:

1. Use at least some songs that people know. I listen to EVERYTHING – I have 100’s of songs on my mp3 running playlist, ranging from the Beatles to the BeeGees, Simon & Garfunkel to Cee Lo Green, the Grateful Dead to Guns-n-Roses. I have a few hundred more on the iPod I play constantly at home (aka “the soundtrack of my life”). Name a genre, and I probably have a song from it, especially if it is cheesy and from the 70’s or 80’s. During last week’s class, I recognized only one song during the first 20 minutes, and that was an extended re-mix of “Life in a Northern Town” by the Dream Academy. Not sure how that ended up on a spin class playlist. Even as a warm-up song, it was kinda depressing.

2. Easy on the instrumental songs. They’re tricky and can screw up the cadence because there often is no discernible chorus. One of our local instructors uses an instrumental of Celtic dueling violins – it is fully instrumental, it is awesome and it works. Many others do not. Tread lightly.

3. Mixing up the length of the songs makes a huge difference. Shorter ones are great for speedwork, longer songs that “build” match climbs well. A playlist of mostly long remixes makes the class feel, well, long.

4. Switch it up! Please don’t play only club music because it has a steady beat. I think that there must be a site somewhere where you can download “standard” club-style spinning/exercise class remixes. Please refrain from doing so. This music does have a steady beat, but usually all ends up sounding the same after 2 songs. Snoresville. I love, love, when an instructor chooses an unexpected song that works. I already posted about Rapture Riders (see “Shifting Gears”). Another instructor at my local studio once played Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” for a climbing song. It was unexpected and brilliant – the song builds so steadily throughout and was the perfect backdrop for climbing the “big hill.”

5. Finally, please do not play old club remixes throughout and then throw in Pink at the 42 minute mark with a “Woo-Hoo!! Let’s Do it!” Musically, you have lost me at this point.

I don’t mean to sound so negative – the class was fine, really. A little boring, but I still got a decent workout in. It did, however, make me realize that I am very, very lucky to have such a great spin studio in my town, and I bow down to the instructors for their musical genius!!

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8 thoughts on “Spinning My Wheels

  1. I’m sorry. LIfe in a Northern Town????! What the eff. I would have thrown my water bottle. I really want to experience Soul Cycle in NYC. That joint looks cool. Road trip? 🙂

  2. I have been a Spin Instructor for (gasp) about 12 years now (and have taught close to 1500 classes) and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the music is vital. I have taken classes where the music wanted me to go out and shoot myself. One instructor played Madonna–an entire album. Now I like Madonna as much as the next guy, but there are only a few songs that work well with Spinning. A whole album? Why not just state at the beginning of the class “I do not care enough about you guys to put together a thoughtful playlist, so I just grabbed the first CD I found.” There are also a lot of Spin Instructors who are also step (e.g.) instructors and simply use their step playlists for the Spin class. Drives me nuts. While the beat can be used to influence or dictate cadence in a Spin class, the beauty of Spin (imo) is that it doesn’t have to!

    Like you, I love all kinds of music, from Elvis and Tom Jones to Gotye and the Black Eyed Peas. I am up to about 120 playlists now and I really enjoy making them (although it takes a bit of time to plan them out so they make sense). I also keep track of the playlists I play and refuse to use the same one more than twice over the course of a year. I also try and tailor the playlist to the class–morning classes generally tend to have older ‘students’ and the evening classes are a bit younger.

    Like you said, my goal is for that everyone in the class knows the lyrics to at least a couple of the songs–music is a great motivator in exercise, but if you do not like the music, the exercise becomes drudgery.

    When are you coming to my Spin class followed by the wine tasting?

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