Best Cycling Music for Motivation

by Martica Heaner, PhD on Sep 20, 2012

Indoor cycling instructors are part DJ and part coach. The best cycling teachers pair rhythmic coaching cues with powerful tunes that transport riders to an inspirational place. Here are several tested and true ways to take your students on a magical, musical ride.

Play Music Before the Ride Begins

Why not begin the experience the minute students walk in? Play preclass songs as a way to get riders in the mood. “Choose music that matches the feeling of your ride,” says Denise Druce, MPH, a Schwinn® master trainer and cycling instructor at 24 Hour Fitness in Salt Lake City. That means no AC/DC if your playlist is packed with J.Lo and Pink. But if hard rock is your thing, hypnotic Pink Floyd remixes can put participants in the right mindset.

Scan the Room to Choose Tunes

Beware of getting locked into a preset playlist. First, see who is in your class. Your 50-somethings may love the Rolling Stones, but your 20-somethings may be all about OK Go and Rihanna. “I play Top 40 with new classes, rock when there are more men, and ’80s and ’90s tunes if students are in their 40s and 50s,” says Irini Scordi-Bello, MD, PhD, a Spinning® instructor at New York Sports Clubs in New York City.

Stay Flexible

Even though iPods and MP3 players hold thousands of songs that can be grouped into preset playlists, some instructors use the same music over and over. If you’re still using CDs, graduate to an iPod or MP3 player so that you’re not shackled to the same tired tunes. Let’s say you play a powerful diva song like “The Pressure” by Haji & Emanuel, and you have preprogrammed a soft-rock song to follow. But now, to capitalize on the energy you just created, you want to play “Knock on Wood” by Amii Stewart or “Show Me Love” by Robin S. So do it! Don’t be afraid to veer off your playlist and play a song that’s more suited to the moment.

The key is to have your iPod at your fingertips. If your audio system has only a short iPod connector cord, buy a 3.5-milliliter male-to-female audio extension cable and keep your music player on your handlebars. Make sure the adaptor has two stripes to signify that it’s a stereo, rather than a mono, cable. Otherwise, your sound won’t come out of all the available speakers.

Map to the Music

As much as some instructors prefer to emphasize coaching, the music should not take second place. Learn the nuances in each song and use them to help students perform. Some instructors come prepped with a map of their ride and throw on any old music. This guarantees a disconnected ride. “Instead, let your songs determine your choreography,” says Hardy Pollard, a cycling instructor at The Houstonian in Houston. That means you can climb but should not sprint to “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” by Tom Petty or “Somewhere a Clock Is Ticking” by Snow Patrol. Conversely, trying to climb to a song that makes your riders want to speed up will generate friction that disrupts the flow.

Pay attention to musical changes. It may be best to climb during the chorus and stay on flats at a faster rpm (revolutions per minutes) during the verses rather than stay at the same rpm for the entire song. You can sprint to the first couple of minutes of “Walk” by the Foo Fighters, for example. However, if you save the sprint for when the music gets progressively faster (at minute 2:06), you’ll give students a blast of energy they would otherwise miss.

Identify Which Songs Work

Of course, a popular song won’t always create the right vibe. Some songs are terrific at first but lose their luster after a million plays. Here are two good ways to discover inspirational songs:

  • Take classes from instructors who are known for their music.
  • Join Facebook groups that specialize in indoor cycling education (Spinning Instructors, Music for Spinning and Schwinn Indoor Cycling Official Site are examples).

Speak Between Vocals

Perhaps the most common mistake cycling instructors make is coaching during song vocals. When this happens, class can deteriorate into noisy chaos, with students unable to hear and enjoy the song—or to understand your cues. Every song has gaps between lyrics or all-instrumental breaks. “These interludes are when you should do most of your cuing,” says Melissa Morin, senior director of group exercise programming for New York Sports Clubs with facilities in Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, DC. If you can’t fit your coaching tips into these quieter moments, you may need to learn how to cue more succinctly.

For more exercises, please see “A Magical, Musical Bike Tour” in the online IDEA Library or in the June 2012 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.

IDEA Fit Tips, Volume 10, Issue 10

© 2012 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Martica Heaner, PhD

Martica Heaner, PhD IDEA Author/Presenter


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  • User

    Volume is another consideration. You don't need it LOUD to find the beat. I quit group cycle after earplugs and headphones failed to bring the din to a healthy level. I had my hearing checked at the doctor after that and my hearing was normal. The Fitness Coordinator was no help either on this issue.
    Commented Oct 15, 2012
  • User

    There's a great app ipod /phone app called "Tempo Magic" that changes speed of music on the fly. great for those sprints.
    Commented Oct 05, 2012
  • Christine Oliver

    I found mash-ups to work with a diverse age group
    Commented Oct 04, 2012

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