Before the start of each Tour de France, Lance Armstrong goes out with his coach, drives the route and creates his riding plan. This famous road cyclist mentally choreographs the way he wants the ride to go. Indoor cycling coaches can take the same methodical approach to their classes, using music as the driving force.
Music helps create an experience rather than just a workout. It gives a class identity, creates mental images and stirs deep emotion; it pulls people into the ride itself or takes them to another place and time. An effective indoor cycling class has a motivating instructor, an organized plan and outstanding music to bind them together.
Before designing a class, understand these basic music terms:
The chorus is the repeated section of a song, usually the part that gets stuck in your head. For example, in Aerosmith’s song “Walk This Way,” the chorus is “Walk this way! Walk this way! Just Gimme a Kiss! Oooh, ah—like this!”
The verses consist of passages or lines that usually tell a story. For example, in Tina Turner’s song “What’s Love Got
to Do With It,” one of the verses goes, “You must understand that the touch of your hand/Makes my pulse react/That it’s only the thrill of boy meeting girl/Opposites attract/It’s physical/Only logical/You must try to ignore that it means more than that.”
The bridge is the secondary melody in a song. It separates the main melody, verse and chorus.
A crescendo is a gradual increase, especially in volume or intensity.
One of the best ways to ensure that a song will work for a cycling class is to map out its patterns. This will help you coordinate your cuing, imagery and intensity changes. It will also motivate your participants and show them that you are prepared. By listening to a song in its entirety and understanding its inherent patterns, you can decide where to increase or decrease cadence or power and when to change riding positions. The song is also the timekeeper.
Here is an example of how to map out a class segment, using different elements of a song:
Song Title: Played Alive (Bongo Song), by Safri Duo
Length: 6:30 (6 minutes, 30 seconds)
Revolutions per Minute: 75
Profile: intense intervals (Participants push anaerobically for a specific period of time, then recover. Recovery is equal to or greater than the anaerobic portion.)
Goal: to increase intensity and improve anaerobic conditioning and lactate tolerance
Imagery: The class participants come to a section of the road where they break away from the other riders. The class pushes hard for 1 minute and then recovers at the highest recovery intensity possible in preparation for another push without losing ground.
Different types of music have unique functions in class design. Some songs have lyrics that can be used strategically or a chorus that offers various options for drills. Other songs may be very consistent, almost hypnotic—perfect for steady state training.
Instrumental music is a good choice during warm-up. Since you don’t have to talk over lyrics to be heard, use this type of music to prepare the class for the rest of the ride. Instrumental music is also perfect when you want to set up mental imagery.
Songs with lyrics enhance the ride by highlighting an emotion or a state. For example, the lyric “Let’s get soaking wet” is effective when everyone is sweating and working hard. When you want to decrease the intensity, use a song that everyone knows and likes to sing along to. Participants will sing in their minds, or even out loud, while they relax and have fun. I use songs like this during recovery after a hard push. For example, “Brick House” by the Commodores is a short, catchy 3-minute song that puts everyone in a light, playful mood.
Sometimes the lyrics themselves are not as important as the patterns, which you can use for a variety of drills. For example, here’s the pattern in “I’m Like a Bird” by Nelly Furtado:
- Forty-five seconds into the song, the chorus repeats twice, taking 20 seconds to complete.
- Forty seconds pass before the chorus begins again. Then it is repeated four times, lasting 40 seconds with a 1-minute break.
- The third time, the chorus lasts 60 seconds.
I designed interval training based on this pattern, using the chorus changes to increase intensity and the verses to recover.
Use breaks in the lyrics to introduce upcoming changes, and then let the music carry the students through the section. Pull students into what is happening in the moment. Cue them to say “one, two” with the beat and pay attention to their cadence, keeping it even with the music.
Songs with a lot of crescendos or energy changes are perfect for interval drills or for changing intensity or body position as the music builds. Safri Duo’s “Played Alive (Bongo Song)” is a good example. The song builds to a crescendo and maintains high energy for 1 minute. This pattern repeats a few times.
Monotonous (flat) songs typically don’t have a lot of emotion or energy changes. Their consistency is conducive to steady state training, such as a long flat or climb where intensity is evenly maintained.
Get the Most Out of Music
It can be difficult to find a CD that offers a good variety for cycling class. Soundtracks and compilation CDs sometimes make good investments. One drawback of compilation CDs is that the songs are usually the same speed, making terrain changes hard to “believe.” Be aware that song versions you hear on the radio are often different from the ones on CDs. Look for the words “radio version” if that’s what you specifically want.
Singles and remixes are also good choices because there are usually five different versions, the radio edit plus a few DJ mixes. Different mixes play with the speed, feeling and length of a song. One version may work well for a flat, and a different version for a climb. For example, the radio version of “Intuition” by Jewel is about 110 beats per minute (bpm). Because of the song’s feeling and energy, I find it most believable as a climb. The music is motivating, but you don’t pedal to the beat.
A club remix of the same song provides a different kind of ride. I use the bpm to help establish the cadence:
- It starts out at 128 bpm. I start a challenging but comfortable climb at 64 revolutions per minute (rpm), half the bpm.
- Four minutes into the 6-minute song,
it speeds up to 144 bpm and I increase the cadence to 72 rpm. What felt comfortably challenging feels uncomfortably challenging as we race to the top of the mountain.
A successful class is like a well-choreographed musical or play. When all parts fall into place, the class flies by, 60 minutes feel like 30, and participants can’t wait to ride again. When strategically used, music plays a key role by motivating students and creating an atmosphere where mental imagery thrives.
Time Notes for “Played Alive” by Safri Duo
0:00-0:30 Start out with high energy and then back off; establish cadence.
0:30-1:30 Music gets very quiet and then builds back up. Set up the song; make sure
class knows what the goal is, how long each interval will last and what each
interval should feel like.
1:30-2:30 Hit a strong crescendo and then stay high energy. Cue participants to bring
intensity to a level they feel they can’t hold for more than 3 minutes.
2:30-3:30 Back off and then build back up. Recover and reevaluate. Ask participants,
“Did you lose your breath? Can you train harder? Are you ready?”
3:30-4:30 Hit a strong crescendo and then stay high energy. Push back up into the
4:30-5:30 Back off and then build back up. Recover, reanalyze and prepare for the
third and final interval.
5:30-6:30 Hit a st
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