Spinning Playlists: How Do I Come Up With These Things? (Or, What Makes a Playlist)

If you’ve spent a few minutes taking a look around my blog, you’ll find that one thing is a constant: the Spinning Playlist. I’ve been teaching indoor cycling for more than two years now, and though I’ve started to get developing a playlist down to a science – I can usually put together a class in about 20 minutes – it can be a bit of a challenge for new instructors. With so many different kinds of music out there, as well as so many different tastes and teaching styles, the most important part is finding what works best for you … and what keeps your riders coming back for more.

Confession time: I hear music in pedal strokes. I actually had this conversation earlier today at my “real” job with my officemate/partner-in-crime, Helen. I didn’t always, but once you’ve taken/taught enough cycling classes, it just sort of happens. It’s kind of a disease, but if there is one benefit, it’s that I have been teaching long enough to hear a song once and know if it will work in class. I may not have the choreography totally worked out the first time through, but I can usually tell if it will be a winner or not.

I wish I could say that the process stopped there, but it really isn’t that easy (although at this point, I wouldn’t really say it’s hard either). There are several factors that I take into consideration when developing my playlists each week:

Structure. Every instructor develops a “style” over time. I separate my class into three “blocks,” sandwiched between the warm-up and a cooldown. I like to progressively build each block so that it starts out easy, builds up to a difficult climb, then drops down to start back over.

Speed. I always tell my classes to listen to the music, because it will help them to determine how fast they should be going. Quicker songs lend themselves better to seated sprints, while slower songs work well for heavy standing climbs. By paying attention to the speed of the music, it should be easy to gage how heavy the weight on the bike needs to be for you to maintain an appropriate speed.

Time. The club I teach at blocks out an hour for each class … and I often find myself relieved that there is a 15 minute buffer between my class and the cycle bootcamp that follows. That’s the beauty of a pre-planned playlist: you have control over how long the class will be before you even set foot in the studio.

What’s New … and What’s Gotten Stale. This can be one of the most difficult factors to take into consideration, because while you may still like a song, your class may be burnt out on it. I try to keep my playlists updated with current music, but I also try to build in some variety – one of my absolute favorite songs to use to finish a class – Sting’s “Desert Rose” – is actually about 12 years old (and, from what I can tell, despite the fact that I usually incorporate this song at least once a month – and have for the last two years – they still seem to like it. I’ve even had people come into class requesting it).

Finally, always remember to take your audience into consideration. I’ve been teaching long enough that I have a lot of familiar faces each week, and I do regularly ask them to tell me what they do and don’t like, what they would like to hear, and if they have any music suggestions. At the end of the day, it’s not your class – it’s theirs. And if they like what they hear, they’ll continue to come back, and maybe even bring along some friends!

As always, remember check back each Thursday to see what my class rode to that night! I am often asked about my music choices, which is why I put them out there – so don’t be afraid to steal some of my music selections (or the whole list, if you’re up for it)!