If you’ve just become a spin instructor, are moderately new to being a cycle fitness instructor, or maybe are just feeling like you’re in a teaching rut, you might be wondering: how do you create a spin class routine? Quite frankly: where do you start?
There have been plenty of times where I got halfway through picking songs only to realize that they didn’t line up with the exercises I had in mind. Have faith that this will get easier with experience, but cut yourself some slack in the beginning—and save fragmented class and song ideas in a notebook for the future.
Here are step-by-step instructions for how to create a spin class routine.
Step 1: Pick a Theme
Pick a theme that will be a foundation to build your class around. Let’s cover themes to consider, and remember this is not an exhaustive list. Sometimes teaching the same class for years and years calls for an out-of-the-box theme idea.
Pick a theme based on the songs you’ll play. This could be a genre, like doing all classic rock, or it could be a random theme, like any song that mentions dessert. To that, you may wonder: are there enough songs?! Well, to start, we’ve got Sugar by Maroon 5, Cherry Pie by Warrant, Watermelon Sugar by Harry Styles, Candyman by Christina Aguilera, Sugar, We’re Goin Down by Fall Out Boy, and so on.
Note: I tend to avoid sticking with just one genre in a playlist. Typically, I find folks get bored if I play too many songs from the same genre. You’ll likely have one or two go-to genres that get played the most, but mixing it up is a good way to surprise and delight with a song that’s unexpected.
There are times when I’m planning my class, and I find that I’m craving sprints, so that’s what I plan.
It really can be as simple as that. No need to overcomplicate it.
I’ll choose where I want my sprints and then sprinkle in other types of exercises to balance the intense work. In these scenarios, I’ll choose my music last, and it tends to be pretty quick.
This one’s a bit trickier, so stay with me. You can develop a class entirely around a motivational cue or mental task. For example, maybe you want to create a class around perseverance. You could instruct participants through a long, triple-song climb while playing songs that motivate and inspire them to keep with it. The cherry on top? You could incorporate cues and quips about persevering and sticking with the effort in class and out.
How to Choose Your Theme
If you’re a beginning instructor, I’d keep the theme as simple and straightforward as possible. Here’s why.
- It’s easier to teach. There’s less explanation required on your part. Just get the riders all pedaling forward and you’re set. Then, you can spend that extra time preparing for what’s next and sharing your safety cues.
- It’s easier to follow. Participants don’t need an advanced degree to understand what your class is about. There is absolutely NO link between a complex class and a good workout. My most simple lesson plan for a 45-minute class includes a three-song climb and tabata sprints, do that three times through. It’s a hit with every class, and one I pull out when I’m subbing for an unfamiliar group.
- It’s easier to plan. Especially when you’re new to planning classes, make it easy on yourself and create a simple theme. You have enough to think about with song selection and stuffing the class full of cues.
Theme Me Up, Scotty
My Star Trek reference would make a great theme. But if you’re not a fan, here are a few other ideas to get your creative juices flowing.
An example of a playlist theme? Songs about the earth: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough by Marvin Gaye, River by Eminem feat. Ed Sheeran.
What about an exercise theme? Jumps (in and out of the saddle).
And, for a motivational theme? Breaking down barriers or obstacles. Plenty of great songs about overcoming challenges to achieve greatness!
Step 2: Outline the Workout
Now that you’ve picked your theme, you can start to build the class. I tend to go back and forth between choosing exercises then music. They’re so entangled with each other, that it’s hard to do one without the other.
For the sake of this book, let’s start with the workout.
In case anyone forgot, when taking a spin class, you’re pedaling on a bike going nowhere. As long as the participants are set up with proper form and resistance, there’s not much else to it.
Classes are pretty standardized, since there are only a few levers you can change while maintaining safe form.
- Seated or standing
Let’s take a quick look at what we have to work with for each of these riding variations.
Riding Variation #1: Seated or Standing
Your class can safely ride in and out of the saddle (also known as standing and sitting). As you cue these two exercises, make sure to keep in mind proper riding technique and form cues.
I’ve sometimes seen a third option where riders are more upright in what instructors call a jog. From a safe form perspective, as long as your hips are back over your ankles and your spine is in neutral posture, you can hinge at the hip joint as much or as little as you want. This would give you a range from an almost-upright posture to a deeper, hinged position. Keep in mind that bringing your upper body low and closer to the handlebars helps to really fire up those hamstrings and achieve maximum power output.
Just think about when you were riding a bike as a kid. When you wanted to sprint to catch up with the big neighbor kid, you would hinge forward so that your torso was close to your thighs to engage the back of your legs so you and your bike could fly down the road.
Riding Variation #2: Resistance
In my humble opinion, resistance is the hidden gem of riding variations. Contrary to popular belief, speed is not the only way to get out of breath. Think of it this way. If you are riding on an empty wheel, there’s a good chance you might never reach your peak intensity. Rather, you need a combination of resistance and speed. Open your horizons and play with a breathless interval that does not require maximum speed, but instead a mix of heavy, heavy resistance and speed. And, of course, vice versa.
Riding Variation #3: Speed
We’ve got the need for speed…between exactly 60 to 110 RPMs.
RPM stands for rotations per minute and it’s just that: the number of rotations your pedal is doing in one minute. It’s the metric we use to gauge speed.
You can measure RPM the old-fashioned way—hover your hand over your knee and count how many times your knee touches your hand in a 10-second increment, then multiply that number by six.
If your natural response to math is ewwwww, yuck, then you’re in luck. Most bikes nowadays have a monitor that tracks RPM and a whole bunch of other stuff.
How Do You Make a Unique Class With Only Three Riding Variations?
That, my friend, is both the fun and frightening part of teaching spin.
It’s very easy to plan a standard class, you choose a resistance level, speed, and whether folks are seated or standing. But it’s hard to lead a spin class that’s balanced, entertaining, and special. That’s where cues and class framework come into play.
Say, for example, you want to introduce a climb. The bike doesn’t change, the class doesn’t change. Sure, you ask your participants to find a heavy resistance, but it takes visual and motivational cues to create the feeling of being on an incline.
Make Sure You Have the Basic Pieces of a Spin Class Routine Covered.
When you asked, “how do you create a spin class routine?” you may have simply wanted the following information.
In a spin class, you need to include the following three parts:
First, you must start with a warm-up. Studies show that warm-ups will help prevent injuries. It also gives you a chance to orient your riders to what your class will be like.
Pro tip: Do not pick a song with a ton of words and/or songs that people like to sing along to. They will not listen to a word you say, and, arguably, the warm-up is the most important time for riders to listen to you.
The Cool Down
You also need to make sure you finish with a cool down. Give riders a chance to slow their heart rate down before coming to a complete stop.
The Middle: Using Sequences For the Ultimate Class Structure
If you want to take your spinning classes from, “it’ll do,” to, “it’ll kick my ass,” you have to break your class up into sequences. No matter what your teaching style is, using sequences to map out your class will drastically improve the rider experience.
You can see how I create spin class routines with sequences here.
What are sequences?
A sequence is a group of exercises that you do over and over again until class is over. For example, a sequence can be four songs long, done three times through. You can also do a sequence that’s three songs long, and do it four times through; or five songs long, and do it twice. (Tack one of these on to a 5-minute warmup and 5-minute cool down and you’ve got yourself an hour-long class.)
The Skeleton of a Sequenced Class
- Exercise A
- Exercise B
- Exercise C
- Exercise D
- Exercise A
- Exercise B
- Exercise C
- Exercise D
- Exercise A
- Exercise B
- Exercise C
- Exercise D
Why are sequences the greatest gift to spin instructors?
Sequences are the best invention since gluten-free bread, because they drastically cut the amount of cueing you have to do. Think about it. For every new exercise you introduce, you have to gab on and on about the exercise, duration, resistance, speed, and effort level—–and that doesn’t even begin to cover proper form and motivational cues. When you teach the same set of exercises throughout class, you only have to explain each routine in depth once at the beginning of class. After that, you can do a quick refresh when the exercise comes back around and the riders will know what you’re talking about. This is particularly helpful:
- When the microphone is not working and your voice is getting hoarse from yelling
- If participants are having trouble hearing or understanding you (which you won’t always know)
- When you want to introduce more complex exercises, like tracking distance for time using the monitor.
Want to check out a few sample spin class routines? Here are some of my faves:
- 45-minute spin class routine ideas
- This “Best of 2016” playlist rocks the house
- 45-minute cycle routine: Steep Hills
Wahoo! You’re that much closer to finalizing your spin class lesson plan. Now, all that’s left is the fun stuff, like picking the music and the cues.
Know anyone else wondering how do you create a spin class routine? Please share this post.
Disclaimer: You must be formally certified and insured in order to teach a spin class. The above does not take the place of a spinning certification and formal training.