For this week’s blog post, I interviewed Marty Balawejder, a spin instructor at the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, about the music he uses during his classes. Marty joined the YMCA back in 1998 and over time became involved in a variety of classes, including step, kickboxing, and Pilates. Then he started spinning.
At first, Marty wasn’t fond of the spin classes because he “couldn’t stand the hard core rock they were playing.” But once he became a certified instructor, he started playing dance, house, and funk music because “all these have a beat that people could relate to.” He still tries to find music with a consistent, prominent beat to play during his classes. With a beat that people can hear, it’s easy for them to coordinate their movements so that they can pedal in time. Marty also finds that people stay motivated when they’re trying to match a beat.
When preparing for a class, Marty always chooses music that will fit the type of workout that he’s planning on doing with participants. In general, his classes involve four types of workouts: endurance, strength, intervals, and race day. Each of these has a different structure and therefore, different musical considerations.
Marty’s endurance workouts all begin with a five to ten minute warm-up. Then he plays music in the 125-130 BPM range to get each participant working out strenuously at 75-80% of his/her maximum heart rate. During the workouts, participants alternate between periods of steady movement at a heart rate of 75% and short periods when they push their heart rates up to 80-85%. They finish the workouts with a cool down.
When participants are between 75-80% of their maximum heart rates in an endurance workout, Marty plays songs like “One Night Only” by Beyoncé and “Lips Like Sugar” by Echo & the Bunnymen. To move participants’ heart rates up around 85%, Marty uses songs in the 135-140 BPM range. At the end of endurance workouts, Marty helps participants cool down by playing songs like Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon” or Bobby Darin’s version of “Beyond the Sea.”
In contrast, strength workouts involve simulated hill climbs. When participants are climbing and adding resistance, Marty usually has them pedal to songs in the 120-130 BPM range. Sometimes he has the class do shorter climbs to music around 140 BPM. These more intense climbs last no more than 5 minutes. Two examples of songs that Marty uses for hill climbs are “Nothing but a Heartache” by Freemasons and “Not Exactly” by deadmau5.
During interval workouts, participants alternate between sprints, when they add resistance and build their heart rates, and recovery periods. In Marty’s interval workouts, the tempo of the music fluctuates between a maximum of 140 BPM during the sprints and a minimum of 120 BPM during the recovery periods. One song Marty likes to use for sprints is “Sunshine” by Dance Nation. To facilitate an active recovery from a sprint (or a powerful hill climb), Marty typically plays a song around 120 BPM. He likes to play songs by bands like Coldplay or the Killers during this time to give participants a break from pedaling to a driving beat.
Marty uses the race day format less frequently than the other three class structures. Race day classes only go for 45 minutes (as opposed to some of the other classes, which can go for an hour) because they push participants to work out at higher heart rates. During these classes, Marty has participants do a five to ten minute warm-up at a faster pace (usually around 130 BPM). Participants then work out between 130 and 140 BPM for about 30 minutes before they move into a slower, five minute cool down. For his race day workouts, Marty plays songs like “True Believer” by E-Type and “Follow the Leader” by The Soca Boys.
To find songs like the examples given above, Marty explores the recommended artist section on YouTube or visits Beatport.com. Once he has the right music for a class, he mixes his selections into a playlist with MixMeister software, which allows him to create seamless transitions between songs so that the beats of one song blend into the beats of the next. This encourages participants to keep pedaling throughout the workout.
If you are interested in learning more about Marty’s spin music, I encourage you to attend one of his classes at the following times and locations: