indoor cycling class with instructor

It’s hard to believe how popular indoor cycling has become. Years ago, I thought the Spinning classes only attracted hardcore cyclists who needed some tough, motivational workouts when they finished up in the weight room.

As it turns out, tons of people are taking up indoor cycling just for the sake of taking these classes. It’s not uncommon for people to attend these sessions five days per week. (Last week, one of my friends did three classes in a 24-hour span!) You don’t have to be a cyclist to enjoy them, and hey, it sure beats running on a treadmill by yourself for an hour!

The thing is, there is so much variety out there, so many options. Spinning is not the only brand name anymore – SoulCycle, Flywheel, CycleBar, and Peloton are all making names for themselves.

And I’m pretty sure people aren’t choosing classes based on which model of stationary bike is in the studio. I’m betting it’s the instructor that really makes the class.

So I wondered…

What makes a good indoor cycling instructor?

Here’s what some frequent class goers had to say:

1. No two classes have the same playlist

“At Soul Cycle, Madison is my top favorite because her music is by far the best. No two classes have the same playlist and there’s a good blend of remixes, rap, hip hop, and pop. Each song makes you want to dance so you forget that you’re working so hard! I also love being taught by her. After one of my first classes with her she came up to me, introduced herself, and asked for my name. Now each time I come she knows who I am and says hello. I also love her comments as we ride. She offers great corrections and doesn’t waste time getting too meditative or try to preach to her riders. I also love spinning with Madison because she is a challenge, no class with her is ever easy and I’m always drenched in sweat.”

Jordan McMullen
New York, NY

2. A motivational attitude to help you push through it

“As an avid spinner and certified SPIN instructor, I believe that a high energy (heavy beat) playlist combined with an instructor with high energy, motivational attitude is key in SPIN. It’s a tough, individual workout. You don’t necessarily have a team to push for, you have to push the workout for yourself. Having a good instructor to coach you through it helps.”

Ashli Stempel
Greenfield, MA

3. An exuberant amount of energy

“Spinning instructors must have an exuberant amount of energy. It is apparent when an instructor is genuinely enjoying themselves. An instructor’s positive and upbeat attitude will resonate throughout the room and will be contagious to participants. Behaviors such as delivering instruction with a smile and saying positive, inspirational thoughts to motivate the class helps participants at all fitness levels reach their spin goals. I also like when the instructors clip out of their bikes and travel throughout the room, encouraging participants and giving those riders that may need a little boost, the attention they need to finish the class strong. A great spin instructor with a positive, go-getter attitude and genuine nature that they care about their participants always sets the class apart.”

Nichole Hetchkop
New York, NY
SWERVE Fitness Participant

4. They really push me (and encourage me at the same time)

“I love two specific coaches for the very reason that they really push me and encourage me at the same time. The music is awesome for both of these instructors (and as a former rock radio disc jockey, the music HAS to be great) and they obviously set the pace by working really hard themselves. Music, attitude, love of the exertion. That’s what makes me get up and show up.”

Laura Wilkinson Sinton
Atlanta, GA

5. Theme rides are fun

“Enthusiasm and energy for the ride make a great instructor. Theme rides are a fun way to mix up the music and make people smile, for example a Valentine’s Day ride with love songs or a Super bowl ride with jock jams. As an instructor, I connect with my riders by using their names throughout the ride and encouraging them on the hardest climbs or grueling sprints.”

Sarah Nelson
Austin, TX

6. Dog attacks (figuratively speaking!)

“Indoor cycling class is repetitive. I am constantly giving reminders of form over and over and over (because people honestly forget when they struggle,) but to make things fun, we also have races with each other, climb hills with a ‘lead’ and there is yelling. But the favorite is probably dog attacks. Great fun that takes from the monotony of reminders!!”

Alexandra Allred
Main Street Gym
Midlothian, TX

7. When she calls out our names in class

“I am a regular at Revolution Indoor Cycling Studio in Pine Brook, New Jersey and just started in December and am hooked! Owner Traci Sakellakis has provided classes at times that fit my busy work schedule, music that gets me excited to break a sweat, and an attitude that makes me want to work hard. Something so small that goes so far is that she calls out our names in class. When I hear her yelling ‘You got this, Candace’ it goes so far and makes me feel like I’m a part of the spinning family.”

Candace Disler
Caldwell, NJ

8. They vary workouts and explain what’s ahead

“First, they vary their work out — last week for instance we did speed, this week hills, next time it will be something else. Second, they explain what’s ahead — he comes in every morning and says this is what we’re doing, these are the intervals, this is what’s ahead. Jason, for instance, will take a white board marker and draw on the mirror ‘the flats and hills’ we will be doing over the next hour.”

Allen Kamrava MD MBA
Beverly Hills, CA

9. Challenging workouts

“Challenging workouts. Sometimes, instructors seem to ‘dumb it down’ for the spinners for reasons unknown — maybe they don’t want anyone to be angry with them for working them too hard — who knows. For me, the harder the better, as long as there are breaks to catch our breath and grab some water scattered throughout the hour.”

Philip Mandel
Beaverton, OR

To sum it up, a good instructor will be using good music that fits the class, always switching things up but letting you know what’s going on, challenging you, encouraging you, motivating you, and making it exciting the whole time!

You could get a stationary bike for your home, but it won’t be like going to class – you’d be missing out on virtually every single thing mentioned above!


What should you AVOID in your classes?

Going by the descriptions above, these classes sound awesome! Unfortunately, that’s not always the reality. If you’ve taken classes before, or even just walked past the window to the cycling room at a big gym, you may have witnessed some funky stuff that looks nothing like cycling.

For this I referred back to Jennifer Sage, head of the Indoor Cycling Association (ICA) and author of “Keep It Real In Your Indoor Cycling Classes.” The book really opened my eyes to some of the horrors of indoor cycling classes.

Jennifer got certified as a Spinning instructor back in 1997, so she has seen it all, and it boils down to an issue of safety. While you probably won’t hurt yourself during class, you’re putting your long-term health in jeopardy.

Here are just a few things to watch out for:

On-bike weight lifting

Who has time to hit the weight room? Why not do shoulder presses, bicep curls, and push ups while riding? Well, considering that is going to diminish your cycling workout without providing any true resistance training benefits, hopefully you have time to hit the weight room. (And you will, if you skip that instructor’s class!)

Cadences of 120+ rpm

High cadence drills are used by many cyclists training for improved race performance because they can be very effective. But developing the ability to ride at a high cadence takes time, and it’s definitely not something to be taken lightly. As in, don’t try to spin your worn out legs uncontrollably fast in the middle of a workout — if you’re not prepared.


Some instructors have you swing your arms around like you’re taking a step aerobics class. Or maybe they’re taking “dancing on the pedals” too literally. While this might feel like you’re doing more work, it’s actually just distracting you from the real workout, so you get less benefit from the class. Everyone likes a fun, motivating instructor who provides real encouragement – not fluff.

If you happen to have a copy of her book, see:

  • Chapter 3, Qualities of a good IDC instructor
  • Chapter 8: Unsafe (But Popular) Movements and Techniques in Indoor Cycling

for much more detail.

If not, this is an excellent article to read: “13 popular movements that all cyclists (and non-cyclists alike) should avoid in indoor cycling classes, and why”


Now go find a good teacher who knows what they’re doing, and you can have a fun, motivating, challenging workout!


[This article was first published on February 4, 2015. It was revised and republished on April 9, 2018 to take into consideration the rising popularity of certain spinning classes and bikes.]

Photo credit: European University of Madrid

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  1. All the gyms should use this as a new hire checklist!

  2. @Cynthia

    Not a bad idea! That, or as a guideline for current instructors.

    Feel free to send this link to any of your local gyms and fitness centers! 😉

  3. What is your professional opinion of Soul Cycle?

    • @Eileen

      Well I’m not a professional SPIN instructor. I might prescribe indoor trainer workouts but that’s as close as it gets!

      On top of that, I don’t know much about Soul Cycle. I’ve never taken one of their classes. I prefer to ride outside, and since I think it’s one of those full body group fitness class type workouts (rather than a pure cycling class,) I’d rather do something like pickup soccer or hockey (which I find to be a far more fun group activity!)

  4. Mmm nice tips, i will think about hire one in my country 🙂 thanks!

  5. I’ve been thinking about getting some indoor cycling classes for my wife and I. I’m glad you talked about how cadences of 120 rpm being good for cycling. I’m going to have to look for a few good indoor cycling options and see what’s available here locally!

  6. I just started teaching Cycling (taught 5 classes so far), and the hardest part for me is giving instruction/motivation while riding. Basically talking is exhausting. I notice how much easier it is to just take a class than it is to teach one. But when it comes to laying down a challenging ride, I use my 20+ years of mountain biking to create rides that remind me of trails. It’s a real butt-kicker, and so far students enjoy it… I work them pretty hard.

  7. I actually took a class or two at Verticity in Nashville and the instructors actually possessed a few of these traits!

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