Do you spin? I do, but I find that the music, pacing and general energy of the class can make a BIG difference in whether I come back for more. And what drives those three factors? The quality of the spin instructor. My friend Amarachi went from the student seat to the instructor seat and was kind enough to share her history with spin and what you should consider, whether you’re a newbie, a seasoned student or thinking of becoming an instructor.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I am currently an MBA student at The Wharton School, where I’m studying Entrepreneurial Management and Marketing. Before, I worked for 5+ years in finance, strategy and business development. As far as spinning, I first really got into it between my first and second ACL reconstruction surgery, as a non-impact way to stay fit. Then, after college, with my ACL re-repaired, I started participating in triathlons and long distance cycling competitions to counteract the stress and sedentary lifestyle that came with being an investment banker. While I also practice yoga and pilates, my love of music and really hard cardio has kept me on the spin bike for over a decade. I love a wide variety of music (indie rock, pop, hip hop, techno, country– you name it!) and try to display that in my classes, while balancing my music choices with a structure that allows everyone, from a first-timer to a seasoned athlete, to feel challenged and motivated to achieve more. I’m both Madd Dogg and Schwinn certified and I currently teach Spinning® classes at several Philadelphia-area gyms, including Weston Fitness, Pottruck Fitness Center, and Body Cycle Studio.
2. What’s your fitness story? Were you involved in exercise activities from a young age or is your focus on fitness a new development?
My interest in fitness definitely started very early. My Mom has always been somewhat of a fitness fanatic, so some of my early memories are “working out” with her as a toddler. I was involved with gymnastics when I was younger, and then got into field hockey and pole vaulting in high school. However, I tore my ACL my senior year of high school and that forced me to start exploring new forms of exercise (yoga, pilates, spinning) to keep my knees both healthy and strong enough to do the more high intensity exercises I love. Currently, because I’m in grad school, I’m working out a lot less than I normally do, but I try to attend pilates and Ashtanga yoga classes whenever I can. I also love plyometric workouts like Insanity®, though it requires a bit more dedication than I can currently devote to it if I want to stay injury-free.
3. What attracted you to spinning as a form of exercise?
After tearing my ACL the first time, one of the few things I was cleared to do was ride an exercise bike. One of my field hockey coaches was a Spinning instructor, so I’d been exposed to spinning during pre-seasons in high school, but it wasn’t till I moved to Boston for college, and joined Healthworks gym that I really got into it. The head of the Spinning program there was this guy Jonathan Malone, and he’s just an amazing Spinning teacher – great workouts, great music, great intensity, etc. I don’t think Spinning was exactly what my doctor had in mind when he cleared me to use an exercise bike, but I was hooked and made it work.
4. Why did you decide to become a spin instructor? Was there a particular event or moment that contributed to your decision?
The idea of being a fitness instructor is something that I’d thought of off and on for some time, but it wasn’t until this last year that I decided to focus on Spinning and went on to receive the training to do it. For years, trainers and fitness instructors I’d work out with would suggest I start teaching, but I never took it too seriously. However, in 2008, I moved back to the East Coast from California without a job, and started volunteering at a yoga studio in exchange for free classes. It wasn’t long before I started to explore becoming a yoga teacher myself. Yet, when I was finally ready to commit to the expense and time (several thousand dollars and about a year), I got a “real job” and moved to DC. I joined a yoga studio in DC where I met a really inspiring Pilates teacher, Mariska Breland, and she encouraged me to train under her to teach a form of Pilates she invented, Fuse Pilates. But again, life got in the way and I found there was no way to fully commit to the time needed to train while also applying to business school. Fast forward several months when I had gotten into school and moved to Philadelphia. I put together a budget and realized that I would either have to find a way to make extra income or learn to really love Ramen! 😉 My sister suggested that I teach fitness classes and because Spinning combines my love of music and cardio, with her financial assistance, I went ahead and got trained to teach.
5. How did you become a spin instructor? Are there certain certifications/qualifications required? If so, what training did you have to do to get them?
I am both Mad Dogg (they own the Spinning® trademark) and Scwhinn certified. Each certification is a few hundred dollars and requires an 8-12 hour training class, usually taught over a weekend. In addition, you have to be CPR/AED certified. You usually only need one certification (i.e. Mad Dogg, Schwinn, or Les Mills’ RPM) to teach at most places, but there are some gyms that will only accept one type of certification. After the certification class, you’re on “probation” for 6 months to a year and have to take a standardized test during that time (for Mad Dogg, anyway), but you can really start teaching as soon as someone will hire you (…though I’d suggest taking a lot of classes, picking up pointers from other teachers, and recruiting your friends and family to be guinea pigs while you get used to being in front of a class, as almost any gym will require you to audition before hiring you).
6. What are the TWO things you’ve learned since moving from the spin student bike to the spin instructor seat?
(1) How much effort a good teacher puts into a class. If you’ve ever been to a class where the music and workout seem disconnected from one another versus a class where everything just flows, the difference is in the amount of time and effort the teachers chose to put into crafting the workout. Not to say that I’m an amazing instructor, but for every 50 minutes class I teach, I can easily put in at least 2 hours putting together the workout, selecting music, and “mapping” the music to the workout.
(2) The importance of form/posture on the bike. Sometimes I feel like a broken record when I’m teaching, but from where I’m sitting, I can see when a student is pushing too hard and begins to sacrifice form for intensity, and I know the negative ramifications that can have on the body. Almost always, when you’re pushing beyond your body’s current limitations, the first thing that goes is your form/posture. And certainly, I’m not immune to this either because I will sometimes teach 3 classes a day (that’s my personal max). So, if I’m not careful about my own form, I’ll be hurting big time.
7. What are the two BIGGEST mistakes you see students making in spin classes ?
Bike set-up is probably the first, and secondly trying to push beyond one’s limit. For instance, it’s crazy how often I see people come into a spin class and jump on a bike without making any adjustments to the bike. I mean, I’m talking 6’2” guys trying to ride a bike with their knees almost touching their chests, or tiny women barely able to reach the pedals and handlebars, but neither thinking to ask for help adjusting the bike! So that’s the first thing I’m always watching for – is there someone who’s riding with poor form because there setup is all wrong.
And then there are so many people who get caught up with trying to keep up with the people around them, despite the fact that their bodies simply aren’t ready to go there. I’m sensitive to not wanting to be the only person who is sitting when everyone else is doing a standing run/sprint, but if you push yourself too hard, too fast, you’re either going to get hurt or get so burnt out you never want to try spinning again. So I try not to single anyone out, but sometimes I’ll quietly suggest taking half a turn of resistance off or taking a rest until the next big push.
8. What do you think makes a great spin instructor? What should students be looking for?
A great spin instructor is focused on form and posture first and foremost (do you see a theme here? 😉 ). They’re able to direct riders to find their best form on the bike and help riders make corrections using easy to follow verbal and visual cues, and they are also constantly watching students and helping to make adjustments that will improve the riding experience. I’d say everything else is secondary. Now to be clear, as a student, you definitely want to find a teacher who puts together a workout and playlist that will keep you engaged for the entire 45-60 minutes, but what I consider to be great music or a good workout may simply not work for everyone else, and that’s okay. However, students should definitely first look for a knowledgeable and engaged teacher, and then look for a fit with regards to the types of workout and playlist that the teacher puts together. You don’t want to be rocking out hard but on your way to an injury!
9. Do you have any advice for readers who are considering becoming a spin instructor/workout professional?
Definitely start by doing some research in the geographical area(s) you want to teach, by going around to a few gyms. Take spin classes at those gyms, talk to the instructors afterwards, and ask to talk to the fitness director to see if they’ll let you teach some practice classes after you receive your certification(s). Also, put in the time to get fit yourself, so you can work out and talk/yell at the same time, especially if you’re teaching the types of classes that require you to exercise alongside students (like spinning). There is a huge difference between doing 45 minutes of cardio on your own and doing 45 minutes of hard cardio while talking, keeping your focus on 20+ students, while also being aware of where you are in the workout.
10. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Becoming a spinning instructor is one of the best decisions I ever made. At the end of one of my spin classes, a student came up and told me that I changed his life. He’d been pre-diabetic and hypertensive, but after attending my classes regularly, he lost almost 50 pounds and is no longer hypertensive or pre-diabetic. Balancing school, job interviews, a social life, and teaching spin is often *really* hard, but that moment is what makes it all worthwhile. Teaching spin is definitely the highlight of my week and is far more satisfying than I would ever have imagined. There’s nothing like seeing a student get stronger/more fit and knowing that you played some small part in making their life better. Plus, I now have an excuse to listen to really bad pop music without feeling guilty!
***Do you spin? Are you thinking about incorporating spin into your workout regimen? Considering taking it to the next level and becoming an instructor? What has inspired you to spin? Comment below!***