Preparing an AC/DC-themed indoor cycling class

November 2nd, 2015

I've been an indoor cycling instructor since 2009 and have many hundreds of classes under my belt, so I thought I'd tell you a little about my thought process when I tailor together my indoor cycling classes.

This article is intended mostly for other indoor cycling instructors, but participants and outdoor riders may be able to find some inspiration here as well.

Overview

I start out with a warm-up, then a series of blocks designed around a certain way of riding. Each block consists of two or more tracks and typically lasts between 6 and 20 minutes.

I try to keep things simple. I want for my participants to have fun and get their heart racing, but I never go into specifics about what exactly their heart rate should be at any particular moment. Instead of citing specific values, I'll give them an quick overview of the block we're about to ride before it begins, telling them how many rounds we'll be doing and how many times our heart rates will peak.

This of course puts more responsibility on the shoulders of each participant, as they themselves now must set a goal and reach it — they don't have a number to use as a definitive guide — but had I blurted out such a number, there would be nothing stopping contestants from adjusting the resistance to match their mood and motivation anyway.

My stance is that having fun and rocking to some great tunes come before reaching a new personal best for calories burned during class, and those numbers don't make a difference to my motivation during class.

What does make a difference to me is the music, whether I'm on the giving or receiving end of instructions. I'm by no means an expert on music theory, but curating the right music for the job is a big part of my classes. Genre-wise, I do mostly rock and 70s, 80s, and 90s pop.

AC/DC are my favorite band and a regular part of my classes. Once a year, on the last Friday before Christmas Eve, a popular AC/DC tribute band from my hometown do a concert on their home turf. In what has become a permanent addition to that tradition, I do an all-AC/DC indoor cycling class at my gym that same afternoon, to really get people hyped for that evening's concert.

Here's an example of how I might build an all-AC/DC indoor cycling class of about an hour in length, featuring a warm-up followed by four blocks.

AC/DC Flick of the Switch album cover

Warm-up

  • Hells Bells (108 bpm) (5:12) (Back in Black - Amazon | iTunes)
  • Guns for Hire (129 bpm) (3:24) (Flick of the Switch - Amazon | iTunes)
  • Flick of the Switch (130 bpm) (3:13) (Flick of the Switch)

Hells Bells is the first track off the Back in Black album, the best-selling rock album of all time and the first album featuring the vocal stylings of Brian Johnson. I like to start things off with something familiar, and the opening minute featuring the familiar church bell should raise the anticipation level of anyone with even a passing interest in this band. AC/DC are kings of the rock intro build-up, and the relative quiet of that first minute gives me a chance to get participants hyped for what's to come.

I prefer riding to the beat of the music, but I usually spend the first song of any class outside the beat, just to get people going and tuned in to the music without having to think about keeping a set pace. Also, I've noticed some participants having trouble keeping up when speeds hit close to 100 rpm, and the 108 rpm of Hells Bells will definitely be too fast for some, so we'll just ride outside the beat to loosen up, enjoy the music, and get ready for the next track.

I love hearing a bass drum hit just as I push the pedal down — it draws me closer to the music and helps me push myself harder — so I'll then spend the majority of the class riding to the beat, only leaving it for short bursts of acceleration or during rest periods.

For the remainder of the warm-up, I'll go one of two routes:

  1. For an all-seated warm-up I'll select one or two tracks between 85 and 95 rpm, the idea being that we would already be riding at about such a pace during the first song, when we weren't riding to the beat. Now we'll have a set pace to stick to.
  2. If instead I want to introduce some standing intervals, I'll go with tracks between 60 and 65 rpm. From 1983's Flick of the Switch, the leisurely pace of the title track and Guns for Hire allows us to play around with the resistance while not taxing less experienced riders.

If two tracks feature identical or near-identical BPM, I may streamline the flow of the block by lowering or raising the tempo of one song to match the other. Straightforward stuff with tracks that fade out, and any decent mixing software makes it a trivial task to tweak the tempo of a song without making things sound all Smurfy.

Incidentally, very few AC/DC tracks fade out at the end, since Angus loves to play around with the strings at the end of songs, bless his heart. This puts me in a precarious predicament. Cutting out an AC/DC intro or outro is in my book a mortal sin, but keeping it in means that the beat is momentarily broken while Angus finishes doing his thing. I work around this by riding say, the last 30 seconds of a song as a burst of acceleration. This way, participant heart rates peak, they can give their all without worrying about keeping a set pace, and they can feel good as they release most of their resistance and take a breather for the start of the next song.

AC/DC Bonfire cover

Block 1 - short bursts of intensity

  • Live Wire (138 bpm) (6:17) (Bonfire - Amazon | iTunes)
  • Problem Child (143 bpm) (4:39) (Bonfire)
  • Dog Eat Dog (141 bpm) (4:41) (Bonfire)

Here I've selected three tracks from Live from the Atlantic Studios, a 1977 recording that's part of the awesome Bonfire box set. The tight setlist and intimate venue really highlight the AC/DC sound.

With the announcer welcoming us all to the proceedings, Bon Scott kindly asking for the participation of the audience, and an opening number like Live Wire, you couldn't ask for better build-up than the first minute-or-so until the beat kicks in. This track absolutely belongs at the beginning of a block.

Problem Child directly follows Live Wire on the album, so by putting this as the next track in the workout, we get the added bonus of having Bon Scott introducing it to us at the end of Live Wire. Stringing several songs from the same album together into a cohesive whole also strengthens the flow.

Dog Eat Dog has always gone well with Problem Child in my book, so I often run these two in succession.

Of course, depending on the expected experience and skill level of your clientele, you could choose faster- or slower-paced songs than the ones listed above.

For blocks intended for many heart rate peaks, such as this one, I enjoy switching between one minute resting seated outside the beat, then piling on the resistance and doing one minute standing to the beat. Time it remotely right, and you'll breeze past the music-less parts in between numbers resting while waiting for the music, and yourselves, to explode again.

I always strive to time any changes in resistance or position to changes in the music. If a refrain starts at 0:53, I'll hit the resistance or change the position then instead of waiting another seven seconds to pass. The music sets the agenda, and kicking things up a notch just as the music does the same is a real motivation booster. Speaking as a participant, this is especially true if I'm familiar with the song being played, as I'm able to anticipate when I'm supposed to make an alteration.

AC/DC Powerage cover

Block 2 - uphill

  • Gone Shootin' (122 bpm) (5:05) (Powerage - Amazon | iTunes)
  • Touch Too Much (124 bpm) (4:26) (Highway to Hell - Amazon | iTunes)

Just one prolonged climb up a hill that gets increasingly steep as we go along. Same goes for the heart rate — we keep piling on the resistance and don't loosen it until we get to the top.

Gone Shootin' may be about the tragic outcome of a heroin addiction, but to me this song screams "road trip!" — which may have originated from that time I heard it in Beavis & Butt-Head Do America (1996).

But I digress. Start out seated for the entirety of the track, adding resistance at regular intervals — e.g. every 60 or 90 seconds. Then, in a move designed to evoke the feeling of the hill becoming too steep to conquer while seated, stand up just as Bon Scott's voice is heard at the start of Touch Too Much. Finish the last four minutes standing while still adding resistance regularly.

Supposing we add resistance every 60 seconds, the nine minute-ish runtime of this block comes out to seven or eight resistance increases. That's about the max that I'll do in any block before releasing at least some of it. Any more and I feel that each resistance addition becomes so minute as to be almost imperceptible. Depending on the sensitivity and make of the bikes, this may not be a factor.

AC/DC Ballbreaker cover

Block 3 - downhill

  • Whiskey on the Rocks (97 bpm) (4:35) (Ballbreaker - Amazon | iTunes)
  • Got You by the Balls (97 bpm) (4:30) (Razors Edge - Amazon | iTunes)

Following such a slow-paced climb, a change of pace — quite literally — is in order, so I like to up the speed to loosen up the legs. Luckily, the Ballbreaker (1995) and Razors Edge (1990) albums are ripe with tracks suited for high-cadence riding just below the 100 rpm mark. Angus Young's playful guitar lures you in during the first few seconds of Whiskey on the Rocks — and then the drums kick in.

Keeping to the beat the entire nine-or-so minutes, I keep it simple by riding this block in one of two ways:

  1. Increasing the resistance every one or two minutes, raising the pulse in one prolonged step. Almost like the uphill climb from the previous section, except all-seated and at a much faster pace.
  2. Switching between adding and removing resistance, say every 30 seconds, for a series of peaks. Depending on how much resistance you add and remove, as well as the length of each interval, those changes in heart rate may resemble rolling hills more than actual peaks, because the heart rate may not have time to react to swift changes in intensity.

AC/DC Back in Black cover

Block 4 - finale

  • Have a Drink on Me (123 bpm) (3:58) (Back in Black - Amazon | iTunes)
  • Caught With Your Pants Down (144 bpm) (4:14) (Ballbreaker - Amazon | iTunes)
  • Shake a Leg (153 bpm) (4:05) (Back in Black)

Have a Drink on Me is another example of Angus's beckoning guitar setting the stage, the rest of the band entering a few moments in to ramp things up.

I like to push my participants by making them do something at a low cadence, then having them do it again at ever-increasing speeds. That way, they know what lies ahead, and can concentrate more on pushing themselves in later rounds.

I might do this by stringing together the three songs listed above, all of which are about the same length. You could start off all these songs at your own pace, using the intros to hype yourself and the participants up, then fall into the beat once things really get rocking.

Build up resistance at regular intervals during each song (e.g. every minute), switching between sitting and standing position and maybe putting in a few bursts of acceleration along the way.

When the next song begins, reset the resistance and do the same thing all over again, using the higher cadence to push the heart rate even higher.

Conclusion

Laid out end to end, these 13 tracks last 58 minutes. Whether that's too long or short for your purposes is up to you, but the above hopefully leaves everyone in the indoor cycling space well and truly spent and ready to hit the shower!

Share