We’ve all read numerous articles about contraindicated moves, unsafe moves and what not to do during indoor cycling classes. However, audio safety seems to always get relegated to a third tier when it comes to additional safety and comfort. Have you ever walked by the indoor cycling studio or another group exercise room and noticed that the music was so loud, you wondered how can the participants inside these rooms tolerate it?
While a good workout is good for everything from muscle tone and balance to weight control and improved heart and lung function, for those instructors who play the music at unsafe levels during indoor cycling workouts, the potential exists for significant discomfort to participants’ hearing and a diminished ability to enjoy the ride. In some cases, sustained exposure for prolonged periods of time can lead to hearing damage – not just to the participants, but also to the instructor.
Music provides a fun backdrop to an already rocking workout. Indoor cycling instructors love music – we are closet DJ’s. Think about how much time (and money) we spend on selecting songs, preparing playlists, practicing, visualizing, etc (if you are setting up a themed ride, you could spend a lot more time on preparing playlists). Mixing up selections keeps us motivated and gets you jamming on the bike. Music is an integral part of indoor cycling; however, when you start noticing that some participants are wearing ear plugs more frequently (when they never did in the past) or when you are approached by participants to ask you to lower the volume, then you’ve got to pay attention to these warning signs.
To help me track safe decibel levels, I use Sound Meter, one of many apps available for smart phones. I start the app when I start the class and let it monitor the progression of music intensity as it records decibel values. The app provides real time feedback and a line graph to help you see whether you had inconsistencies (peaks and valleys) of music volume or if your routine remained consistent with a few variations. It is also important to dismount at least once and take a reading in the middle of the room as well as near the main speakers to give you a better idea about how the sound intensity is impacted by proximity to those speakers and the distance to the center of the room (by the way, if there is a bike situated right underneath one of the speakers, I usually relocate it further away). With that in mind, here is a breakdown of the decibel levels that you should be familiar with:
With the help of Sound Meter, I can verify audio intensity at three stages I pre-determined (start of a 4 minute climb, seated, gradually increasing resistance, then standing climb, overcoming a steep ascent, and then the descent) as shown below using a Keiser M3+ bike platform (click to enlarge) :
Note that if you need a quick reminder, the Sound Meter app provides a decibel levels tabular reference (see image in the middle). As the app plots your music track’s decibel intensity and threshold, you can determine if there were two many highs/lows, or simply if the track had a more steady output corresponding to a desired bpm rate. As indicated in the tabular reference, 120dB is the “Threshold of pain”, so I would recommend that you avoid staying in that zone for prolonged periods of the ride. Any higher would be unadvisable. Remember that you can also control the volume of your music player and the sound system – a 75% volume level is recommended. Short bursts for an intense climb or sprint may call of a higher volume, albeit only for an extremely short duration (probably under 20 seconds).
Finally, it is best to ask your participants whether the music levels need to be adjusted. Their feedback is essential and can help you deliver a more enjoyable as well as an “audibly-safe” ride.