Your Studio Cycling Playlist

By Derek Beres

A month into 2020 and the gym has been packed with members putting in hours—and reveling in that feel-good feeling afterward. If we’re going to talk about that afterglow that follows your workout, it’s possible no class creates smiles and sweat like studio cycling. The barrier to entry is appreciatively low: since there’s no impact, there’s no concern about added pressure on your joints or lower back, yet thanks to the resistance knob you can get a world-class workout or dial it back when you’re feeling cooked.

Programming playlists for studio cycling is a lot of fun. As in real life, peaks and valleys are everywhere. Variations in tempo and temperament are important for instructors to keep cyclers interested. Drills interspersed throughout climbs and flats push their VO2 max. Of course, coaching is half the challenge of leading a group of people on imaginary roads, yet the playlist accounts for the other half.

With that in mind, this month is perfect to program a one-hour ride (or shorter depending on class time). While there are many ways to coach, here is how I’ve taught to these songs before. This class is presented in three stages.

First stage

Copyright’s funky house track, “Be Together,” is perfect for getting legs spinning and hearts pumping. Rhythm riders are coasting at 59 with some tension on the dial, though I’d cue this with an open invitation to pick a speed between 80-90 RPM with minimal tension, turning the knob a few times over the course of five minutes.

Keeping the resistance where it is, we open up on Drake’s “Nice For What,” pushing the speed to 90-95 to match the beat. The road is a flat with a subtle incline. From there, we climb for four songs, increasing RPM from a slow 52 during “RITMO,” up to 60 for “Heaven,” and pushing it up to 62 for “Surrender.” Ideally, resistance is continually added to the knob over the course of those eleven minutes. For bikes with sprint shifters, we’re in the middle for the second song, maintaining the push with three 20-second breakouts during “Surrender.”

There is a slight break during “Official.” For the first two minutes, riders drop back to less resistance, pushing to the middle for the second two minutes, completing the climb during the final two with the most resistance of the ride thus far. The building intensity of the song caps off the longest climb of class.

Second stage

Riders love climbs, but now we drill. We find a flat road for the upbeat cruiser, “Jet Black.” Rhythm riders have to push it up to 108, if they’d like, though I’d suggest 80-100 with minimal resistance to flush out their legs, adding standing intervals during the chorus (a nice way to have them add a few quarter-turns as they regain their breath).

With “In My Mind” we push through with three 20-20-20 drills, increasing tension on the sprint shifter left-middle-right three times. We leave it on the middle for “UrbanChild” as we go for four breakout drills: the last 15 seconds of each minute is a total push.

The final minute of the song is a slight recovery, preparing for Tabatas with “Animal.” At four minutes long, it’s the perfect length for eight rounds of 20 seconds on, 10 second recovery on a flat. I cue this with the sprint shifter as well: at the beginning of each push, I yell out left, middle, or right, returning left for every 10-second recovery. Finally, I offer middle or right for “Psycho,” the only rock song on the playlist, as we remain seated with heavy resistance during the verses and stand during each chorus. Four times I invite the riders to turn their knob 1/4 turn to close out this phase.

Third stage

“No Option” is a complete recovery track. By this point in class, those three minutes are well-deserved. I let the riders flush out their legs for two minutes. During the final minute I set the final stage of this ride: a flat with a slight incline for the shorter track, “You Ain’t the Problem,” with increasing levels of tension, finished by a long climb on the gospel house track, “He Is.” At eight minutes, we finish strong: 30-20-10 sprint shift drills, with an invitation to add 1/4 turn to the knob after each minute.

By the time “Lover Man” comes over the speakers for the stretch and cool-down, everyone is ready to breath in the beauty of the music and the experience they just endured.

Video & photo credit: Tom Casey,


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Derek Beres

Derek Beres is a multi-faceted author, media expert, and fitness instructor based in Los Angeles. He is the author of "Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body for Optimal Fitness,” and is hard at work on his latest book, “Hero’s Dose: The Case for Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy." He is the creator of Flow Play, an innovative program that fuses yoga, music and neuroscience, designed exclusively for Equinox Fitness. He is the co-founder of EarthRise SoundSystem, served as music supervisor for the breakthrough documentary, "DMT: The Spirit Molecule," and is the host of the EarthRise Podcast.