Now Hear This!

The importance of protecting your sensitive ears in indoor cycling classes.

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The other night a fit friend asked me about the loudness of the music in indoor cycling classes, explaining that she wants to do something that’s healthy for her body without harming her hearing. It’s a valid concern, I told her, especially since some instructors and some studios crank up the beat to create a club-like atmosphere that motivates participants. In some classes, the music plays at such a high volume that it rivals the noisiness of a snow blower or a chainsaw.

Exposure to that for 45 to 60 minutes straight—well, that can’t be good for anyone!

In a 2014 study from Brazil, researchers examined the level of sound transmission that 33 Spinning® instructors were exposed to in their classes and found that the average was 82.5 decibels and the maximum was 111 decibels. Many of the indoor cycling instructors who taught under the louder conditions reported having tinnitus (a.k.a., ringing or buzzing in the ears), sleep disorders, anxiety, and frequent headaches—health problems that are associated with frequent noise exposure. More than 33 percent of the instructors also reported experiencing throat problems such as pain and hoarseness from having to shout over the blaring music.

Because exposure to loud volumes can damage hearing over time, the American Council on Exercise advises that the music’s volume not exceed 85 decibels in group-exercise classes (that’s akin to the noise level from heavy city traffic).

The IDEA Health & Fitness Association has the same recommendation for music intensity, especially because an instructor’s voice needs to be about 10 decibels louder in order to be heard over the music. 

The truth is, motivating music is such an intrinsic part of the indoor cycling experience, which is why the volume is often pumped up to extremes.

But if the sound in your indoor cycling classes exceeds the recommended decibel levels and you often take several 45-to-60-minute classes per week, your hearing is potentially at risk. Noise-induced hearing loss can be a slow, cumulative process that isn’t immediately noticeable or uncomfortable, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. That’s why it’s smart to take steps to protect your hearing while it’s still in good shape.

To that end, you have a few choices that won’t compromise your ability to enjoy your indoor cycling rides: You could talk to the instructor before the class starts about lowering the volume to a reasonable level (hot tip: your request may be especially well received if it’s polite and framed as a desire to be able to hear the instructor’s directions and coaching cues better). If that doesn’t work, you can buy inexpensive foam or silicone earplugs to wear during the class; these will lower the volume somewhat while still making it possible for you to hear what’s being said.

Another option is to strategically choose a bike that’s a considerable distance away from the stereo speakers.

Ultimately, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to engage in workouts that will improve your physical fitness and enhance your health if what you’re doing harms your hearing. Just as you want to take steps to protect your ears while listening to music on your iPod or iPhone, you’ll want to do the same thing during an indoor cycling class. By taking these precautions, you can get your groove on with indoor cycling and enjoy the rides regularly—without increasing your chances of needing a hearing aid in the future. Now, that’s something good to shout about!

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