I confess: My primary form of cardio exercise is what’s known as “spinning” — pedaling on a fancy stationary bike, in a room with about 50 other people, music blaring, while an instructor puts you through your paces. There are those who consider spin chains like Soul Cycle an expensive exercise fad geared to the wealthy. Me, I like spinning because (a) I like riding a bike, even if it’s stationary; (b) I love music; and (c) I loathe running or using an elliptical machine. Like millions of others, I used to pay for a gym membership I rarely used. Spin classes I actually attend.
One thing I realised early on was that the music playlist — usually 10 songs that span the 45-minute workout — was the key for me. A banal playlist made for a banal class. The exercise felt too much like work, the way the gym used to. But a good playlist energised me. It made all the difference.
But how do you go about creating a good cardio playlist? At Flywheel, the spin chain I frequent, the queen of the playlist is its founder, Ruth Zukerman, who has been in the spin business in one way or another, for 17 years. Zukerman told me that the man who created spinning in the late 1980s, a South African cyclist known as Johnny G, 2 never used music with lyrics. “It was mood music with a beat,” she said, clicking on Chicane’s Offshore, to show me what she meant.
Over time, as spinning became more popular, and the instructors became more adventurous, many began including songs that were familiar to their clientele. Zukerman tried that herself, and discovered that there was a direct correlation between the music she played and the popularity of her classes. As good as she was leading an exercise class, her ability to put together a musical playlist that was integral to the workout — that was her secret sauce.
I wanted to understand the thought process that went into putting together a good cardio playlist, so I asked Zukerman to show me how she did it. She took me through a playlist she had recently done for a Flywheel class. I think her principles apply not just to spinning, but to any kind of cardio exercise. Go ahead and download this list, you won’t regret working up a sweat to these tunes.