I’ve posted many times about how much I love spinning classes. There’s a studio 100 metres from my home where I can quickly immerse myself into a totally focused, intense, efficient workout, the darkness and music completely lifting me out of my “real life.” Last spring, when I got back on my road bike, I felt like I hadn’t lost any strength over the winter because of my twice-weekly spinning classes.
But last Monday night, instead of pushing myself hard in the last ten minutes of a class, I found myself totally tensed up and squinching my fingers into my ears. The music was So. Loud. I felt assaulted. This was a teacher whose classes I don’t usually go to, and I had remembered why in the first three minutes of class. She was playing the music two notches above my comfort zone throughout the class, and in the final pushes, so loudly, and shouting her “encouragement” over it so incoherently, that I felt literally pushed off my bike. Without even thinking about it, I unclipped my pedals and rushed out of the room, agitatedly muttering “the music is just TOO LOUD.” The teacher smiled. She couldn’t hear me.
I was a ball of flustered irritability when I emerged into the reception area. The music was too loud even down the hall. I sputtered: “It’s just TOO LOUD, it’s HARMFUL, I couldn’t stay in there!”
“[That teacher] likes her music loud,” agreed the receptionist.
I got more wound up. “I’ve given her this feedback before but she doesn’t care!” (Note: I did, twice. It didn’t help). “It’s not about personal preference — it’s actually HURTING people. Aren’t you supposed to be about wellness and health?”
I was kind of wild-eyed at this point.
“We have earplugs,” the woman offered, like cautiously trying to give a soothing treat to a raging bobcat.
“You shouldn’t HAVE to have earplugs! And you can’t hear the teacher with earplugs!”
(insert mindless, unattractive splutter here)
Realizing that I wasn’t going to have a useful conversation with the reception person, I went home and wrote an email to the owner. I did a bit of googling about dangerous decibels to back up my crossness.
Turns out that this is a really common problem, and it’s not ever-present for me because I’ve gravitated to the teachers in this studio who curate and play their music in a reasonable way, energizing without overwhelming or irreversibly harming people. According to the article linked above:
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the leading cause of preventable hearing loss. Although you may eventually get used to the throbbing music in your Zumba class, your ears don’t. The microscopic hair cells in the inner era that transit sound to the brain become damaged and eventually die. And once they are lost, they don’t regenerate. NIHL starts innocently enough, with the loss of high frequency sounds. It is gradual and by the time you notice you have it, it is unfortunately too late for any type of prevention.
And many spinning classes are NINE TIMES LOUDER than recommended for hearing safety.
As I said in my note to the studio owner, I want to leave a spinning class feeling energized and good about my experience — not assaulted and agitated with my ears still ringing 10 minutes later.
Unlike the young woman in the reception area, the owner’s response was great. She told me she agreed, and that she’d forwarded the article I’d attached to all of the teachers. Apparently, the studio even has a warning light about sound, and she’d asked all of the teachers to start paying more attention to the warnings. She also told me that this teacher actually has hearing loss herself and therefore doesn’t always notice how loud it is (ironic, I guess?). And she credited back the credit from the class.
I’m not going to go back to that teacher’s classes — her instructions aren’t that coherent even when you can hear them. But I feel better about the studio overall, and I’ll keep going to the teachers who create an energizing but humane space.
The moral of this story is — speak up. There’s data that supports the argument for less cacophonous exercise classes. And if you draw people’s attention to the contradiction between aiming at health and wellness and permanently harming people’s hearing, teachers and studio owners may listen.
Have you ever spoken up about noise in an exercise class? What happened?
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and spins in Toronto.