Weekend at Bernie’s – – EXCUSES, EXCUSES

People like to give excuses why they don’t workout.  I don’t have time.  I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not motivated. I’m too old.  Yada, yada, yada……

Well, today, I am going to dispel the latter excuse.  I have a special guest on my blog.  It is my cousin, Bernie.  Bernie is a spin instructor for Bally Total Fitness in the Maryland area and I am going to let him tell you in his own words why the excuse, I’m too old is bull$hit.


How long have you been a spin instructor? 

6.5 years (I teach about 215 classes a year on average)

What made you want to be a spin instructor?

I was a distance runner for many years and began to have knee problems because I wasn’t prudent about my training and racing.  After my third arthroscopic knee surgery, my orthopedic surgeon said I was looking at a total knee replacement.  Later that week, I was working out at my local fitness center and was somewhat reluctantly talked into taking a spin class by a friend.  After two or three classes, I was hooked.  Spinning gave me the workout I craved without the impact on my knees.  (Riding a cycle is, after all, one of the rehab exercises after knee surgery.)

Within three months after starting to spin, I decided I’d like to get certified and become an instructor.  I saw a chance to be of service and have fun doing it.  There is so much to like in spinning: I liked the camaraderie of the group, the wall-to-wall energy in the cycle studio, and the option to go hard or easy to suit oneself.  But most of all, I liked the music and the juice-you-up effect it has on the riders.  It’s a true ergogenic aid.  Bottom line: I decided to make it my mission to nurture the physical and spiritual well-being of my riders through music and sweat.


Should someone have a certain level of fitness before they start a spin class or could a beginner level do it?

Like any exercise program, a person should get cleared by his/her physician first.  And I suppose it would be prudent to be fit enough to be able to walk a half mile at a conversation pace.  And they should have enough balance and strength to support their body weight out of the saddle (if they want to have the option of peddling up a hill standing up; i.e., out of the saddle).  That said, the only difference between riding as a beginner and as an experienced spinner is how hard you want to push or go easy during various segments of the ride.  The class typically occupies the better part of an hour: 7 to 8 minutes warmup (two-songs of increasing intensity in my class), 37 to 38 minutes of hills and flats of various speeds (riding to the beat of the music…dancing on the bike, if you will), followed by 8 to 10 minutes of cooldown and stretching on and off the bike.

What is your age? 68   (YES FOLKS THAT’S A SIX AND AN EIGHT!!!! That’s Bernie on the left.)


What is the age range of the people in your spin classes?

Mostly 24 to 55, but I’ve had some people in their 60s, a few folks in their 70s, and one in his 80s.


What would you tell someone who says: I can’t do spinning because I’m too old?

If you are ambulatory, and can peddle a bike safely without a major health concern, you can take a spinning class.  It’ll take you back to the days when you went out to ride bikes with your friends.


How does music motivate the people in spinning classes?

Good music is paramount in cycle class.  I spend an inordinate amount of time listening to and selecting music for my spin-class playlists.  In my particular class, the five-word philosophy is “The Music Is the Road.”  And so it is.  We ride to the cadence of the music that I’ve preselected for various segments of the class: warmups, slow (steep) hills, fast (less steep) hills, flat road, sprints, surges on choruses.  We not only use the cadence of the music as our guide, but also take a cue from the vocalist’s intensity.  The best music has an appropriate cadence and also makes an EMOTIONAL connection with the riders.  So there is an art to selecting a mix of classic rock, R&B, even classical music to make a connection with the riders.  Like a good author, you have to know your audience.


How do you come up with your playlists?

When I began teaching I began to parse music into the aforementioned categories: warmups, fast hills, slow hills, sprints, cooldown and stretching, etc.  I auditioned over 12,000 songs.  About 600 songs made into my “best cycle songs” database.  I still add songs that I hear on oldies radio stations or songs that are popular now.  That makes me stay current and helps me reach a wide audience.  I select songs from each category at whim and according to whether or not I’ve used any of those songs recently with that particular class.  I develop a “lesson plan” that goes with each playlist as a reminder to myself what I want to do with each song and to be able to coach/cue the class accordingly.


What are the benefits of spinning?

Spinning is a good cardiovascular workout and (depending on the intensity) burns up to 700 calories per class. It principally works the lower half of your body (legs and butt), [and] when you are out of the saddle and riding with good form, it can work the core muscles.


What does spinning offer that other forms of exercise do not?

I’m not sure spinning is alone in this, but it offers the opportunity for an intense, easy-on-the-knees workout.  The intensity is, of course, ramped up by the music and the co-action effect of being in a room where other are going a little crazy doing the same activity.  A person should still do resistance training for the major muscle groups, other forms of cardio like Zumba, core strengthening, and flexibility classes like yoga.


What would you tell someone who is on the fence about taking a spin class?

Try a class.  If it doesn’t appeal to you, try another class with a different instructor (like having the right therapist or hair stylist, the instructor can make all the difference).  If it still doesn’t appeal to you, move on to another class or activity that grabs your soul.

Some clubs have beginners spin classes, but I’ve never been to one. I assume they give a tutorial as they go, and give a shorter class.

Since my clubs don’t have beginners classes, I set newbies up on the bike, give them a 10-minute tutorial, and tell them to ride as easy or as hard as they want. And I make sure I explain myself in detail during the class and keep an eye on them. Make sure they drink too.

Good reason to get to class early: I never know when I’ll have new people to set up beforehand.


Bernie is truly an inspiration to all of us who try to give the excuse that we are too old to do something.  I bet Bernie gives those in their 20s a run for their money in his spin classes.


One Response to “Weekend at Bernie’s – – EXCUSES, EXCUSES”

  1. What a great interview! Thanks for introducing us to Bernie!

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