Everybody was Pissed, Including Me

A few months ago I walked into a class I have been teaching for 10 years and everyone was in a tizzy. This is not the usual energy I’m used to getting absorbed in. Before I was able to ask what was wrong, a member asked me if I was aware of the stereo situation. As the word “no” was exiting my mouth, the member hit me with the bad news, “I took class earlier this week and the stereo sounded awful. The GM told us that instructors were playing the music too loud, causing OSHA to audit the facility and force limits on music volume.” Now, I had heard members complain before that the stereo was broken because it sounded bad in their other classes. Every time this was rumored in the past, it was due to incorrect settings. Since I have experience with audio engineering, I have always been able to reset the sound system and all was good. So I assumed this was the case and wasn’t alarmed (thinking pridefully that I could fix it and be the stereo hero yet again).

My riders were right. The stereo sounded absolutely awful. Apparently the club had installed a limiter, which reduces the volume to a certain level (decibel or dB). When I tried to turn up the volume, the music would distort. When I kept it below the setting of the limiter, the stereo sounded like a transistor radio. I was not going to be the hero that day. Since class was about to begin, I had no choice but to teach under the present conditions. After class, my voice was almost gone. Not only did the limiter effect the music volume, but the microphone as well. Even though it was not necessary for me to project over the low-volume music, I found that I had been pushing my voice to compensate for the lack of energy and intensity in the room. After class I spoke to the GM, who immediately pissed me off. He greeted me first, and before I was able to say anything, asked in a chipper voice, “So, how did the stereo sound?” I could have sworn he was trying to edge me on, but I refrained from saying what I really wanted to say and said, “It sucks.” He then told me he would take me into the studio and show me how to use the stereo. Are you ______ kidding me?! Who do you think has fixed the stereo AND rewired the components numerous times over the last 10 years!? He said it was set to the OSHA standard of 90 dB and that he tested it and it was plenty loud. I asked him if he tested the stereo with the room empty OR when it was full of riders, turning the pedals with the fans on. I got a dead stare. That is what I thought. He quickly changed the subject (sort of) and told me that instructors were blasting the music and there were numerous complaints. Now this is true. The riders in my class told me about some of the other instructors who would turn up the stereo so loud that they needed ear plugs and that the music and instructor could be heard outside in the parking lot (which is 200+ feet away through multiple walls). I then asked GM why he chose to “fix” the stereo instead of deal directly with the instructors in question. Again a dead stare.

This went on for a solid month. Members were complaining and providing written feedback to the club. The club ignored the members and even went as far as to tell me no complaints had been received so they assumed everything was good. I really hate BS, particularly when it is put in my face. I physically watched members at the front desk line up to fill out comment cards after every one of my classes. As the weeks went on, I was losing interest in teaching at the club because it was far from motivating. The class was losing riders because it was far from motivating. I kept encouraging the riders (who were left) to continue to talk to management and fill out comment cards. I told them I would also continue to go to bat for our class to convince the powers that be to see the light.

I finally walked in one morning prepared to tell my riders that I would be dropping the class and moving to a different club within the company (this is a big box chain). That very morning, I was told that they replaced the broken stereo with a new one. I was somewhat excited but assumed it also had a limiter installed. When I got to the room, the stereo was the same (it had not been replaced), but apparently the limiter was removed and all was back to normal. What an ordeal. What a bunch of lies.

So here is the question: How have you handled issues concerning club management or studio owners when both the members are pissed (and leaving) and you are pissed and want to jump to their (and your) defense? Even though I never threw another instructor under the bus, I was forced to confront management. I found it difficult being a peacekeeper for the club when I was being fed lip service, poor excuses, and even worse solutions. Have you experienced similar issues? How did you resolve it? Do you have suggestions for other frustrated instructors?


  1. I teach at an independently owned gym so you’d think it would be easier to get what you need but that’s not the case. Even though spinning is a priority they do not spend money on anything. The riders and I are fine as long as the bikes, music, and air work. If any of those three don’t work I recruit the members to complain as much as possible to management. I probably wouldn’t have lasted as long as you did with such a poor radio and would have either quit or brought my own.

    As for my class format and theme rides, etc., I tend to ask for forgiveness instead of permission. Meaning I do what I want and they don’t care as long as it doesn’t cost them extra money and keeps the members happy.

  2. Hi Tom. What a relief to read about your experiences. I work for one of two main health clubs in South Africa. We have internal rankings for the clubs – from flag ship down to -actually not sure what! But my home club is way down on the list of priority’s. We have countless issues with sound, microphones etc….Let alone maintenance problems with the bikes themselves. Not a single member of management participates in group exercise and they have no understanding of the problems that we experience as instructors or members. It is incredibly frustrating and it feels like one is walking a tightrope between maintaining a professional attitude towards the gym whilst juggling the concerns of teaching and those of the members. We get accused of ‘breaking’ equipment, playing the music too loudly or inciting the members to complain. I mean seriously!!!! Not to mention the fact that what we get paid is not determined by class numbers or whether you spend time and money on continuing education. Its determined by either who you know or how long you have been teaching, regardless if you are rubbish or not. I only teach because I am absolutely passionate about spinning – but the attitude of the management slowly wears down even the most positive of attitudes. The solution? I wish I knew.

  3. We were hit with the limiter down here too Tom. The audio guys came in a few times and worked with me and my iPad settings along with the stereo and we are making it work. For a while though it was painful.

  4. I used to teach at a club where maintenance was a hit and miss thing. I would get to the club early with my wrenches to do what repairs I could just to have enough bikes for my class. The stereo would be in constant need of repair. Eventually the club went broke.

    I also teach at a community centre and listening to you guys, feel quite lucky. Our supervisor lets us design and run our classes the way we see fit. Very little interference from the front office. Yes, this can result in some instructors making some huge mistakes in their class but on the whole, everyone is quite happy and the classes are well run. Oh and maintenance is great!

  5. Ow… you’re describing the same situation I live on a couple facilities I work at.

    Thing is that usually, but not always, managers were not instructors and don’t really have the “eye” to see where the problem is. So, he gets a couple complaints about loud music and the easy way to solve it is to have a limiter installed. Problem solved. But as you know it’s far from being solved. The sounds ends being awful, the class starts to decline in energy and of course members just stop coming back.

    I guess it’s all about balance. In the almost 17 years I’ve been teaching, I’ve seen a lot of different situations. All of them can be solved with a little bit of common sense and a clear instruction from managers. Music must not be loud, and you as an instructor should not yell at the class with or without the microphone.

    Even when I partially agree with Robert’s point of view. I differ on the music being “just” part of scenery. I think it’s all part of a great picture. You can’t just put what ever you have on your iPod, and focus on specific goals, you need to find the way to use both. Specific goals are mandatory on every spinning year, month, week, session plan. And so is music.

    But hey, I’ve learned a lot from my own mistakes, I used to play loud music too, and when feedback wasn’t good I had to learn to change, to evolve. I’m still learning, I’m still refining my teaching skills.

    What I’ve also seen happen a lot is that usually, Facilities don’t really care how you teach, what you teach or how loud is music if you get a sold out class. The only way they start caring about how loud you teach is if they get a complaint from neighbors. And that makes a vice circle (I’m not sure if that’s the correct expression in English).

    Bottom line is that Instructors need to be instructed some times. On every single aspect of teaching a class. Hope my english and my sentences have any sense for you guys.

  6. I’m very open and honest with management. I speak my mind and step on toes at times. Often I go back and apologize for the way I may have said something, but I am respected because because unlike other instructors i work with I am not as much concerned with losing my job as I am with meeting the needs of members and the good of the club.

    Most of the instructors I work with rely on the music and vocal volume to motivate their classes. I don’t. In my classes the music is just the scenery along the ride. Motivation comes from focusing on specific goals I have given students for each class.

  7. Yes, I have experienced frustrations with the management, especially at one of the gyms where I teach 3x/wk. I felt our program was getting stale. In fact, in the 6 years that I have been there, not once (correct, not once) has the GroupEx manager ever taken my class (or anyone else’s). I have on several occasions (we are on our 2nd GroupEx mgr) written ideas for various class formats and submitted them for implementation. Ideas such as a 4 hour marathon class rotating through various instructors, a charity ride, a themed ride such as the Mount Washington Climb etc. without so much as an “I’ll think about it”. I have been to the last 4 WSSC’s and always come back recharged with ideas of things I learn all with no luck. I have requested all instructors post their upcoming class ride for members to see and know what’s coming up. No luck. I have requested pictures and bios of instructors be put up outside the studio – no luck. I have asked for bikes to be set up outside around the swimming pool – no luck. All my ideas with usually no reply at all. My frustration is that quite often I will float these ideas to my students to see if there is even an interest and for the most part there is a HUGE interest (especially in the specialty classes offered). I have shared this with management and nothing. In my case, I have had to “tow the line” as our GroupEx mgr has made it clear that spinning is not a priority. I uphold my professionalism in the classroom though. I don’t think that any member would think that I have a huge difference of opinion with management, but, it is disheartening to teach in this environment. This is why if an instructor who is so passionate about what they do, opens their own studio. I in fact looked into this very idea but felt it wasn’t the right timing for me as I travel quite a bit. Alas, as you did with your class, you teach like a Pro and do the best that you can

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