The Mic Killed My Cues

My frustration over the malfunctioning microphone in the cycling studio has built over the last couple of months. It only works if you hold it at just the right angle, tape the headset cord, and secure the batteries with a rubber band. This week the microphone finally died; it was not coming back. I reluctantly taught the class without it. The show must go on.

Every time I’m forced to teach without a microphone, I think about those instructors who do not believe in using a mic. They believe instructing without a mic does not affect their teaching or the experience they deliver.

They could not be more wrong.

They Argue

“I don’t need a microphone…our studio is very small…the cycling room has good acoustics…my voice really projects…”

I’ve had the privilege of taking indoor cycling classes, hosting auditions, and assessing instructors all over the world. Not one instructor has ever proven to me they could teach without a mic. Something or someone always suffers (not to mention vocal cord damage, nodules, and polyps).

The Screamer

When I present a certification workshop, I reserve the last hour for each instructor to teach a 3-minute drill. This gives everyone an opportunity to try something they’ve learned and receive feedback from other instructors and myself.

During one of the last workshops I presented, a petite woman with a sweet-as-pie voice took the instructor bike for her 3 minutes of glory. I handed her the mic but she refused, stating she didn’t need it. Out of arguably the smallest and cutest instructor I’ve seen exploded a voice of fury. The music started and she began…yelling. I was so startled by the juxtaposition, my first thought was exorcism. Her “commands” were abrupt and jarring, as if yelling at short-order cooks in a fast-food restaurant. I didn’t know whether to pedal faster, stand, or make two eggs over-easy. I followed the riders in the first row out of fear.

Wah, wah wah wah wah, wah wah

Some of you are concerned that my autocorrect has gone haywire; others know the (dating myself) reference to the voice of the teacher in Charlie Brown. Some instructors, despite the lack of vocal amplification, provide detailed drill descriptions only to sound like an auctioneer choking on a piece of gum. It just sounds like babble and riders are left lost and confused. Although all of the Peanuts characters seemingly understood their teacher’s instruction, your indoor cycling class is most definitely struggling to figure out what they should be doing, what is coming next, or what just happened. Even if some of the people in the class figure out how to move by imitating the front row, they are still missing out on the inspiration and motivation of your coaching.

Cueing Reborn

Teaching without a mic can startle and frighten your class. It can cause your riders to strain their ears more than their legs as they attempt to read your lips for guidance. Teaching without a mic also greatly affects the quality of cueing and coaching. Although fewer instructors will attempt to dialog with their riders without a mic, many simply reduce their instruction to short primal commands.

In addition to allowing you to use an inside voice and vocal inflection for a more dynamic (and dramatic) delivery, the clarity and support provided by a microphone allows for stories, anecdotes, motivational sayings, and even explaining training objectives.

Remember the small, cute screamer from my earlier example? Instead of tackling her to the ground in hopes of exorcising demons, I gently and confidently handed her the mic again. Like a beast having received an antidote, she returned to her right mind. Her first comment over the mic was priceless: “Wow, now that everyone can hear me clearly, I’m not sure what to say. I better learn some coaching cues.”

If someone hands you a mic and you find yourself lost for words, or you are just looking to sharpen your cueing and coaching skills, ICA is here for you. Become a member and get access to over 100 Class Profiles, as well as our Obsessive Cycling Drills,

Get a mic. Get some killer cues. Get inspired!


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  1. I have been using a mic for quite some time now and I find it very helpful. I just wish it would be required where I instruct. About half of the instructors do use a mic and those that don’t do sound like a drill sergeant. Yelling is punitive and should not be allowed. Using a mic should be mandatory for proper certification.

  2. I’ve been teaching in a 20 x 30′ studio for a number of years. I’ve never used the microphone, and never will, in that studio. I talk between songs or turn the music down so that I’m not trying to talk over it. I’ve never had to raise my voice to be heard. The only complaint I’ve heard about microphones is, club members wish the other instructors didn’t use them.

  3. The Gym I teach doesn’t have a mic for the Spin class. I tried to connect one to the stereo system but since the speakers are right beside me I got nothing but feedback. There is no where else to place the speakers so no mic:(

  4. I think of three reasons why any Indoor Cycling Instructor would not use a mic .

    1. The facility you work at doesn’t have mic system installed or your unable to connect one to the system .

    2. Your Ego is so inflated that you honestly believe that your own voice alone is more powerful & effective then using a mic

    3. You have yet to be properly taught & educated on how to use the mic proficiently in order to not only chance your voice but to modulate and use voices infections to motivate , invigorate , intoxicate & educate your riders with safe , effective & efficient exercises !

  5. It’s really not fair to members or instructors when a facility doesn’t have, and require the use of, a microphone. There are numerous articles describing the damage that can occur to vocal chords when they are exposed to continuous strain. In addition to the other excellent reasons using a mic is beneficial for members, it’s important to recognize that older class participants simply can’t hear instructions if an instructor doesn’t use a mic. The music and the instructor’s voice become garbled noise. Not using a mic is a safety risk that can be, and should be, easily avoided.

  6. I’ve been teaching for 22 years, last 15 years with a wireless mike. I fing a microphone a must for the quality of the class. I do not find screaming at the group motivating but mostly irritating. A mike allows you to talk to your group, in a regular voice, to add more cues, more technical info. I do not have to lower the music to talk, this would be disruptive in the flow, in the rythm and in the intensity level. I do lower the music only for final recovery same as I lower my voice to create a peaceful recovery period.

    1. Author

      Maryse, to your point, the mic is more than vocal reinforcement. It is a tool that allows us to weave intention, motivation, education, and even restorative qualities throughout the ride. It is a very effective tool for providing a holistic mind-body experience.

  7. I had to work through a series of broken mics recently and it was hard and uncomfortable to teach like that. I found myself getting winded quickly by having to yell and project my voice. That one particular class was cue-heavy, working on an extended interval pyramid, and I had to keep my cues and instructions to the bare minimum, impacting the overall quality and experience of that ride for those riders. It was not possible to impart the same sense of intensity, levity, motivation, and even humor without being able to project your voice effectively. While there is a time and place for a quieter ride, with minimal cues, I am a firm believer in the power of the mic, how it helps empower the instructor to empower the rider!

    1. Author

      Right on Melissia! I was even forced to teach a different profile because the mic was not working. I chose an interval based ride to reduce my cues to the start and end of the interval. I still had to give more instruction between interval sets to set riders up for success. My ability to inspire and motivate was reduced by 90%.

  8. the gym I teach at does not have a mic – it’s in a fitness studio room (with horrible acoustics) and the owner thought it was ok that i just “need to talk a bit louder”….I saved up my first 2-3 months of teaching pay, bought my own mic and amplifier, and it’s saved my throat. I had a chronic sore throat for 3 months and was beginning to lose some vocal range. It should be a requirement! I feel for all of you that don’t have a mic. Great article!

    1. Author

      Thanks Kari. It is sad that we have to spend our own money to purchases something that should be a standard piece of group fitness equipment. I too purchased a mic and small amp as a backup. I keep it in the trunk of my car, although this does not help me when I bike to the club :-/

  9. I am printing this out and will give to my club, but they have been saying for two years now…oh, I know we need mics, we’ll get them, etc., and nothing yet. I’m more than willing to purchase my own, but our system is older and they can’t seem to find something compatible (or so it seems)

  10. I have been in the fitness business for 30 years as an instructor, program director, general manager and now as an owner for the past nine years. I have always required my instructors to utilize a microphone and provide top quality microphones, headsets, and sound system for my instructors/trainers and for our group exercise program as a whole. Not only does a microphone protect our voices as instructors, it enables the music level to be played loud enough to motivate and inspire and the instructor to coach the clients with both quiet, thoughtful cues and more forceful cueing when we are sprinting and performing HIIT. A mic is as important for a fitness facility to provide as any other piece of training equipment. We must be heard by our clients so they may perform optimally. After all, that is why we are here, to take care of our clients.

    1. Author

      Jackie, if you manage or open a club near me, I want to teach for you!

  11. Not only is the dialogue and coaching missed when having to yell, but so is the power of inflection of the voice, which all the instructors that I admire leverage; the riders will respond to a noticeable hardening of tone of voice vs. a softer tone when trying to get them to relax during a 10 minute endurance effort, for example, there is no need to screech. This is what can differentiate us from the herd of Group-Ex instructors out there. Teaching without a mic is using your voice in 1-D….This is why I always have packs of batteries (different shapes) and 2 different makes of headsets….And Jennifer, I meant to comment on a previous post, avid showing you trying out that IC7 bike. I wondered what the ghastly racket was on the soundtrack and realised the bloke (salesman?) was yelling at you. I admired how serene you were, I would have just got off the bike and waited until he could talk like a normal person. (Drill sergeant is so 90’s, darling)

    1. I 100% agree with you about using the inflection of your voice, and being softer when trying to get riders to relax. As I like to say, “a whisper can be more powerful than a scream.”

      But there is a time and place for raising the voice when coaching, such as during a sprint or attacks or an exciting part of a profile (think Tour de France announcers, or even soccer announcers).. Chris Plourde, the guy in that video, is not a saleman, he is one of the Master Instructors for ICG. He got his start as an MI for Spinning the same year I came to MDA (1997). He’s very knowledgable about voice inflection and motivation and is not a drill sergeant when he coaches—but he can push someone when needed. We were just hamming it up in the video, and at maximal effort like we were acting out, a soft voice wouldn’t have worked very well. Also, in that trade show hall it was very, very noisy, so he had to yell if the phone was going to pick it up on the video! 😉

      You should hear Tom Scotto yell at the most exciting parts of his profiles when he wants his riders to turn themselves inside out!

    2. Author

      You are so on target Caroline. It is so easy to block out an instructor when they yell and “cue” at the same volume throughout the entire class.

      I love your 1-D description. I’m going to steal…use that 😉

  12. The studio I currently teach at doesn’t have a working mic, thus I teach off the bike 95% of the time, because my riders want to hear me and the music, and I have to strain to ride and shout at the same time.

    1. I too have learned to teach off the bike because of no mic…I will also turn down the music briefly during a recovery so we can talk about what’s coming up next. It is a challenge though!

    2. Author

      This is very unfortunate that you are FORCED to teach off the bike. Teaching off the bike is an effective tool but should not be the main tool used. Your riders are missing out on the inspiration from imitating your intensity, form, and technique on the bike.

      Even when I teach off the bike, I require the club to provide a mic. I hate yelling (not to be confused with vocal inflection) and I love manipulating intensity with vocal cues.

  13. One other type of sacrifice I have seen when an instructor teaches without a mic – the music. Our gym has a mic system, but one instructor insists he does not need it to be heard. And he’s right, because he turns the music very, very, very low, which drains the energy right out of the class.

    1. In the example of the class I subbed a few weeks ago without a mic, that’s exactly what I had to do, turn it down. And I felt the energy leave the room immediately. But I wasn’t about to put my voice at risk!

      Perhaps from damaging my vocal chords years ago, I feel very quickly the result of yelling even for a few minutes, and if I sustain it (like at a concert) it will last a few days. I hate that feeling in my throat!

      1. Author

        Lisa, I could not agree with you more!

  14. My husband and I taught at the same gym; we were so frustrated that our gym’s mic was always broken or missing I finally bought my own. Forget about begging for a mic; the aerobics management said we really didn’t need a mic…I would love to have them teach their workshops without one and see how much fun that was. A for the members; they hate it when we don’t have a mic; just like you said-straining to hear the cues is just plain distracting to doing the work you came to do.

    1. Author

      It can be very challenging when management is disconnected. It can be just as bad when one’s group fitness director IS one of those instructors who thinks they can effectively teach without a mic. ARGH!

  15. I used to teach at two gyms in my area. Neither place provided a mic and mine wasn’t compatible with their system. At one point in a class my voice stopped working! I opened my mouth and nothing would come out. Eventually they closed down and I am teaching at a community centre where everything is provided.

    Unfortunately, I now sound a lot like my grandfather.

    1. oh no! Many years ago (early 90’s) I was teaching a lot of high impact aerobics classes, no mic, screaming over the music (which on a side note, was from an LP! Is THAT not dating myself??)

      I got nodes on my vocal chords, and sounded like Janis Joplin for about a year. They eventually went away and my voice became clear again.

    2. Author

      Robert, I don’t know how you taught week after week without a mic. My mic died a few months ago and I felt my voice strain after just one class. I was raspy throughout the weekend. I told the club I would not teach again until they fixed the mic. They had it replace in 2 days. I should have threatened months ago 🙂

  16. I subbed last week at a club where I used to teach regularly but haven’t taught in 2 years. They remodeled and have a new cycling studio, but unfortunately it has poor acoustics and no mic (I couldn’t find the one I used to use).

    Quite a few of my regular riders were there and when I asked if anyone used a mic, they said no. Rick told me “The others just yell but no one can hear them. It’s just a mumble of words so I shut them off and ride for myself, and follow what others are doing.”

    Many instructors say they don’t need a mic, but often, this is what their participants are saying.

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