The class was packed with both people and hanging punching bags, and looking around the room I wasn't sure what I had gotten myself into.
Before the instructor stepped in front of the class, I was most certainly out of my comfort zone. I stood awkwardly by my bag, waiting to make a fool of myself. But when the petite, spitfire of a woman started the class, she grabbed our attention by cranking up the music. Within five minutes, the pounding bass and catchy electro-beats enabled me to just focus on landing kicks and jabs on the punching bag. The music was so loud, I felt like I was wrapped in sound, and even when the instructor called out combinations into her mic, I could barely hear her.
When I stepped outside of the gym after the intense workout, I immediately noticed the ringing in my ears and my head which felt like it was stuffed with cotton. However, the temporary hearing loss that I experienced from just that single fifty minute class is far from unusual. In fact, fitness classes are fast becoming some of the big causes of permanent hearing loss, and not just for the attendees, but for instructors.
In 2016, PIX11, Tribune Broadcasting’s New York station, conducted undercover noise level tests at four studios in the US, yielding consistently concerning results. At each of the four studios, music was at a near constant 100 dB or more and during classes all the studios spiked to levels of 115 dB, exceeding the known safety levels from industry fitness groups and OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
These results supported the previous research conducted by George Mason University in Virginia, which showed that noise levels during spinning classes in a number of fitness centres in the US often reached 100-110 dB, which is 30-40 dB higher than the recommended maximum levels. However, this standard continues to put instructors, who log hours each day in the deafening environment, at risk for serious hearing loss.
115dB is equal to the sound a jet engine, or a chain saw. Exposure to such levels for even just an hour on a regular basis can cause irreparable damage to the sensitive hearing receptor cells in the ear.
Though patrons and instructors may recognize the dangers associated with such high decibel levels, few may be willing to decrease the sound level during these classes. Many feel that as the sound of the music increases, so too does motivation. Another concern for studios is that gym-goers desire the club-like atmosphere, and would take their business elsewhere if the music levels were to decrease.
For those who love the energy that comes with loud music but want to keep their hearing protected, we suggest investing in a pair of earplugs. These comfortable, foam plugs can reduce sound levels by 20-30 decibels, while still allowing you to get a boost from the music.