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The Gym Rat

The Man Who Put a New Spin on Stationary Bikes

April 17, 2000|GARY METZKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three days after arriving in the United States from South Africa in 1979, Johnny Goldberg was held up and robbed of $3,000 at a Santa Monica hotel.

Virtually penniless after the incident and without a job, he persuaded the owners of a Venice gym to give him a job as a personal trainer. He had worked for years at a gym above his father's pharmacy in Johannesburg.

In the next few years, he became an endurance bicycle racer--twice competing in cross-country cycling events--and earned a black belt in martial arts.

He also spent 10 years designing a workout program that could be done on a stationary bike, combining basic cycling movements, motivational coaching techniques, breathing awareness and heart rate training. The result: a workout program called Spinning.

Johnny Goldberg, who began going by the name Johnny G when Spinning became a fitness sensation, opened his first Spinning center in Santa Monica in 1989. But his program really didn't become popular until 1991, when he moved his classes to Voight Fitness in West Hollywood. Four years later, he opened Johnny G's Spinning Headquarters in Culver City.

Now Goldberg is closing the doors on his Spinning Headquarters. His last day of classes will be Thursday.

"It was a big decision, but this place has outlived its usefulness," Goldberg said. "I have 40,000 instructors around the world, and every month I train 1,000 instructors." The demands of running a successful business made it impractical to continue operating the Spinning clinic, he says.

But Goldberg has paid a price for his success.

In 1998, his hectic schedule led to serious health problems. He lost interest in teaching his classes, and suffered from emotional exhaustion and sleeplessness. He was eventually diagnosed with a chemical imbalance and put on medication, which, he says, led to further medical problems.

Goldberg says it took him a year to fully recover.

So what's next for Johnny G? He's opening a Spinning center in Brazil and plans to publish a book, "Romancing the Bicycle: the Five Spokes of Balance," on the Internet.

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For the uninitiated, a Spinning class usually goes for 40 minutes, although the class I took at noon Tuesday lasted an hour.

Goldberg's studio has 30 bikes, each equipped with a headset. A panel contains individual volume controls for each bike. As the music starts, you put your thumb up or down to let him know if you want the music louder or softer.

What fun it was to take a class from the inventor of Spinning. Goldberg quoted from Gandhi and discussed how each of us can develop our full potential. He asked newcomers to accept the energy of, and become a part of, the circle of people taking the class.

"The real beauty of indoor cycling is that you set your own level of intensity by adjusting the bike's resistance, so your age, size or fitness level doesn't matter," Goldberg said. "The goal is to help you find the champion within."

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If you think you are ready to try an indoor cycling class--and there are many versions of the program at gyms around Southern California--here are some tips from the American Council of Exercise:

* Don't show up to your first class in loose-fitting or flimsy shorts. You'll be sitting on the bike for quite awhile, so padded bike shorts or a padded bike seat will make your ride more comfortable.

* Drink lots of water to stay hydrated.

* If new to the class, ask the instructor to show you how to adjust the bike to your height.

Don't grip the handlebar too tightly. That will only increase the tension in your neck and shoulders.

* Above all, listen to your body and adjust the tension and speed accordingly. Take a break when necessary.

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Gary Metzker is a certified aerobics instructor who has been teaching for more than six years at various clubs.

* If you'd like to suggest a gym or health club for review, send your suggestion by fax to (213) 237-4712, or by e-mail to gary.metzker@latimes.com. The column runs the third Monday of every month.

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