Spinning: The Mind & Body Experience with Johnny G

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Fitness expert Johnny G will discuss how to combine cycling with inspirational music, visualization and breathing techniques to create a unique non-impact, non-competitive exercise.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live's Sports and Fitness Auditorium. Today we are discussing Spinning: The Mind and Body Experience with Johnny G.

Johnny G is the inventor of Spinning?, the innovative bicycling athletic training program that has revolutionized the fitness industry. Today hundreds of thousands of Spinning participants join Johnny G in this pursuit of health and happiness. Spinning training sessions combine a foundation of basic cycling movements with inspirational music, visualization and breathing techniques to create a unique, non-impact, non-competitive exercise experience.

Johnny, thank you for joining us today.  What exactly is Spinning? How is it more than simply bicycling?

Johnny G: Many years ago, when I was training for a cross-country bicycle race called "The Race Across America," I started to experience a whole life beyond the bicycle -- mental philosophy, struggles and tribulations that had inhibited my life as a human being as well as an athlete through my entire career. The race was a 3,100 mile bicycle race from Los Angeles to New York City; I spent an average of 22 hours a day on the bike across America in 9-1/2 days. And I spent 200,000 kilometers on the road in four years. This gave me a tremendous amount of time for reflection and to think about life and the pursuit of happiness, as well as bicycling up some boring hill. The outcome was incredible. It happened in 1987 for me, where I nearly got killed on the road one night, and I decided not to do my night time training on the bicycle, and bring it indoors into the house. My wife was pregnant, and it was safer and also allowed an opportunity for me to be around her, so she wouldn't have to worry. It was at this point that I realized I could simulate everything I needed to do as an athlete outdoors. I could train heart rate, time, distance by monitoring intensity, and I could also work the most important part of the endeavor, and that was myself. This was when I started to think of constructing a commercial training program that anybody could do at any age. Yet that needed a very special bicycle, because the bicycles in the marketplace at the time were limited, and they would need a program, not a workout, that would take them on the path to self-discovery. So I formulated some principles, and named the program Spinning?, and I began to put it all together, and those were the early days.

Moderator: How did you come up with the Spinning bicycle?

Johnny G: I designed the bicycle around my road bike. The frame was the same geometry, yet I had two different ones, one for flats and one for mountains. At first I developed a seat post that would slide forward and back, as well as up or down, and it could change the angle of the bicycle, and would also work different muscle groups -- the quads to the mids to the back, and take the pressure off the knee, just by shifting it forward and back. You could slide it back five or six inches, so it would completely change the whole movement of the pedal stroke. And then what I did was I took a computer off the bicycle, because computers on the bicycle had been sort of part of mainstream for years and years. People had been involved with riding a bicycle that would let you know how many calories you had burnt, how much resistance you were using, what type of profile... and this, to me, was something that had to go. It was limiting. It meant nothing, and I felt that this would be the first breakthrough I'd make on the stationary bike design. I'd get rid of the computer, and what I would do is design the handlebars that would allow the participant to sit and stand up. This was a big deal, because all stationary bikes like Lifecycle or your average stationary bike would have a computer, and you'd throw a towel on the screen, or sit upright and pedal. That bicycle would give you the feel of a real racing bicycle; the next thing was take the fly wheel and create a solid cast fly wheel with a fixed gear, so it'd be connected to the pedal or drive train. There would be no free-wheeling, so it'd be very easy to roll your legs around to get inertia or momentum, and this would give you a chain-driven feel that you could only get on the road, and it'd be very direct and excellent to change timing, rhythm, tempo. You could accelerate, feel connected, and you could stand. By adding manual resistance, you could close your eyes and because of the shape of the handlebars, like sort of bull-horn handlebars, you could drop your head and move from side to side like you were on a real road bike going up a hill. The other big dramatic changes were that stationary bikes came with rubber pedals, but I changed the crankshaft of the stationary bike, so it'd allow the pedal change where people could use pedals for racing, or clipless shoes. This meant it would become a whole sport. People could train like athletes, and the only piece of equipment necessary would be time, a heart rate monitor, and the motivation from a Johnny G certified Spinning instructor, music driven as you'd go through a 40 minute training session.

Moderator: Why does Spinning involve music?

Johnny G: The music is fundamental. It lays down the rhythm, tempo and timing. Because bicyclists are fast; you can go from 40 to 100 rpms, you can double or triple time your legs; you have the ability to run in different patterns. Different people relate to different sounds; during the course of a 40 minute clock, you can go from blues to reggae to jazz; you also have the possibility of closing your eyes. Because it's so safe, no potholes or cars, you can disengage. With the voice of the instructor and having the backdrop of music, you have so many possibilities and opportunities to either train with the music, or use the music as an inspirational pad, where the instructor can go into language patterns, dealing with emotions and thoughts, and how you can engage yourself. What it does is bring about a whole emotional life that, without the music -- you'd be sort of mixing the essence of indoor training is meant to be. It's not meant to be an aerobics class, yet it's meant to cross over and add some of the excitement from a very still environment on the road. You get a very diverse cross of opportunities indoors that would be impossible to simulate or experience outdoors.

Moderator: What are some of the specific benefits of cycle training?

Johnny G: The bicycle has always been used as something that is accessible. It's completely no impact; it has tremendous cardiovascular benefits, and it works the heart, lungs -- incredible for the cardiovascular system. In the old days, it was limited to the legs, but now you're standing up on a hill, and you're doing the movements you'll find a triathlete or cyclist using out on the road. You engage the shoulders, triceps, legs, and the entire body. Cyclists' bodies are tremendously lean; you don't find very heavy muscle structure in cyclists because of the nature of the activity. With the increasing of the resistance and the high end RPM, you have all the benefits from the cardiovascular to the circulation to muscular development, by isolating and climbing hills, by doing strength workouts. In the Spinning program, I've created 5 energy zones, a recovery workout, an endurance workout, an interval workout, a hill workout, and a race day workout. These go into training sessions, and each session involves three hand positions and five movements. The energy zone system is the core of the Spinning training system. I have a book called Spintensity, which is distributed globally by Polar Heart-Rate Company, and it goes into strategies and games, and heart rate manipulations, and the different aspects of training, not only the physical aspects, but being able to tolerate and deal with stress during performance, anxiety during the day, coming into an environment where you'll work out, and you've just faced a day of chaos, maybe relationship, maybe business, and how to focus on your heart. Even though you may be in a group, you separate from the group, find yourself, and resonate from yourself, and to remember you are the most important person in that room. These benefits come from my program, and what makes it even more important is that there is no competition, because every individual in the group controls their own resistance, their own speed, their own heart rate. So even though the teacher may be taking the group up a hill, it was possible for anybody at any time to disengage and relax. This is unlike any other group exercise program, where you participate in the group, but not have to stay in the group, by pulling energy or disrupting the flow of the class, like a kickboxing class, or something that requires group participation. There is no win or lose, and the bike doesn't move, so whether you are standing, sitting, you have more uncalibrated resistance on your bike, or whether you're sprinting at 140 rpms or not, the language is universal in the program. We're all here to get to the top of our mountains, and to find the champion within ourselves, and to liberate ourselves through this training in an effective way, where we increase and improve our anaerobic threshold, our heart rate recovery time. In cardiovascular training, anybody can take the heart rate, but not everybody can bring it down. The other thing that makes the bicycle extraordinary is that you can train with your heart at 130 heartbeats with resistance, and 130 without resistance. Same heartbeat, two different movements. One very fast, flushing the legs, bringing blood and oxygen into the body, and the other to develop strength, coordination, timing and rhythm, but using a different movement.

Moderator: What exactly makes official Spinning instructors special? What does their training entail?

Johnny G: Any human being can show up to do an orientation day; it's held in 80 countries around the world, and they can be part of a family of 40,000 joining certified instructors. You go through an eight hour orientation, no matter what your background is. It's led by a presenter or master instructor, and this person guides you and takes you through a whole basic setup, from bicycle to music to coaching skills. From that point, the manual is broken up into three phases. These three phases are studied and worked on for six months. This program becomes almost an apprentice program in this time, where the newly oriented instructor starts to develop skills, ability, insights, and at the end of six months, they send in an assessment. This assessment is marked, and they get their black card, or Johnny G certification number. In the meantime, while they're working on the program, they have the possibility to call Maddog Athletics, and do continuing education courses, like mental training, Spintensity, music preparation, music layout and design, class preparation, energy zones, etc. We also have three world sports and spinning conferences, which gives the instructor the opportunity to take master or specialty classes to develop their skills or insights into the program. There are different levels of instructors out there. It takes time to develop the ability to be able to motivate a group of people at different levels with different needs, with different goals from different backgrounds in a 40 minute class on a stationary bike.

Moderator: How are the classes taught by certified Johnny G Spinning instructors different than the spinning classes offered in my gym?

Johnny G: There's technically no such thing as "a" spinning class. The words "spinning," "spin," "spinner" are used in any country, in one of the categories -- Spinning has five categories: closing, educational, video, music, and program. If there's a Spinning instructor teaching a Spinning class, unless they're on the Johnny G Spinner, which is my bicycle which I have patents on, and unless it's also a Spinning facility, which means it's licensed with Maddog Athletics, which means it's an authorized Spinning instructor, and the instructor will have a certified card. If the instructor doesn't have a certified card, then there is no Spinning class or Spinning instructor card. It's just used that way. It's being used generically, and it's not my program. It would be an indoors cycling class, and it would not have the components that make my program so special. Yet my program in a newly oriented instructor's class may also be a little bit weak, depending on the level and understanding of the teacher. But the system has been laid out, so that Johnny G certified instructor can grow and develop all the skills over a period of the time.

Moderator: Is there anything one can do to make the seats more comfortable?

Johnny G: We have padded shorts with a special pad, no seams and no underwear; can't wear underwear, and nothing underneath. The best thing is to get a settled suit or some kind of chamois or anti-bacterial cream, because it's all about friction. It's not so much about sitting on the saddle, but when you start rubbing on the saddle, then it becomes uncomfortable. What we found is over the years, over two pairs of shorts, one pair of shorts, a pair of shorts and sweatpants, a pair of shorts and gel saddle, a saddle that's been properly adjusted where the nose doesn't point down or not too high up. You shouldn't feel like you're sliding on the saddle or that it's sitting too high up. The other thing is that the saddle can be settled on the rails, where it's pushed all the way back, and that can help. I also believe that there's a new saddle that has a split in it. Some people love it. And you can buy a seat slider, and use your own saddle. It's something that most people that participate in. You can try to go a little bit lower and one notch back, and not tighten the toe-strips so back, so you don't feel so tied in.

Moderator: Do the Spinner bikes use the same seats for men and women?

Johnny G: You know, yeah, it comes with a saddle. You have to look at the bike. You're buying an $800 dollar bicycle. If you walk into a bike store right now and bought an $800 dollar bicycle, you'd get a fair road bike. That's anywhere from between $900 and $1800. For $800 dollars for a road bike, you're getting adequate. That road bike would come with stock equipment. If you took that road bike and threw six people on it every day, you'd destroy this thing within a week. Some of the components have been commercially sourced; it doesn't mean it's only components, and when I made that frame, I made it so it'd never tear. When I was building prototypes, I went through 17 frames in a month. You will never ever ever, with ten people on it, be able to break that frame. The other thing is, a saddle is a saddle. You can go out and buy any saddle you want. The world is full of saddles, and it just costs about 20 bucks to buy the seat slider and your own saddle. Then you bring your own saddle into class. Generally, cyclists will do that -- they won't ride a saddle different from their own road bike saddle. If you're riding a leather saddle, it'll be about an inch and a half difference in height, compared to the Schwinn saddle. What it'll do is put more pressure on the arches in between your thighs, and it'll also raise you up unnaturally from your normal position. Most people riding on the road will use the same pedal system and the same show they use on their road bike, Spinning bike, and same seats. You're not dealing with adjustments, and setups. From a workout point of view, 90 percent of the population that's coming into a Spinning class come in, throw their towel onto their handlebars, stretch into their pedals, music cranks out, and it's just a sweat. I don't think that's right or wrong; it all depends on what you're looking for.

Moderator: I hear that riding a bike can cause impotence in men. Do you know if this is true?

Johnny G: I just had that question last week at Kenyon Ranch. I believe that there have been some isolated class of impotence. I'm 43 years old, and can attest to three beautiful children. The Chinese have been riding bicycles for many years, and they've got about a billion people on them. (laughs) I think it's like anything; really be aware if there's any prostrate or pressure problems. I definitely think that would need to be addressed. Not all males are born and built equally the same. Trying to be comfortable in a pair of cycling shorts can be problematic for different people. I definitely think it's isolated. From my experience from dealing with hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world, it's not a major issue at this point. I don't even believe it is an issue. And yes, I do believe there were some articles written about impotence and the recumbent bicycle being an alternative to an upright seated bicycle; take that as you may.

Moderator: What is it about riding a bike for 500 miles that's even slightly fun?

Johnny G: I agree with you 100%. Absolutely nothing. (laughs) I rode the bicycle because I was born with a tremendous amount of emotional problems. At 11 years old, I had my head stuffed down a toilet and my buddies urinated on it and thought it was fun. For me, the bicycle became a tool of liberation and self-discovery. I never realized how powerful the tool became. Only after punishing myself -- like a person making a million dollars and saying, "Why'd I push myself so hard, when I never spent any time with my family?" -- it was through the hundreds of miles that I did that gave me insight into my behavior as a compulsive overachiever, and why I pushed myself so hard is that the bicycle gave me wonderful release. That could have been painting, writing, anything, but it turned out to be something that gave me, in the end, incredible insight and incredible opening to realizing that being born chemically imbalanced, dyslexic, having no possibilities, and being kept back at school to being able to take a tool, where I'd become not only a national but world champion without ever having to beat anybody, and mobilize a million people a day on a bicycle in 40 minutes, because my trade evolved into something that gave people and me so much. If it wasn't for the miles, I wouldn't have been able to grow and learn as much about myself and other people if I took the journey. I hope that helps with some insight.

Moderator: What did your experience as a martial artist teach you?

Johnny G: The martial arts has been one of the most incredible journeys for me; I've just developed a program called "Jo Sand." I've had about 300 people go through it, and its been touched on in a few national magazines, and it'll be launching very shortly. It gave me a connection between the bicycle metal and understanding a philosophical outlook. I felt anybody could climb a hill on a bicycle, and anybody could push themselves to exhaustion, and burn heartbeats... and yet not everybody could take care of themselves. The martial arts gave me an insight. A punch is just a punch, no matter how much you train. There's always somebody out there that will be able to suppress that technique. The greatest insight came for me five years ago when I realized that the greatest martial arts instructor would be someone that can change an aggressive mentality. You can teach a student how to kick and punch, and become functional -- when there's an aggressor in the town, that person's mentality is aggressive. Even though the student may be secure and safe, someone else in the village may not be, or in society. But if that martial arts teacher could reach the aggressive mentality of the aggressor, so that he would leave his mentality or weapons at home, then everybody would be safe. 

In the structure of the Spinning program, I created a program very in line with the fundamentals of the martial arts system. Phase 1 was developed around three hand positions and basic movements. You'd go through the repetition of basics, until you forgot about the basic movements. Phase 2 would be Kata, or combination of basics, seamless transitions from one movement to another. Phase 3 would be Kumiteo, combat. Learning how to use basics, seamless transition, and energy -- when to use it and when to hold it. and how to control ego, even though the class may be pushing, and even though someone may have initiated an attack. Knowing when to go and when not to go. These things became basically fundamental in structure; I went to many martial arts camps. I was exposed to some beautiful things -- I ran a glacier in Switzerland in three hours, just in my karate pants. It's what you do with the stuff you endure, and the knowledge. You can't replace a seed, you can't replace a tree, you can't replace a person. We eat an apple and throw away the seeds. It's not what we do to get fit. It's the awareness that five generations from now, there may not be an apple tree because we threw away the seeds. This is the kind of understanding in my last practice, whether it be Capeoiria  Shotokan [martial arts], or whether we're just working on cooking a good family meal, is all about. What I've written in my books -- it deals with five spokes of insight, which leads to one self realization, where you can take yourself and tweak yourself, whether you're doing it through a martial way or the practice of dance, or whether you're doing it through reading, business, life, whatever you want. As long as you can wake up feeling good about yourself, and the balance of your existence is something that feels good to you on a daily basis, then however you posture yourself, or whatever you put time and energy into -- for me, I think and breathe like a martial artist. The bicycle for me was a martial arts tool. It wasn't ever used to take anybody else or hurt anybody else. It was always used as a path to self-discovery, and that's the essence of martial arts.

Moderator: What do you see in the future of fitness training? Where does Spinning fit in all this?

Johnny G: My company right now has structured a global plan. Unfortunately, dealing with so many countries at one time, it's very difficult to manifest everything in one quick swoop. The Spinning program is lacking in language content, not music, not enthusiasm, not willingness. The future of the training will begin to be seen over the next six months to 2-1/2 years. Our master instructors or educators will slowly start getting a handle on our 40,000 instructors -- we have 1,000 in the U.S. which are going through orientation every month. With so many people coming in, and then them having to go through a six month period, it's vital for us as an organization to expose this individual to more insightful ways, to see not just the training possibilities, but the possibilities that are out there for different individuals from different walks of life, and different needs and capabilities. It's a very difficult task, and instead of me cannibalizing the Spinning program and pushing a hard, market campaign to get people sweating and burning some calories on a Johnny G Spinner at home, I've made some diligent efforts to go into two areas. The one is special events, and the other is education of my instructors. Special events are things like cancer, heart, lung, events, which are community events, where we get five hundred bikes together, or seven hundred bikes in Italy in June for four days, big events where people get together and celebrate the idea of being healthy, vital, vibrant, human beings. Also being aware that if you're not healthy, vibrant, you are still a magical human being. It's important to participate. So the students' participation is not performance driven, but it's quality of life driven.

I came back from Ohio five weeks ago, and the yellow t-shirts were people that had overcome terminal cancer; the green t-shirts were those that had lost someone in their families in the last six months. Joining me on stage was a Gold medal winner for the Special Olympics, and we raised $80,000. If this is an indication of communities putting sweat on the floor to develop something special, then Spinning in that context is starting to move in the right direction. The same as we know that people die of starvation. Every 3.5 seconds, we have one child, under the age of 5, dying of starvation. All it takes is a click on www.thehungersite.com and that kid gets fed for me. All it takes for a certified Spinning instructor is to take someone who wants to show up, to take care of themselves, and use language, not necessarily the bicycle, but to motivate someone to get up off the net, because someone else out there needs them, and they've got two hands and this, philosophically, is what I've been doing from day one in my program. The future of this program will not be in just changing the physical way exercise has been taught and delivered; that's basic, heart-rate training. Eighty percent of all people working in a gym are worried about how much sweat, and everybody is training on a group together, but nobody is wearing a heart rate monitor. They're taking for granted that everyone is at the same heart rate and will recover at the same time; it's not the same for 30 people in the room. The website is www.johnnygspinning.com, which will be hosting "Romancing the Bicycle." It's in its construction phase. The other website is www.spinning.com.

Moderator: Johnny, thank you for joining us today. WebMD members, please join us every Tuesday at 9 pm EDT here in the Sports and Fitness Auditorium for our live weekly event. 

Johnny G: Keep the rubber side or tire down, and the sunny side, or smile up.

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