How spinning conquered the fitness world

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

In the fast-moving world of fitness fads, a class that zoomed into gyms in the 1980s still has first place on the podium.

It was 1989 in Santa Monica. Duran Duran, Roxette and Bon Jovi blasted from the radio, while Madonna implored fans to express themselves. The fashion-conscious wore leopard print, shoulder pads and plaid. The body-conscious headed to Johnny G's Spin centre to burn off 600 calories an hour. Born in South Africa, Johnny Goldberg had moved to the United States a decade earlier, working as a personal trainer and taking part in a host of endurance cycle races. One night, while out training on his bike, a passing car narrowly missed him. It was then that he had the idea of taking cycling indoors; the concept of spinning was born.

Goldberg devised a programme of classes based around a specially designed stationary bike. Using a mass braked flywheel – essentially a big, stationary cog – he was able to recreate actual road conditions. Soon after opening that first Santa Monica studio Johnny G, as he came to be known, had won a loyal following among the city's cycle enthusiasts. In 1991, he took his classes to Hollywood and by 1994 he had patented the Spinning logo and opened Johnny G's Spinning Headquarters in Culver City, LA.

Classes have evolved from a collection of punters cycling along to some background music to full-on sporting experiences. Hill climbs, sprints, jumps and downhill freewheeling are simulated; instructors encourage their audience to visualise outdoor environments. The past decade has seen a new strain of realism take hold: so-called "terrain-based" classes, simulating race conditions complete with wind and resistance, have become more popular. While you'd be hard-pressed to find a pro-rider joining the amateurs in their training, it's all based on the same principles racers use. "I use home trainers a considerable amount," explains Tom Southam, who races for the Rapha Condor Sharp team. "Most obviously when the conditions outside make it difficult or impossible to go outdoors." Classes work muscles in ways not offered by other cardiovascular activities, strengthening the core, back and shoulders while working out the quadriceps and hamstrings.

No wonder spinning zoomed out of California and conquered the fitness world. You'd be hard pressed to find a gym in the UK that doesn't offer some kind of cycling-based class. The studios are packed with punters eager to nab one of the stationary bikes. Almost all follow more or less the same formula. Groups are shown how to sit on their bike, how to judge what height to set their seat at, and how to hold their handlebars – and then they're off with a warm-up, as the music – which can incorporate anything from African drum rhythms to the latest chart hits – gradually builds. The main body of a class revolves around intervals – bursts of energetic cycling, frequently at a higher intensity – interchanged by freewheeling downhill segments to give the muscles a break. At the end, there's the cool down, the stretching and the deep breaths. Breathing is important – that and drinking water. You're reminded of both, frequently, throughout.

In an age of short-lived fitness fads this format has proved remarkably durable. Every year more snappily titled classes jostle for attention (Jukari! Stomp! Krump!) but spin remains the most crowded class on offer, drawing die-hard devotees and occasional visitors alike. "I've been doing it for years," says Sophie Butcher, a self-confessed devotee. "In the first few you sweat so much but if your instructor makes it good fun you get over the pain. I go to a class lasting an hour an a half. It's always packed."

"Spin is our bread-and-butter studio class," agrees Tim Foster, head of fitness experience at Virgin Active. "It has always been the most popular." Foster points to a variety of factors in explaining the workout's success: it's relatively straightforward (there's no need for complicated routines or advanced co-ordination); by using a series of dials on their bike, spinners can control the intensity of their own workout; the instructors' approach varies from one to the other, so there's an element of variety. With spinning on offer since they opened in 1999, Virgin was one of the first gyms in the UK to boast dedicated studios equipped with fixed bikes. "It united our customers. A lot of classes tend to be male- or female-dominated. Spin is equally popular."

It's a characteristic that Hilary Gilbert will be counting on. She has just opened Boom! in London's Shoreditch. With its exposed brick work, street and industrial feel, it is unique in being a full-time spinning studio. You won't find treadmills here; instead, there will be 39 Schwinn AC Sport bikes. Customers will be able to take part in a specialised class at any time of the day.

"I first got into spinning years ago in New York," explains Gilbert, a former model. "When I moved to London I found the classes on offer limited. There were only a couple a day, so you had to plan your whole schedule around it." Punters won't need a membership for Boom! – instead, classes will be paid for individually. "You can still have a gym membership but if you feel like a great spinning class you can come to us." The Shoreditch branch will, Gilbert hopes, be the first of many .

But Gilbert's innovation isn't the only change in the spinning landscape. The original master, Johnny G, has been developing a new idea too: kranking. Essentially a spinning class for the arms, kranking involves sitting on a sort of bicycle, feet on the ground, arms in a pair of handle-bar height "pedals." It promises to whip the upper arms into shape, banishing bingo wings in its wake. Virgin Active recently began offering "krank fusion" classes, 30-minute bouts of kranking mixed with spinning in a series of high-intensity intervals. "It's a fantastic all-over workout. Because it's such high intensity you burn a lot of calories quickly," says Foster.

From its origins as a fitness fanatic's personal training scheme to global domination, spinning shows little sign of slowing down. Julia Roberts is said to be a fan, while Kranking has won fans in Jennifer Lopez, Bruce Willis and Hugh Jackman. As for what's next, we can only guess. Underwater spinning, perhaps? No – that's already been done...

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Sport
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Sport
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

    £70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

    Nursery Nurse

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

    Nursery Nurse

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

    SEN Teaching Assistant

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam