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Spinning your way to fitness
Group cycling classes gaining ground in U.S. gyms

Selected Quotes From

NEW YORK (AP) --At first glance, it looks merely like a fitness class of stationary cyclists. On closer look, maybe an extreme cycling class.

Group fitness instructor Carl Hall taunts the intense, sweaty riders in the dimly lit room amid blaring music:

"I've seen you work harder than that. Push it! Burn those calories," Hall goads, crouching over a dripping-wet cyclist. "Think G-string! Summer! G-string! Summer!"

In some gyms it's simply called "group cycling," in others it's "Spinning."

These high-intensity workouts to music simulate a challenging bike ride, complete with hills, valleys and varying speeds, all dictated by the group instructor.

Ultra-endurance cyclist Johnny Goldberg launched a trend in 1986 when he devised this training method while preparing for the 3,000-mile Race Across America. His original version, Spinning, is a registered trademark.

Now there are a multitude of knockoffs, like the one at this Crunch gym.

One survey estimates nearly 2 million people are in group cycling classes. They appeal to both hard-core fitness buffs and those who lack the coordination for cardio classes with complex choreography.

The typical class lasts about 45 minutes. Riders -- their feet strapped to the bike pedals -- push hard against heavy resistance while climbing, and spin fast, usually with low to medium resistance, during sprints.

While Hall pumps up the intensity enough to make the most buff and tough reach for their towels and water bottles, he takes care to ensure that all riders are getting a safe and satisfying workout.

"He's truly the best they have," said Brian McBriann. "It's the ultimate workout."

And McBriann should know. The interior designer has been working out at the same location for about 15 years, long before it was called Crunch.

It's Hall's enthusiasm, focus on safety, form and performance, and his relentless and irreverent banter aimed at motivating and entertaining that packs his classes. But Hall, who teaches nine classes a week at Crunch, as well as New York Sports Club and Equinox gyms in New York, says it's the tunes that titillate the throngs.

"To me, other than the safety, the key factor is the music," said Hall, whose selections range from the Eurythmics to OutKast to Madonna. "You really have to love the music. ... And you've really got to love teaching this."

'Everyone is in their own world'
And more people have come to love group cycling.

The American Sports Data Health Club Trend report, a national consumer survey, says there were 1.9 million group cycling participants in U.S. clubs in 2002, compared with 1.1 million in 1998.

Seventy-two percent of U.S. sports clubs offer group cycling, according to a 2002 survey by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, representing more than 6,500 health clubs worldwide.

Julie Isphording, an instructor in Cincinnati and a former Olympic marathon runner, says her classes are for all ages.

"My class can have a 60-year-old-male next to a 23-year-old female," said Isphording. "Everyone rides according to heart rate monitor or perceived effort so it is the great equalizer. Everyone is in their own world."

Safety is paramount. At Crunch gyms, for example, first-time riders must arrive 10 minutes before class so the instructor can adjust the handlebars and seat according to height.

Hall tells participants to check the hand brake and make sure the pedal straps are secure. There is potential for serious injury if the straps become loose during pedaling.

For the devoted, this workout can be habit-forming.

Many riders enjoy taking two classes in a row for an extra buzz.

"When I leave class I'm literally dripping with sweat, which is personally a very cathartic thing for me," said Kara Armit, an account manager at a Boston-area public relations agency. "As a result of Spinning on a regular basis for about two years now, the improvement in my overall physical endurance has been dramatic."

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