Johnny G – The father of Spinning

Spinning. This conjures the image of a dozen or more people sweating on stationary bikes inside a health club pedaling manically to the thud of fast-paced dance music and the sound of an instructor instructing them to “sprint-recover-stand-sit”.

This fitness concept has taken the world by storm and it all began in a Californian kitchen almost three decades ago through the innovation of a South African ultra-distance cyclist, Jonathan Goldberg, known universally as Johnny G.

“I was training for the Race Across America (RAAM), which requires mega training miles. My wife was pregnant and to compromise, I built a prototype spinning bike in my kitchen to maintain my fitness. Soon, my buddies were coming over to ride it and the concept took off from there.”

What began as a training compromise soon evolved into private indoor cycling training sessions for friends and clients in his garage and further blossoming into the worldwide phenomenon of Spinning, a concept accessible for people of all fitness levels.

But who is Johnny G?

Born Jonathan Goldberg in Johannesburg South Africa in 1956, Johnny first started taking boxing lessons at the tender age of six, later evolving into solid swimmer while attending the prestigious Marist Brothers College.

But like a most kids, he had a bicycle and it was his first love.

“In 1976, I rode my bike from Johannesburg to Durban in order to raise money for a charity called TEACH, which helped provide clothing, pencils, paper and class rooms for under-privileged African children. The black kids used to write fine point, with one piece of paper and an eraser that they used over and over. It was hard being a black kid, especially in those days. The white kids were given everything.”

“I had a great sponsorship from the Deale and Huth cycle shop in Johannesburg, enabling me to pursue this project while maintaining my love for cycling.”

Like all white South African males in those days, Johnny was called up to the army for his two years compulsory national service. Based in Kroonstad at the Army School of Engineers, he “drove some big trucks and worked in the kitchen.”

“But the best part was playing squash for the Defence Force. My Dad had been a Springbok squash player, so I had the opportunity to learn from him.”

After leaving the army, Johnny ran a Sandton gym, immersing himself in a body-building course run by the gym’s owner, Reg Park. This was his first foray into the world of personal training.

But soon, Johnny would experience an event that would change his life forever.

While on holiday in California, he was held up at gunpoint in a Santa Monica hotel. Robbed of all his money and with no way of affording a ticket home, he picked himself up by working as a personal trainer in a local Californian fitness club, eventually starting his own private gym training the rich and famous in Beverly Hills.

“It was not until 1998 that I returned to South Africa while on a bike tour with friends”.

But cycling was still close to his heart and Johnny soon immersed himself in the ultra-distance cycling scene, which was growing in the USA at the time.

While competing in the 554 mile (889 km) RAAM Open West race in 1988, Johnny set a record of 29 hours 46 minutes for this gruelling non-stop endurance test which stands to this day. “This was a great event for me, which included over 16000 feet of climbing. The days in the desert were hot, over 100deg Fahrenheit with the temperatures plummeting at night, especially in the Arizona mountains. But it was my kind of race, a race of attrition so to speak involving lots of craziness. The second-placed rider finished over four hours behind me.”

This event was a qualifier for the “grand daddy” of ultra-marathon cycling, the RAAM, a race for teams and individuals covering over 3000 miles. Participants have 12 days to complete the event, with the 2010 event having been contested between Oceanside, California and Annapolis, Maryland on the east coast of the USA.

The RAAM typically provides over fifty timing stations which act as compulsory checkpoints for both riders and their support crews. It is here that riders check in with race HQ detailing their time and location before being allowed to continue.

Being part of a RAAM support crew is almost as demanding as riding the race itself.

“Each solo rider or team requires a full backup team. The support crew is your life line. No crew means no race.”

But what would Johnny’s RAAM preparation look like?

“Training for such an event takes complete dedication. My training included a lot of “simulated” training plus rollers and indoor stationary bike work.”

Matter-of-factly, Johnny rattles off the following training week, which he followed for the six months prior to the event:

Monday: recovery day, 2 hours easy

Tuesday: hills, 12 hours

Wednesday: 3 hours, rollers indoors

Thursday: desert ride, 12 hours

Friday: rest

Weekend: 24 hour ride, beginning at 6am on Saturday and finishing 6am Sunday

Weekly Total: 53 hours!!!!!

So how did Johnny facilitate the necessary mental toughness to get through this sort of training, let alone the RAAM?

“I’ve always believed that the body follows the mind. The fist step is to tweak your state of mind in order to learn to manipulate your thoughts and negative emotions. To achieve this, I used Entrainment to work “the inside.” Your bi-neural beat tracks a sequence of brain waves with their underpinnings and primordial sounds laying into a program that you listen to through head phones creating a remarkable effect.”

“The key though is to know how to sequence this language through repetition and delay so that you can hit the inner realms of your bio computer’s hard drive that defines you as a person.”

Johnny’s methods have certainly had a profound impact on many, including one of our previous interviewees, Brad Kearns who was one of the world’s top short-course triathletes for many years.

Read our interview with Brad here

In his auto-biography, “Can You Make a Living Doing That?” Brad details how Johnny mentored his early career including the application of some of these visualization and meditation techniques the week before an important duathlon back in 1987. Lacking confidence due to the impending presence of many of the sports superstars, Johnny had Brad visualize the upcoming event including the expected competition for an extended period which ended with him breaking the tape in a finishing time that several minutes faster than the course record set at the previous event.

Calm and relaxed on race day, Brad went on to trounce the world-class field the following weekend with a performance still remembered to this day. And amazingly his finishing time was only one second slower than the time Johnny had had Brad predict during their meditation session the week before!

Unsurprisingly, Brad has gone on to become a highly regarded coach and mentor:

“Brad is an incredible human being with an arsenal of insights and abilities which he has applied as a mentor and coach to many.”

Today, Johnny makes his home in Santa Barbara, California and unsurprisingly has developed a new fitness phenomenon, the Krank Cycle.

At a charity “Spinathon” in 2002, he tried a hand-cycle for physically-challenged athletes and suddenly a new idea began to take shape.

“I got back on my spin bike for the rest of the five-hour charity ride and my head began to fly. The obvious was to start working on the project in 2003. The first prototype with independent crank arms was built in 2006 and the rest is history.”

After being diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition in 2005, Johnny immersed himself in this new venture developing the Krank Cycle into a sought-after piece of equipment in the world of health and fitness.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would have the opportunity to bring this amazing piece of equipment to life. Virgin Active in South Africa has “spread their wings” around the product, so the concept is in good hands. You have to try it”