May. 12, 2008
FEAR AND LOAFING: SPINNING OUT OF CONTROL
Our reporter tries to peddle his shtick with hard-core exercisers
Varying stages of befuddlement are displayed by the 21 students facing me. Jeff Sherwood usually yells out instructions -- "Stand up!" "Crank it up!" "Follow my pace!" -- all while maintaining a smile and throwing Beastie Boys dance moves with his hands.
I intended to do all that, really. But desperately gasping for air is refusing to take a back seat right now.
Actually, I lied. There are 19 students; two huffed out in frustration.
"You're in for a treat," Sherwood told his 8:30 a.m. class. "This is the guy I learned from in Los Angeles years and years ago.
"Thank him for everything that you guys get from me."
Spinning is an exercise regimen wherein otherwise sane people volunteer to nearly explode their hearts while going nowhere on a bike and being yelled at. It was invented in the '80s by endurance athlete Jonathan Goldberg, who I suspect may have also had a hand in the invention of waterboarding and the Fox game show "The Moment of Truth."
Spinning -- a word trademarked by Goldberg's Madd Dogg Athletics, although other companies sell similar indoor cycling equipment and certify instructors -- burns about 500 calories every 40 minutes. Spinners are guided through simulated hill climbs, jumps and downhill runs, with different body positions -- sitting, standing, leaning over the handlebars -- working different muscle groups.
"It's a great workout," said Sherwood, who is 41 and possesses iron-shearing calves. "So I figured, why not get in shape and get paid for it?"
Spin instructing pays Sherwood $30 for each of the 11 classes he teaches per week.
"Obviously, this doesn't pay my mortgage," he said. "But it's my sushi money." (A friend's gaming consulting group, which Sherwood joined three years ago, pays his mortgage.)
Sherwood used to spin his wheels in place in a different way. He was considered a fairly successful Hollywood screenwriter, having sold a movie-of-the-week to TBS in 2001. That's when he decided to move to Las Vegas.
"It was a big payday," Sherwood said, "and giving 10 percent to California wasn't working for me."
But Sherwood gave up on fulltime screenwriting when it gave up on him. None of his screenplays, including the movie-of-the-week, were ever produced.
"When I was single, it was kind of easy to eat tuna out of a can when things got lean," he said. "But now I'm married and I have two kids.
"Hey, how did that happen?"
I'll tell you how: Sherwood's wife walked into his life through the doors of a Spinning room at the Las Vegas Athletic Club, where he used to teach. Now that's a job perk.
"She started talking to me after class and we just hit it off," Sherwood said.
According to Gold's employees, Sherwood remains popular with the ladies, some of whom arrive early to jockey for a seat in his front row.
"We're on 'Punk'd!'" screams student Adam Brooks, referring to MTV's former candid-camera series.
Back to what I have no guarantee in the moment is not a heart attack. In addition to my increasingly unmet need for oxygen, each of my extremities is numbing and specks of white light are playing Atari's Super Pong inside my eyelids.
I have already unscrewed the resistance knob as far left as it will go, like it's a canteen of water I've just traversed hundreds of desert miles to find. This decreased whatever anemic pressure I placed on the flywheel brake to start with. (Unlike the knobs of traditional stationary bikes, these aren't numbered, because Spinning acknowledges that every cyclist has different limits.)
Nothing helpful resulted. My Star Trac bike continues to slow down, a fact that's drawing attention beyond the walls of the Spinning room. (Gold's personal trainer Elliott Kleven and managers Claude Schutte, Marcel Kuerzi and Ashley McCracken have gathered at one of the windows to point and laugh.)
The sad thing is that I'm only three songs into my lesson.
"Is this a joke?" Brooks continues.
In my defense, they were three songs from a punk CD I stole from the desk of Review-Journal music critic Jason Bracelin. I snickered about how it would annoy students used to getting physical with Olivia Newton-John.
Of course, the students love the 4-beat-per-second pace and it's me who's starting to see my dead grandmother at the end of a long tunnel of light.
"You never know your limit until you exceed it," Sherwood told me during training.
I know my limit, then, and it's three songs by the Hermosa Beach band Pennywise.
"Couldn't last, huh?" Sherwood asks after strolling in like a cavalryman who pedals.
Of the students who remained, most explode in applause. Sherwood offers to extend his Saturday course an extra 25 minutes to placate those who aren't amused.
I apologize for making anyone fat.
"You guys ready for the real class?" Sherwood asks.
My answer surprises no one.
Fear and Loafing appears every Monday in the Living section. Levitan's previous adventures can be found at www.fearandloafing.com.