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Community Portrait

Instructor puts his own spin on workouts
By: Michael Kirby, photographer
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It's 5 a.m. as you enter the Courthouse Athletic Club in North Auburn. It's still dark outside and you wonder just who would be ready, let alone willing, to exercise at this hour. Sure enough, some health-conscious individuals are already getting their daily workout, lifting weights and working on the exercise machines. But at one end of the hall, the sounds of Jimi Hendrix's Red House are screaming out of a glass-enclosed room. You are almost drawn in the direction just to hear more of the music. Inside, a full class of spinners is already working up a sweat to the beat of some very cool vintage rock music pouring out of the sound system ” Eddie Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, Santana, and early Rolling Stones. Towels and water bottles are on top of the sturdy stationary bikes and everyone is hard at it, each on their own bike ride. Above the din of the music, a lone voice shouts to the group of energetic souls with instructions on where their heart rate zones should be, and compels riders to just push it a little harder, for just a little longer. Michael Johnson, 54, is the voice. On specially built stationary bicycles, Johnston takes his Monday 5:15 a.m. class on an imaginary bike ride full of hills and sprints ” all to some great old rock tunes. Johnson's journey to the lead bicycle is interesting, but not much different than many of his participants. Raised in Sacramento, Johnson was an avid bike rider in his 20s and then took up sailing and racing small sailboats in the Sacramento Delta. In his 40s he was looking for a way to lose some weight and keep his blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check, so he joined the Courthouse Athletic Club. I was in my 40s, overweight, had marginal blood pressure and cholesterol numbers and was thinking, how am I going to finish this up? How am I going to do going into the last quarter? Johnson said. He soon found his way into the spinning class. I'm not a jock, I was never good at sports, and I saw this spinning thing and I did know how to ride a bike and it just fit, he said. Spinning rekindled the spirit of his cycling days and after a couple years of spinning, Johnson thought, Why not lead these classes? He took the certified training and testing and began instructing spinning classes in the evenings at the club. That was four years ago, and he now teaches the early morning classes, which he prefers, at 5:15-6 a.m. on Monday and Wednesday. On Friday he leads not only the 5:15 a.m. class, but also the 6:05-6:50 a.m. and the 7:00-7:45 a.m. classes, almost three hours of non stop exercise. Three classes in a row duplicates a long bicycle ride, Johnson said. It's like training for me and I love doing it. About the early mornings Johnson says: When I first came into the gym and heard about the 5:15 a.m. group I thought they were insane, but I just kind of eased into it. Each instructor picks and makes their own music CDs for their classes. It's a way to inspire and create enthusiasm and mood, I'm the relic in there with the Jimi Hendrix, Johnson said. Johnson considers himself semi-retired for now after years of managing production of Pilates equipment in Sacramento. He spends the rest of his day caring for his three-year-old daughter, Olivia, remodeling his home, and working on the 20 acres he and his wife, Janene, own near Colfax.