Sweat drips from heads bowed over stationary bikes, while the exercisers - eyes closed and legs blurred beneath them - daydream themselves into fitness.

This is Marci Rumel's spinning class, held in a dimly lit Sports Mall studio with pseudo-road signs on the wall and yellow lines painted on the floor."Where are you?" she calmly asks into the microphone. "Are you waterskiing? Riding in a convertible along the coast? Are you biking on asphalt? Grass? Sand?"

Rumel acknowledges her class may not be paying much attention to her questions. They have already acquired the ability to remove their minds from their bodies while their legs pump up and down on the pedals.

"I could be standing right next to them and they wouldn't even notice," she said.

This exercise program uses the stationary cycle to allow participants to cross-train over time with no impact. Spinning is "not an activity and more than a workout" that uses five movements and three hand positions on a specially designed stationary bike to mimic outdoor road riding, said Gary Kobat, marketing director for Mad Dogg Athletic, the company that originated the spinning program.

But possibly more important than the mechanics of the program, connection of the mind and body has been a primary tenet of spinning since it began in the 1980s.

Many say it has opened the door to a host of other nontraditional exercise programs intended to be similarly therapeutic to the mind as well as the muscles. Rumel estimates that her club's offerings have nearly doubled since the awareness began.

Health clubs now offer yoga, kick-boxing and indoor rock-climbing workshops. The Sports Mall is soon to offer "trucking," a spinoff (no pun intended) of spinning, where participants use varying inclines on a treadmill to simulate walking outdoors.

Lonnie Burton, owner of the Body Masters health club in Sandy, said the spinning program has given her new insight into teaching all types of classes, where less is more and a calm voice tone makes a difference. Without an instructor barking in the faces of class members constantly, participants can give themselves permission to let their minds wander, he explained.

Burton credits the sense of well-being gained from programs such as spinning to endorphins - chemicals released in the body after a person reaches a certain cardiovascular stage, usually 75 percent maximum heart rate. Endorphins are known to create a natural high.

Mind-body connection was something the fitness industry badly needed, Rumel said. Traditionally, fitness meant one thing, and one thing only - feeling the burn.

Rumel said the changes she sees in her class participants who are not ultra-fit often begin on the inside, but people get discouraged when they don't see the inches immediately coming off. Often, they are well on their way to getting in shape without even realizing it because fitness begins on the inside, she said.

"I've seen some great bods, but nothing is going on inside," Rumel said. "Fitness is about integrating all of it."

That's why programs such as spinning - part Tour de France and part yoga - have tried to provide a marriage between contentment of participants' inner selves and healthy bodies.

What sets the program apart, advocates say, is the individual training by heart-rate monitoring and the ability of riders to slow their pedal stroke to a level that is comfortable.

Spinning is in 4,000 facilities worldwide, and in more than 75 countries. Salt Lake City has many health clubs that offer spinning, including Jordan Valley Athletic Club, Snowbird Canyon Racquet Club, Gold's Gym in Bountiful, Life Centre Athletic Club in Sandy and the Metro Sports Club.

Kobat estimates that a spinning class costs between $7 and $15, but most clubs will offer a package price with memberships. Mad Dogg Athletics is a multimillion dollar company that draws its revenues from clothing and accessory sales, instructor training and licensing fees.

The founder of spinning is Johnny Goldberg, better known as Johnny G., who is known as a "master motivator" and student of Zen. He has coined the phrases "Every pedal stroke is a polish of your character" and "It takes one moment to change your attitude, and that moment can change your life."

Other health clubs may offer different indoor cycling programs that vary in intensity, training and offerings.

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Additional Inforamtion

Tips on getting started in the spinning program

- Sign up for class and bring towel, water bottle and padded cycling shorts

- Introduce yourself to the instructor

- Understand that you control the intensity of your ride by determining how fast you pedal

Benefits of spinning

- Strengthening of heart

- Increasing of self-esteem

- Burning of 500 calories per class

- Lowering of cholesterol

- Lowering of resting heart rate