This is what sadistic must look like.
Men and women dancing so hard and fast atop canary yellow exercise bikes their perspiration looks like rain.
They are jammed so close it’s difficult to maneuver between them but somehow instructor Keith Thompson manages. He offers high fives. He gets in your face. He motivates, sometimes singing, other times dancing or both to soundtracks of Rihanna, Lil Jon, and Bruno Mars.
Watching you know why Thompson and the cycling classes he calls KTX Fitness have generated a following that even he didn’t anticipate. In just seven years, he has become a YouTube sensation so popular metro Atlantans show up an entire hour early to secure a place in his classes. Fans are crossing state lines to experience the class first hand and fitness clubs are taking notice.
“I just stepped out in faith,” he said recently after another hour-long class at the Adamsville Recreation Center in Atlanta.
Marci Murphy and her boyfriend Craig Bauer made a detour last week during a planned trip from Michigan to participate and the folk at Syncstudio have invited Thompson to lead a series of classes later this month at their gym in New York.
“We are hosting Keith for nine classes over the course of three days,” said Karla Misjan, director of Syncstudio.
Those classes have already sold out, she said.
Misjan said Syncstudio, one of three across the country, first discovered Thompson on Facebook.
“One of our instructors from Durham shared a video of him and that was that,” she said. “He has an irresistible energy that is insanely captivating. We immediately became obsessed and scoured YouTube for all of his clips.”
A leader emerges
When he moved to Atlanta from Cleveland 14 years ago, Thompson weighed 300 pounds and, while he could move with the best of them on the dance floor, he’d never worked out a day in his life or done the thing he most wanted to: move women. Romantically.
“I couldn’t get a date,” Thompson said.
He had, however, noticed his neighbors and colleagues at AT&T worked out regularly.
Thompson signed up for step and spinning classes. He dropped 110 pounds and 11 inches from his waist but his free style soon drew the wrath of his instructors.
“I’d start feeling the music and bobbing on the bike and the people in the class would start following me,” he said. “The teachers would put me out of their class.”
Thompson said one teacher pulled him to the side and told him he had something special. She offered to pay for him to take a certification class.
Thousands of people will follow you, he said the instructor told him.
“I didn’t believe it,” Thompson said.
But he got the certification and soon began teaching step, cycling and body sculpting classes at a local gym.
Again Thompson’s style agitated managers.
“It didn’t work out,” he said. “They told me I was too radical.”
In 2010, Thompson decided to go it alone. He started KTX Fitness in a local store front. When the classes outgrew the space, a friend suggested he seek partnerships with recreation centers.
“That’s when things began to explode,” he said. “This was designed for me. I’m very blessed.”
Jeanne Ellsberry, 40, of Atlanta was among those who followed Thompson to the Adamsville center.
Because of Thompson’s energy and ability to motivate beyond where you think you’re able to go.
“You can take all kinds of fitness classes,” Ellsberry said, “but if the energy is not there, you won’t stay there.”
On this day, she said she arrived an hour early only to find most of the bikes already reserved.
“That’s how popular his classes are,” she said.
So popular in fact that Murphy, a self-described Thompson Facebook stalker, said when she and Bauer planned a trip to Fort Lauderdale recently she was determined they stop in Atlanta to join the class.
The 41-year-old mother and fitness instructor said a friend introduced her to Thompson after seeing him on YouTube and there was no way she’d miss stopping in when she was so close.
“I knew then I wanted to incorporate his moves and music into my stuff,” she said.
Karla Misjan, the spokeswoman at Syncstudio, said that officials at her gym drew some parallels between Thompson’s style of cycling and Synccycling. The studio’s signature style focuses on synchronizing both lower and upper body movement with the rhythm of the music.
“Keith’s movement is original and the choreography is a force to be reckoned with,” she said. “We knew that if we were this excited to take a class with him, our students and much of the fitness community in New York City would be, too.”
Misjan said the most appealing aspect of KTX Fitness is that people are getting healthy and they are having fun doing it.
“Have you seen the men and women in the front row of his cycling classes?,” she asked. “They are fierce!”
Thompson, who quit his job a year and a half ago to teach full-time, said the goal first and foremost is to build endurance.
“We do sprints to burn fat and strength training for more intensity,” he said. “The dancing is to make it more interesting.”
But there is little advance planning. He chooses the music based on who shows up for the class.
Either way, there is no warm-up. They jump right in, stopping only for a quick drink of water, then finally slowing to bring their heart rates back down and stretch their muscles.
Whoever thought you could dance and ride a bike at the same time?
For an entire hour? Keith Thompson did.
“It’s one o’clock y’all,” he says. “I’m tired.”
Adamsville Recreation Center, 3201 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Atlanta.
Martin Luther King Recreation Center, 90 Boulevard, Atlanta.
Grant Park Recreation Center, 537 Park Ave., Atlanta.
$5 per class or $35 a month, www.ktxfitness.com