By James Mercadante
For many, daily trips to the Campus Town gym are an integral part of their routine. Whether they’re lifting weights with teammates, running a mile on the treadmill or completing ab workouts with friends, there is no denying the benefits that exercise brings for students.
Although COVID-19 has forced gyms to close their doors, student employees at the College’s Rec Center continue to host virtual exercise classes in an effort to lift spirits, maintain a routine and promote healthy habits.
Emily Ackerman, a junior elementary education and English dual major, teaches PiYo group fitness classes, which is a combination of Pilates, yoga and strength training. According to Ackerman, the workouts of PiYo are already constructed by Beachbody, an at-home fitness program, and are designed in accordance with the music.
“When I receive each routine, I write out a simplified version for my notes that help me as I lead the class,” Ackerman said.
Ackerman also teaches every Thursday at 8:30 a.m. on her public Instagram account @piyotcnj_em through the live stream function, making her classes available to anyone who visits her page.
“It is helpful to have this Instagram for marketing and as a way of interacting with my students,” Ackerman said. “I love that everything is accessible and in one place.”
Another trainer who uses Instagram to teach classes is Corinne Petersen, a fifth year special education major. Peterson, whose Instagram handle is @its_fitastic, instructs a HIIT (high intensity interval training) class called Pump Up The Pulse. Although many students are intimidated by the class at first, Peterson said it is designed to be easily accessible for everyone. She also uploads a new video to YouTube channel, Corinne Peterson, every Tuesday night.
Within the workout, Peterson tries to keep things interesting by varying the types of circuits she uses.
“It’s definitely harder to incorporate games in this setting,” Peterson said. “But sometimes I can find things like, ‘Spell Your Name,’ where each letter correlates with a different exercise, for example.”
Hannah Hopson, a sophomore nursing major, also leads HIIT training classes. Hopson typically teaches spin classes during the semester, but she has switched to virtually teaching HIIT on Zoom every Wednesday and Friday at 11:30 a.m.
Transitioning from face-to-face training to virtual classes has provided these instructors with some challenges. One obstacle they face is not being able to detect if their students are gaining anything from the class.
“(It’s easier to) encourage everyone in the class and gauge how well everyone is keeping up, (whereas online classes make it hard to) ensure people are benefitting from my classes,” Hopson said.
Ackerman said she’s had a difficult time keeping her students motivated during classes.
“My favorite part about this job is interacting with my students and taking in their positive energy, so it is sometimes difficult to find that same energy teaching alone in a room,” she said.
Another challenge is the modifications that need to be made in regards to space and equipment.
“I give out lots of modifications in my in-person classes, as I see anyone struggling with a move and correct them to the best of my ability,” Ackerman said. “Because I can’t see everyone on Instagram live, I can only give out some general modifications as opposed to the specific corrections students receive in class.”
Taking on the challenge of teaching online exercise classes has granted these instructors more advantages than they anticipated. Their virtual classes are open to both students and the public, allowing instructors to share their workouts with a greater audience.
“One benefit is that viewers can pause the video at any time if they need a break or if they need to hear or see something again,” Petersen said. “Similarly, if they already know how to do an exercise that I’m demonstrating, they can just fast-forward and continue with the workout. They can also access the video on YouTube whenever they want, as many times as they want.”
Although it may be harder for instructors to guide their students remotely, online classes also allow participants to feel more comfortable and focus on themselves, rather than how their classmates may perceive them.
“Students do not have to worry about what they look like in comparison to others, and they can focus on themselves and their personal growth from their own homes,” Ackerman said.