A thunderous thump-thump-thump of loud workout music pierced the air at Marino Recreation Center on Tuesday, signaling, to the utter relief of students, the return of face-to-face group exercise classes in nearly a year.
“This place is alive again,” an onlooker observed as several students got going under the direction of lead fitness instructor Dakota Wintrode. The fourth-year international affairs and human services major stood off to the side of the basketball court near the center, occasionally glancing at a piece of paper on the floor with a cardio routine written on it. A yoga mat laid flat at her feet, while four students behind her followed along.
After several minutes of jumping jacks, lunges, and trunk twists, skin quickly glistened and muscles drew taut. Each of the participants later spoke of the frustration of the last year and the joys of gathering in person again, albeit still masked and at a distance.
While outdoor workouts were offered last semester, this is the first time students could gather for exercise sessions under the same roof.
“There is something so amazing about the spirit of a group workout class that doesn’t translate as well over Zoom,” says AnnCatherine Conneen, a first-year student studying international business.
She co-taught the cardio sculpt class and is training to become a fitness instructor at Northeastern. She didn’t miss a beat with her workout routine throughout the pandemic thanks to a home gym. Conneen has been lifting weights, spinning, and running consistently throughout the last year, and is now adding in group fitness classes.
“I always feel an extra push of support and energy when surrounded by like-minded people,” she says.
For Jonah Albrecht, who also is training to be a fitness instructor, exercise brightened his spirits even as he battled the effects of isolation. When his gym closed during the lockdown, he developed a routine that consisted mainly of running, mixed in with resistance band workouts. The combination helped reduce stress levels.
When the Iowa native came to Northeastern, running was a productive way to explore Boston. But when winter set in, he started lifting weights at Marino and has been exercising that way ever since.
“Just listening to some music, putting my hoodie up, and really getting into the workout is exactly what I need to get me ready for my day,” says the first-year pre-med biology and political science major.
“It’s so great to take this step toward getting back to ‘normal,’ or whatever normal will look like post-pandemic.”
Albrecht and the other class participants followed health protocols in Marino. Masks above the nose, they remained within the confines of their square marked by blue tape on the wood floor. It was large enough to provide freedom of movement while spaced 14 feet apart from other class members, more than twice the normal 6 feet of separation. There are ten squares total on the basketball court.
While class was underway, cleaning crews routinely walked throughout Marino wiping down treadmills, StairMasters, and other equipment. Masks are a must regardless of activity.
See-through plastic shower curtains are set between individual pieces of equipment, to shield other users from perspiration and respiratory droplets that are known to spread COVID-19.
“I feel extremely safe because of the steps that the Marino staff have taken to ensure proper distancing and cleaning,” says Albrecht.
The in-person fitness classes usually cost $50 a semester but the university is waiving the fee for the spring, says Kristen Puntieri, associate director of campus recreation, fitness, and facilities.
Fifty students so far have jumped at the chance and more are expected as word gets out, she adds. Currently about 20 in-person classes are offered throughout the week—first come, first served—and additional classes may be added as demand warrants. Pre-pandemic, more than 1,500 students registered for as many as 130 group fitness classes, Puntieri says.
Meanwhile, the university will continue to offer online workout sessions, according to the master schedule for both offerings.
A live, interactive gathering with fellow students is the only choice for Rachael Biega, who is graduating in the spring with a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation sciences. The fifth-year student was there for the first group exercise session in Marino.
“Working out with others in person keeps you accountable, changes up the sedentary Zoom lifestyle we all now have been accustomed to, and motivates others to get stronger and feel better,” she says.
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