UI Recreation Services provides group fitness from a distance

Group fitness instructors at the University of Iowa are working to keep class communities alive online and in-person.


Katie Goodale

Instructor Rachel Cole teaches a Strong by Zumba class at the CRWC on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020.

Natalie Dunlap, News Editor

People that attend group fitness classes aren’t just going for a workout. Regular attendees are building a community within their classes.

University of Iowa Senior Associate Director of Recreational Services Brian Baxter said keeping those communities alive was a concern for the recreation administrators and fitness instructors when gyms initially closed in March.

Rachel Cole, a Zumba instructor at the UI, said she and her colleagues were quick to start offering online classes when they could no longer meet in person.

“At the beginning … it was so hard to feel the same type of energy, especially at first. I was so worried about the music and the lighting and my cats in the background. There was just a lot more going on to pay attention to,” Cole said. “It felt very hard to get that same kind of Zumba excitement, feel it. Surprisingly after a few weeks of it, I felt like I could get up just as much energy and excitement for my online classes. I got much more used to it than I expected. And I think it helped that some people on Zoom kept their videos on.”

Cole said she got more visibility as an instructor with classes being offered online. She was able to teach different people than she had before.

“The addition of virtual fitness programming has helped those that feel more comfortable teaching and training from home, so that’s been huge for us,” Baxter said. “At the same time, it has given us a new avenue to reach first timers, body image conscious individuals, those taking care of children and family from home and, and those with tighter windows to exercise.”

Since reopening facilities, group fitness classes are offered in person again, while some classes have stayed online for instructors and attendants more comfortable working out at home.

RELATED: Recreational Services to begin phased reopening of facilities

To attend an in-person class, participants must register ahead of time and each class has a capacity limit depending on the size of the room, Baxter said. Face coverings are required and there are markings in the room to show appropriate social distancing.

Cole said having both online and in-person classes available is important to meet the needs of different people. UI Recreational Services reduced class density to allow for social distancing, so the virtual option also gives more people access to class, she said.

“I think a lot of the community members and some students are very happy to have virtual options,” Cole said. “… But for the students who are, you know, living in dorms, there’s not really a great location for them to do a virtual class from. Especially something like Zumba, where they need to be moving around. I think they really appreciate that we have some in-person class options.”

There was a learning curve in getting used to socially distant in-person classes, Cole said.

“The hardest part for me is that I feel like I can’t convey emotion for my classes much with a mask on, because usually in regular practice I don’t talk, aside from a few cheers and encouragement,” Cole said. “… A lot of the communication is through facial expression, and that definitely is harder now so I have to smile really, really big under my mask so that maybe they can sense it.”

UI yoga instructor Claire Huguelet said she uses humor with her students to adjust to the circumstances they are practicing under.

“I have made jokes about our awareness of our breath being more ‘in our face’ these days, and encouraged students to notice their response to wearing masks, indicating that reactivity or irritability are not wrong things to feel,” Hugulet said in an email to The Daily Iowan. “Overall, the students who have come to my class have not complained to me about the masks, and instead been very grateful that in-person classes are an option. The feeling of community is well worth it to me and some members I have talked to.”