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Ithaca College Fitness Center keeps students active online

Junior Adam Marciszewski demonstrates a pose during the Vinyasa yoga class that he teaches weekly. Emily Adams/Ithaca Week
When Ithaca College sophomore Ally Bukstel logged on to teach a virtual group fitness class on Nov. 16, only two other students were onscreen beside her. However, that did not damper her pep as she led the small group through an energetic HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workout.

The college’s Office of Recreational Sports is offering a wide array of online fitness options this semester to help students stay involved in physical activity even while most are away from campus. There are unique classes available every day that range from peaceful yoga and meditation to cardio-heavy Zumba workouts. Bukstel teaches her HIIT class every Monday at 5 p.m.

Bukstel said the turnout for virtual classes was significantly higher during the spring semester when classes first moved to an online format due to COVID-19. While she now has two to three participants per session, she said her class in the spring regularly included as many as 15 students. She said she believes this is because Zoom fatigue has reduced the demand for online programming, but said she is still glad the classes are available for those who want them.

“It definitely is a little bit discouraging knowing that I’m trying to do my best to engage and it’s just not coming back,” Bukstel said. “I still think it is beneficial even though a lot of people aren’t using it. It’s important that colleges and even regular gyms still provide fitness outlets in different ways that make people feel comfortable and that are accessible.”

Sophomore Julia DiGeronimo is one of the few students consistently taking advantage of the Fitness Center’s virtual programming. She takes a meditation and yoga class weekly with sophomore instructor Anchal Dhir. DiGeronimo said she enjoys the virtual class because it has improved her mental health amid the anxiety the pandemic has caused.

“I started doing it in August when I realized I needed some way to help my mental health, and it really does help,” she said. “I’m not a huge yoga person and I’ve never done it before, but Anchal is really good at it. You wouldn’t think she’s just a sophomore in college.”


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DiGeronimo said Dhir leads the group through journaling, meditation, and yoga flow exercises to help improve their mindfulness. DiGeronimo had never attended group fitness programs through the college’s Fitness Center before, but she said she would be even more inclined to attend if and when classes return to an in-person format. She also said the class has helped her develop skills that she can apply outside of the structured meditation and yoga sessions.

“During quarantine, it has been really hard to get things done, so you get done with the yoga class and feel like you did something,” she said. “I was trying to figure out how to start doing mindfulness on my own, and this was a good way to practice. Now I’m able to apply it on my own when I need it.”

Bukstel said she had to drastically modify her classes for the virtual format compared to how she taught when she was in person in the Fitness Center.

Everything now is body weight because I don’t know what people have access to,” Bukstel said. “A lot of it is cardio now, and there’s something called Tabata, which is 20 seconds on 10 seconds off. Before, I did a minute on or 45 seconds on. The structure of everything is really different, even though it’s still HIIT.”

“I think fitness is definitely best shared with others, and I don’t like that people can’t encourage each other.”
-Ally Bukstel, sophomore HIIT instructor

While the Fitness Center instructors have been teaching via Zoom since March, Bukstel said that there are still challenges to teaching from her bedroom. She said the hardest thing for her is the lack of camaraderie that normally exists in an in-person setting.

“I think fitness is definitely best shared with others and I don’t like that people can’t encourage each other,” Bukstel said. “It’s like you’re only doing it for yourself and you don’t feel the community impact.”

Bukstel also has a more difficult time engaging with students who join the class because of the layout on Zoom, especially when they choose to leave their cameras off.

“Especially when I’m not doing things that are strictly time-based, it’s hard to get feedback,” she said. “A big thing about group fitness is being able to read the room and see what people are doing and work on their form. That aspect isn’t really there when their cameras are off, and while I’m teaching it’s hard to stare at a little iPhone screen.”

The college plans to have students return for residential living and in-person classes during the spring semester, and the Fitness Center is running a trial period for students currently living on campus in anticipation of reopening to higher capacity. Despite efforts to provide in-person programming, Bukstel said she predicts that most group fitness classes will still be taught primarily online for safety reasons.

“We’ve talked about ideas of what we could do like setting up workouts throughout the gym that people could follow on the personal training side,” she said. “For group fitness, they’re trying to figure out ways we could possibly have people in the aerobics room, but right now with things changing like every day, every hour, nothing is set in stone.”

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