Finding fun in fitness

Group exercise instructors motivate peers, advocate for health and wellness on campus


Senior kinesiology major, Karli Jacobus, far right, leads a warm-up exercise at a Strength & Tone group exercise class, which started 6 a.m. Wednesday in McPhee Physical Education Center. Jacobus is one of 18 students who lead free group exercises.

A well-lit room on the lower level of McPhee Physical Education Center began to fill with people around 5:50 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Despite the tired expressions most of them wore and their damp clothes from the early morning’s showers steadily falling outside, the group of dedicated individuals came prepared to workout.

As they entered the room, which was abuzz with upbeat tunes, Karli Jacobus greeted the attendees with a chipper demeanor

“Good morning,” Jacobus exclaimed to those entering the door. Some she greeted by name, evidence of their regular attendance.

When the clock in the mirror-lined room struck 6 a.m., Jacobus began leading the group through a series of warm-ups.

It’s the scene of Strength & Tone, a group exercise class University Recreation and Sport Facilities offers, which meets weekly and is free to members of the university community.

Jacobus is one of 18 students who lead the classes. It’s a perfect job for her, said the senior kinesiology major and self-proclaimed fitness fanatic.

“Group exercise gets people motivated to exercise,” Jacobus said. “It’s a fun way to get your workout in.”

Jacobus has worked as a group exercise instructor for a couple years and has taught a wide variety of the classes offered including Hip Hop Hustle, Anything Goes and Butts & Guts.

“I really like everything about it,” she said. “You get to know people, see improvement and learn a lot about leadership.”

Pump up the jams
Fitness and Wellness Coordinator Brittany Wold said offering students group exercise classes, which their peers instruct, allows for better relationships to form.

“The group exercise instructors need to have a knowledge and interest in health and fitness,” Wold said about what she looks for in students she hires. “They need to have great energy and be able tomotivate and connect with their class so people come back.”

Group exercise instructor Brittany LeBahn said the environment of these on-campus workout courses is fun.

LeBahn, a senior kinesiology major, has been an instructor for two years.

“We are all students so we all just get better together,” LeBahn said of the relationship between the instructors and attendees at group fitness events.

This semester, LeBahn teaches two sessions of Strength & Tone but has taught the high-energy, well-attended Hip Hop Hustle class in the past. LeBahn has a background in dancing which is what made that class fun for her, she said.

At times it can be hard to keep classes motivated, LeBahn said. For such situations LeBahn has a couple of tricks. To motivate herself and her classes she relies heavily on upbeat music but also looks for group involvement and having attendees count out loud with her.

“In the group environment I really push myself,” LeBahn said. “I really like feeding off people’s energy.”

However, occasionally things go awry, like last week when LeBahn’s iPod, packed full of upbeat music, died during her class. These types of situations have helped her form better problem solving skills.

Forming friendships
Not only do the no-charge classes offer health benefits, but also an opportunity to meet new people and make friends, Jacobus said.

She knows this first hand to be true. Jacobus met her roommates through a class she formerly instructed.

Due to this positive experience, Jacobus encourages new attendees to talk with the instructors and seek out those relationships, she said.

“I encourage people to go and try a class,” Jacobus said. “They are really not intimidating.”

Jacobus noted the classes are aimed at and tailored to people of all fitness levels, from those who have never worked out before to fitness gurus.

Laura Schulist, a senior communications major, has been teaching group exercise classes for four years.

The opportunity sparked her interest when she was a freshman. Schulist wanted to remain active in college but didn’t want to make the commitment to a sports team. When she was a freshman, she started regularly attending Hydro — a water aerobics class — and made friends with the class instructor. She eventually took over her position when she graduated.

For her, group exercise has been the perfect fit, she said.

Planning for the future
Schulist said her time as a group exercise instructor has helped her gain skills for the future, like being able to present in front of a group and roll with the punches.

“It’s not just about fitness,” Schulist said of the benefits the instructors reap from the classes.

However, the fitness aspect doesn’t hurt either, Schulist said, noting it is a way for students to workout with a group for free.

“College kids are stressed enough money-wise,” Schulist said. “This allows students to try things out for fun. It’s an hour to clear your head and get your body moving.”

Schulist, LeBahn and Jacobus all agreed they are planning to continue teaching fitness classes in some form following graduation.

“I’d like to lead classes on the side,” LeBahn said. “I work best when I am doing a bunch of different things.”

LeBahn said her experience as a group fitness instructor has pushed her out of her comfort zone, noting she was very nervous when she first started.

“I always look forward to going to my classes,” LeBahn said. “There’s a lot of satisfaction in this job.”