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A graduate student’s guide to group fitness

<h6>Emily Miller / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Emily Miller / The Daily Princetonian

When I told professors, friends, and coworkers that I was going to graduate school, I received an abundance of comments warning me that graduate school would be the unhealthiest period of my life. Knowledge is power, and armed with these warnings, I was inspired to try and exercise consistently for the first time in my life.

However, it took me a semester or two before I was able to meet this goal. My graduate school friends would invite me to run to Dillon Gymnasium at 6 a.m. and, because I am someone who once faked falling down the stairs to avoid Physical Education in high school, I balked. I liked group fitness as an undergraduate, but I had reservations about going as a grad student. Everyone was going to be younger and better than me! (Spoiler: No one cares.) I would feel like an interloper and stand out! (Hint: Unless you wear a grad student shirt, no one can tell you are a grad student.) I would run into my students! (Ok, this one has happened.) 

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There are many reasons to attend group fitness classes offered through Campus Rec. Importantly, they are fun and free for students. Because group fitness classes are at a set time, they add some structure to your life, which is especially important in post-general-exam life. I also found, especially when I was starting out, that these classes provided an accountability mechanism. The gym can be intimidating, and group classes are a great introduction to fitness.

I used to lurk in the back, but now, I am proudly up front. So grab some tennis shoes and your finest athleisure, because no matter your interest or fitness level, I can assure you that there is a group fitness class for you.

Disclaimer: I was not able to review 100 percent of the Group Fitness classes offered. I have to write my dissertation sometime.

BodyPump

This was my first ever group-fitness class at Princeton. An undergraduate friend was an instructor and invited me to her class, and I was hooked. It is the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure: You can pick from a range of class times and the amount of weight. You hit every major muscle group by doing exercises like squats, chest presses, pushups, rows, and overhead presses. This class was my first ever exposure to any sort of activity with weights or barbells. I am still not convinced I know what a pectoral is, but I am pretty sure I felt them for the first time at this class. Focus on your form, go at your own pace and at your own weights, and if you have questions, you can always ask.

Pro Tip: BodyPump is a different type of exercise than traditional strength training. BodyPump doesn’t care if you can squat your bodyweight, it will still be hard.

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BodyCombat

This is a great class to take out any frustrations with research or the world. It is choreographed mixed martial arts. It is also one of the most intense cardio workouts around. If you are on the fence about going, go on Saturday morning. The class generally is less crowded, which means I am less concerned about kicking someone, a recurring nightmare of mine.

Pro Tip: It is ok not to do the jumps. Or the kicks. Or the jump kicks. My knees have been through enough.

305 Fitness

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Where is the best dancing in Princeton? Tuesdays at 5 p.m. with Ashlee or Dr. Shaw (depending on how you know her, as she introduces herself at the beginning of a session). Whether this is a statement on how bad Princeton’s nightlife is or how good 305 Fitness is, that is for you to decide. You will shimmy, shake, smile, and strike a pose to the latest hip hop, R&B, pop, and Latin hits or throwbacks. If Body Combat makes me feel like a badass, 305 makes me feel like a diva.

Pro Tip: After four years, I am only a marginally better dancer. You can enjoy something even if you are not good at it.

Core and BodyCombat

If doing an hour of something is intimidating for you, do two 25-minute sessions of something! 

Pro Tip: Somehow the core portion never gets any easier. Make. It. Stop.

HIIT Strength

Marina got me through 2020. She streamed the class and a group of us socially distanced while we followed along on the Lakeside basketball court or occasionally the top of the Lakeside parking garage. What is unique about this class is that Marina does her own routine, and each week is different. It is also hands down the hardest group class I have ever taken at Princeton. But do not let that deter you from going if you are a beginner. Marina provides excellent modifications for all levels. You can go at your own pace, and every week you will leave with a sense of accomplishment or relief (probably both).

Pro Tip: You can do it! Believe in yourself. 

Barre/Pilates: My primary engagement with these classes was through Zoom. Campus Rec maintains a library of these recorded classes (NetID login required), which helps on the days you might not want to leave your apartment. Barre and Pilates are both full-body workouts. Unlike some of the other classes, these workouts are low impact. In my opinion, they are also calmer. I have never heard the bass drop at a pilates class.

Pro Tip: You might want your own equipment — weights, bands, yoga boxes — for some of the virtual workouts.

Zumba: While Body Pump was my first ever group fitness class at Princeton, Zumba was my first group fitness class ever. Zumba is a tour of music and dance styles around the world, with an emphasis on Latin America. You will salsa, cha cha, and samba. The Zumba soundtrack is definitely a favorite of mine.

Pro Tip: Zumba will typically teach you the steps and provide more water breaks. It is a great intro to a group class.

Yoga: I must confess, I am not a yoga person. But for those of you who are, yoga in lots of different styles is offered nearly every day. That being said, I show up maybe once a semester for events like Earth Day Yoga.

Pro Tip: Keep your eyes and emails open for special yoga events — like this semester’s yoga series at Lawrence Apartments.

Cycle: I tried to do my own research on spin classes, but you have to sign up and spots go quickly. I do not need the stress of scheduling alarms to sign up for things. But here is a lovely feature from last year about instructor Caroline Kirby ’23.

Pro Tip: Full disclosure, I first heard of spin class via the TV series, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

Campus Rec offers a variety of other options. For example, instructional classes that teach you a special skill like ice skating or boxing, or personal training.

If you are a team person, there are intramural sports. In a prior life, I played ice hockey. Alas, games start after my bedtime. If you want a bit more intensity, you can also join or try out for club sports. Most teams are welcoming and excited for new members. This is a great way to learn a new skill. Plus, as someone whose main job is to stare at a computer by myself all day, it is a nice way to build camaraderie, collaboration, and connection.

Emily Miller is a fifth-year PhD candidate in Population Studies and Social Policy from Palisade, Colorado, and is a contributing writer for The Prospect at the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at eenm@princeton.edu.

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