“I have 12 grandmas now:” A look into Northwestern workout classes


Jacob Wendler/The Daily Northwestern

Sophomore Apsara Balamurugan is an instructor of Cycle Challenge, a class offered at Henry Crown Sports Pavilion.

Annie Xia, Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor

During Winter Quarter, Communication freshman Maya Jategaonkar went to Aqua Fitness with two friends as a joke. But as Jategaonkar began to befriend the Evanston retirees who were also in the class, she said the 9 a.m. classes at Henry Crown Sports Pavilion became a highlight of her quarter. 

“It’s kind of like I have 12 grandmas now, which is really fun,” Jategaonkar said.

Henry Crown offers 15 exercise classes this quarter, ranging from yoga to cardio. The instructors, who are professionally certified to teach their respective classes, include both Northwestern students and working adults. The sessions are free for NU students and available to anyone with a membership. 

In addition to Aqua Fitness, Jategaonkar regularly attended Cycle Express. At first, she said she found cycling very difficult, but eventually Jategaonkar noticed herself improving and being able to endure higher speeds. 

“I could tell that I was gaining strength,” Jategaonkar said. “It makes me want to work harder because I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, now I can do this.’”

In contrast to self-guided workouts, she said she appreciated the step-by-step directions from exercise instructors. The structured classes helped her to not feel out of place at the gym, Jategaonkar said. 

For Communication junior Kennedy Williams, who co-teaches Cycle Challenge, song selection plays an important role in how she structures classes. Wiliams chooses around 15 tunes for each one-hour session from her cycling playlist of over 200 songs. 

“A lot of the times when you cycle, it’s really hard,” Williams said. “If you forget that you’re cycling and think about the music, it makes it easier.”

When she started planning workouts, Williams said she thought she could use music from her own favorite genres, such as late ‘90s and early 2000s hip-hop. However, she learned how to pace music and exercises with her students in mind. 

Communication senior Jenna Howard-Delman, who teaches the Pilates Barre class, became accredited as a group fitness and Pilates instructor. She also took CPR and first aid courses. 

A student in a white tank top and leggings poses on top of a purple yoga mat in the studio.
Senior Jenna Howard-Delman teaches the Pilates Barre class. (Jacob Wendler/The Daily Northwestern)

The group fitness certification included a surprising amount of legal information, Howard-Delman said, including guidance that instructors should not recommend nutrition plans if they are not nutritionists or registered dieticians. The material also covered anatomy and how to modify the difficulty of different exercises. 

Bienen and McCormick sophomore Apsara Balamurugan, who co-teaches Cycle Challenge with Williams, received her certification last summer. During high school, Balamurugan said she went to around three cycling classes every week. 

Now an instructor, Balamurugan said she wants to make exercise enjoyable instead of overwhelming. 

“I don’t want anyone to not have fun in the gym,” Balamurugan said. “The best way to work out is just being surrounded by a nice group and doing something that’s exciting.”

For Jategaonkar, not only did the group exercise classes help her work out consistently, they also strengthened her friendships. Spending time with her friends at the gym created shared experiences to look back on, she said. 

“These are my closest friends that I would spend every day with if I could,” Jategaonkar said. “I don’t think that would have happened if I hadn’t spent as much time with them doing these classes.”

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