December 3, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 42°F

Life & Culture

Students become the teachers in group fitness classes

Unlike Ithaca’s early fall gloom outside, the Fitness Center aerobics room was vibrant with blood-pumping music and the encouraging words from Melissa Patnella, a graduate physical therapy student teaching her 4:15 p.m. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) class Sept. 26. The intervals of intense exercise contributed to the room’s blaring atmosphere.

The concluding exercise was a maximum-intensity plank, lasting the entirety of the final minute. Once Patnella gave the word to stop, the 16 or so students collapsed onto the floor, drenched in sweat and high off their own endorphins. Their contagious sense of accomplishment was clear — smiles were exchanged among not only the students but Patnella as well.

“I like to put the workout in my schedule permanently so I can formulate other things around it. This is kind of how I take time for myself in the week and through the day,” junior Jeremiah Sheppert said. “Melissa makes it fun in a way, even though it’s likekiller.”

Students squat during a BODYPUMP class in the Fitness Center aerobics room. (Tenzin Namgyl/The Ithacan)

Patnella is one of many students at Ithaca College who teach their own fitness classes in the college Fitness Center. Many students utilize the classes not only to keep up with their exercise routines but also to reduce stress and escape from the pressures of college life. These peer-to-peer experiences allow students to connect outside a traditional classroom setting.

Graduate student Carson Judkins said she wakes up every Wednesday morning before the sun rises. While other students are still sleeping, she’s already in the aerobics room in the Fitness Center, setting up her mat and connecting her phone to speakers, waiting for students to file into her yoga class.

Judkins said she finds it rewarding to bring her expertise as a physical therapy major to her classes and use it to help other students become more peaceful through yoga.

“I love that I’m offering a space for people to come to relax, reset their mind, restore their bodies and take the time they need for themselves to just completely restore,” she said. “I am a physical therapy student in my final year, so I do have a lot of knowledge about the body, so being able to bring in the correct alignment and awareness so that people know how to better move in their body … in the right way that’s beneficial and healthy for them.”

Judkins taught her first group fitness class — cycling — in 2016. But when she started taking yoga classes, she wanted to become certified to teach.

“It became something that had a big profound impact on my life and something that I knew I wanted to teach,” she said. “Since I had already had experience teaching cycling I felt like it had prepared me in a way, given me confidence to then become a yoga instructor as well.”

Judkins became a yoga certified over the summer, taking a 200-hour intensive course in Costa Rica. She lived with approximately 20 other students on a retreat for 18 days. Every day started at 6 a.m. with a morning meditation and continued with yoga practices and lessons until 9 p.m. She said she felt like the cycling classes had prepared her to teach in front of people, but she was still nervous to start her first yoga class.

“It was a little nervewracking just because yoga is something that’s so special to me,” she said. “I wanted to really make sure I was able to convey the profound meaning it has to me to others, and that’s the most intimidating part.”

Senior Devin Mott has been working in the Fitness Center as a cycling instructor since his freshman year because of his love for group exercise. Mott is a certified American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) personal trainer, head of the instructor development program and an instructor for cycling and MetCon classes. Mott describes MetCon as a cardio and strength class that only lasts 24 minutes.

Like Judkins, Mott said his classes are about more than just exercise. He said his classes have a sense of community to them.

“We want people to feel that if they want a community and space to be part of, this is a place people can come,” Mott said. “My 7 a.m. has the same people there. I know them by name and major.”

Sydney Malaspina prepares equipment for her BODYPUMP class, an exercise class that emphasizes low weight and many movement repetitions. (Tenzin Namgyel/The Ithacan)

For Patnella, who teaches Zumba and HIIT classes in the Fitness Center, she said she tends to focus on how her classes can help her participants mental health. Patnella is an ACSM certified personal trainer and has been teaching Zumba at the college since Fall 2017. By focusing on exercise as an act to increase a participants endorphins, Patnella said, her classes help students express their feelings in a healthier outlet.

“I think a lot of people, now especially because of the technology we have, their outlet is pretty much just shutting off everything around them,” she said. “It’s important for people to find a way to engage themselves without any other stimulants. I think the gym is an awesome place for that.”

Junior Jordan McMahon said she is a fan of Patnella’s Zumba classes. She said she finds Zumba more gratifying than other forms of exercise.

“It’s most important to me because I enjoy dancing, and for me, that’s a great workout,” McMahon said. “It’s more rewarding for me compared to lifting weights.”

Patnella incorporates her experience with teaching into her lifestyle blog, Fitness For All. She began her blog in December 2017 and posts workout routine videos, how-tos on working out effectively and tips on keeping up with fitness goals.

While her original goal was to make an impact on students’ physical health, Patnella has also been able to create a community.

“I have people reaching out to me, whether it’s someone who I’ve never met before or even just friends who see a post and say, ‘Wow, I had no idea. Thank you for doing this,’” Patnella said. “It’s definitely rewarding. I don’t think a large following is the most important thing to me as long as I’m putting out things that are educational and helpful to people.”