When I told professors, friends, and colleagues that I was going to graduate school, I received an abundance of comments warning me that graduate school would be the most unhealthy time of my life. Knowledge is power, and armed with these warnings, I was inspired to try exercising regularly for the first time in my life.
However, it took me a semester or two before I could achieve that goal. My friends from grad school would take me for a run at Dillon Gym at 6 a.m., and because I’m someone who’s already pretended to fall down the stairs to avoid PE in high school, I balked. I loved group fitness as an undergrad, but had reservations about going there as a graduate student. Everyone was going to be younger and better than me! (Spoiler: nobody cares.) I would feel like an intruder and stand out! (Hint: Unless you’re wearing a grad student shirt, no one can tell you’re a graduate student.) I’ll bump into my students! (Okay, this one happened.)
There are many reasons to attend group fitness classes offered by Campus Rec. Above all, they are fun and free for students. Because group fitness classes take place at a set time, they add some structure to your life, which is especially important in life after the general exam. I also found, especially in my early days, that these courses provided an accountability mechanism. The gym can be daunting and group classes are a great introduction to fitness.
I used to hide in the back, but now I’m proudly up front. So grab some tennis shoes and your best athleisures, because no matter your interest or fitness level, I can assure you there’s a group fitness class for you.
Disclaimer: I have not been able to review 100% of the group fitness classes offered. I have to write my thesis sometimes.
This was my very first group fitness class at Princeton. An undergrad friend was an instructor and invited me to his class, and I was hooked. It’s the ultimate choose-your-own adventure: you can choose from a range of class times and weights. You hit all the major muscle groups doing exercises like squats, chest presses, push-ups, rows, and overhead presses. This class was my very first exposure to any kind of activity with weights or dumbbells. I’m still not convinced what a pectoral is, but I’m pretty sure I felt them for the first time in this class. Focus on your form, go at your own pace and weight, and if you have any 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 body weight, it will always be difficult.
body to body
This is a great class to take away any frustration with research or the world. It is choreographed mixed martial arts. It’s also one of the most intense cardio workouts out there. If you are about to go, go on a Saturday morning. The class is generally less crowded, which means I’m less concerned about kicking someone, a recurring nightmare of mine.
Pro Tip: You may not do jumps. Or the kicks. Or the jump kicks. My knees have suffered enough.
Where’s the best dancing in Princeton? Tuesdays at 5 p.m. with Ashlee or Dr. Shaw (depending on how you know her, as she shows up at the start of the session). Whether that’s a statement about the quality of Princeton’s nightlife or the quality of 305 Fitness is up to you. You’ll sparkle, shake, smile and strike a pose to the latest hip hop, R&B, pop and Latin hits. If Body Combat makes me feel like a badass, 305 makes me feel like a diva.
Pro tip: After four years, I’m only a little better at dancing. You can enjoy something even if you’re not good at it.
Core and BodyCombat
If doing an hour of something intimidates you, do two 25-minute sessions of something!
Pro Tip: Either way, the middle part never gets easier. Build. This. Stop.
Marina got me through 2020. She streamed the class and a socially distant group of us as we tracked down the Lakeside basketball court or sometimes on top of the Lakeside parking lot. What is unique about this class is that Marina does her own routine, and every week is different. It’s also hands down the toughest group class I’ve ever taken at Princeton. But don’t let that put you off if you’re a beginner. Marina provides great modifications for all skill levels. You can go at your own pace, and each week you’ll come away 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 courses (NetID login required), which helps on days when you may 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 quieter. I have never heard the bass drop in 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 very first group fitness class at Princeton, Zumba was my first group fitness class. Zumba is a tour of music and dance styles around the world, with a focus on Latin America. You will do salsa, cha cha and samba. The Zumba soundtrack is definitely one of my favorites.
Pro tip: Zumba will usually teach you the steps and provide you with more water breaks. It’s a great introduction to a group lesson.
Yoga: I must confess that I am not a yoga person. But for those of you who are, yoga in many different styles is offered almost every day. That being said, I show up maybe once a semester for events like Earth Day Yoga.
Pro Tip: Keep Your Eyes Open and Your Emails Open for Special Yoga Events, Like This Semester yoga series at the Lawrence Apartments.
Cycle: I tried to do my own research on spin classes, but you got register and the stains leave quickly. I don’t need the stress of setting alarms to sign up for things. But here a nice feature from last year about instructor Caroline Kirby ’23.
Pro tip: Full disclosure, I first heard about the spin class via the “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” TV series.
If you are a team player, there is intramural sports. In a past life, I played ice hockey. Alas, the games start after I go to bed. If you want a little more intensity, you can also join or try club sports. Most teams are welcoming and enthusiastic about welcoming new members. It’s a great way to learn a new skill. Plus, as someone whose main job is to stare at a computer alone all day, it’s a great way to build camaraderie, collaboration, and connection.
Emily Miller is a fifth-year doctoral candidate in demographic studies and social policy in Palisade, Colorado, and contributing editor to The Prospect at the “Prince.” She can be reached at [email protected].