Appel Fitness Center, housed in Appel Commons, remains temporarily closed during the COVID-19 outbreak. But Cornell students are still exercising  through virtual fitness programming.

Linbo Fan / Sun File Photo

Appel Fitness Center, housed in Appel Commons, remains temporarily closed during the COVID-19 outbreak. But Cornell students are still exercising through virtual fitness programming.

March 27, 2020

Cornellians Resort to Online Fitness in Response to Social Distancing

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Treadmills and fitness studios across campus may be empty as social distancing takes hold in Ithaca, but Cornellians are still exercising — some on their own and others through virtual fitness programs.

While most physical education courses have closed, some continue thanks to technology.

Ellaine Chou ’20 and her classmates are still expected to complete 12 hours of cardio by the end of her Jogging Tours PE class. They track their running, jogging and biking activities on Strava — a social fitness app that primarily tracks cycling and running using GPS data.

In addition, Cornell’s group fitness classes remain in full swing — through Zoom. The class coordinators have organized a lineup of virtual weekday fitness programming, spanning from yoga and Body Blast to UrbanKick and Zumba classes. The classes are open to anyone in the Cornell community, from current students to alumni.

“It’s really amazing to feel the sense of community from literally all around the world that we get from all coming together and doing these classes, especially when a lot of people need it right now,” said Sarah Rappazzo ’21, the student coordinator of group fitness.

Moving in-person fitness classes to Zoom has come with a “steep learning curve,” said Emily Ellison, associate director of fitness programs. This learning curve included  everything from organizing instructor schedules to setting up recording spaces.

Diane Fine, program coordinator of group fitness and a yoga instructor, said she is still learning how to make virtual classes feel more personal.

But the classes have received “positive, excited and overwhelmingly grateful responses” from participating students, Fine said, adding that some of these responses have come through real-time feedback in the Zoom chat function, with others sharing their experiences on screen after class.

Despite the remote nature of virtual fitness, some have found it to have its advantages.

“We can’t have 100 people in the Helen Newman dance studio,” said Krista Fedorchack, a fitness instructor and co-coordinator of group fitness. “But it really hit me on Monday when we were all planking and I said, wow, there are 120 of us all planking right now. We can do this. Finish strong to the end.”

As class sizes increase, Rappazzo said the virtual fitness experience allows people to join who “wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable going to an in-person group fitness class,” adding that online fitness allowed students to try out routines that previously did not fit into their schedules.

For Lisa Gong ’22, trying something new meant training for a marathon. The sudden cancellation of classes, beginning on March 13, created space in her schedule to pursue her newfound fitness goal.

“Now that I’ve gained a lot of free time, I started running more regularly and at longer distances,” Gong said. “I realized that this is the perfect time to work towards a goal I’ve never had the courage to make time for.”

With 37 varsity sports, more than 30 club sports and over 100 physical education courses, sports and fitness are an integral part of Cornell.

“Fitness is so helpful not only for the health of the physical body, but also the emotional body,” Fine said. “When the entire world is going through a crisis at the same time, it takes a toll. The stress levels are so much higher.”