When University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Recreation and Physical Education team learned that campus would be closed for the duration of the semester, they quickly set to work figuring out how to continue offering their fitness classes to students. Through their meetings, they decided to livestream classes through the Instagram TV platform, allowing all Instagram users to join the workout. This decision ensures that the UMBC community continues to have the opportunity to exercise under the instruction of familiar faces.
“Many different aspects were considered when transitioning our program online. We focused on offering classes that met the diverse needs of our community,” said Alea Burke, Assistant Director of Recreation-Fitness and Wellness. “We also had to provide classes that could be done in a home environment, within a small space with little to no equipment. We determined comprehensive schedules that includes our most popular classes to benefit the community.”
The bond formed between instructors and students is why the UMBC recreation team was adamant about continuing the classes.
“Instructors and their students create communities dedicated to self-care, both mentally and physically,” said UMBC yoga instructor Erica Sligh. “Online platforms allow us to keep our communities connected, and to welcome new potential students as well.”
The instructors’ desire to remain steadfast in their support of students is clear in each of the online sessions. Instead of ignoring the pandemic, instructors routinely acknowledge the massive shift in routine while simultaneously encouraging people not to let it derail their efforts to be healthy and fit.
There are countless workout videos, blogs and websites available across the internet, but a sense of community distinguishes UMBC’s classes from the rest. It is what keeps students coming to class even in the midst of this health crisis.
Briscoe Turner, a junior psychology major, said that she chose to participate in UMBC’s virtual kickboxing class because she knew the instructor from a previous semester.
“I felt it was more personal because I had the previous connection,” Turner said. “Sometimes it takes forever to find the right online video, but with UMBC virtual classes I already knew what I was getting.”
Because of the shift in students’ schedules, the Recreation and Physical Education team discussed how to make sure classes were easily accessible even if students could not make the scheduled class time. Initially, the recreation team settled on Instagram Live and added the recordings to their Instagram story so that they could be viewed for the rest of the day. Due to technical difficulties transferring videos from Instagram Live to YouTube, the recreation team moved their classes to IGTV. This move also lets UMBC Recreation to upload the videos to the UMBCRec TV YouTube channel.
There were also some hiccups early on with copyrighted music appearing in the sessions, but instructors now opt to use royalty-free music or to conduct sessions without music.
Despite some of the challenges for the classes on the new platform, the UMBC Recreation and Physical Education team believes it is beneficial to have classes posted on social media.
“The greatest strength of this new way of teaching is that everyone can access a variety of new, free, online classes whenever it’s most convenient for them,” Sligh said.
That accessibility gives everyone, from current UMBC students and faculty to alumni, the opportunity to participate in the fitness classes.
While the emotional stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic can drive fitness from peoples’ thoughts, the Center for Disease Control states that exercising regularly is one way to cope with the stress.
Christine Jenkins, UMBC cardio party instructor, said how important fitness is amidst the pandemic’s chaos. She explained that incorporating fitness into new routines can help the adjustment process to life at home.
“The opportunity to have some type of schedule or normalcy, the opportunity to really exercise your mind and body will give structure to your day,” Jenkins said. “It will help us throughout this time to stay sane. We don’t want to all come out of this pandemic not being able to recognize ourselves. So being able to be the best version of ourselves while we’re at home and being able to #stayactive is still important during this time.”
UMBC’s fitness classes are posted every Monday through Friday 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. on IGTV @UMBCrec and the UMBCRecTV YouTube channel. Any feedback about the classes can be directed to the Assistant Director of Recreation, Fitness and Wellness Alea Burke, at firstname.lastname@example.org.