‘We’ll just keep pivoting’: Sumers Recreation to keep students active from afar
Throughout the summer, Washington University had hopes to reopen the Gary M. Sumers Recreation Center
Throughout the summer, Washington University had hopes to reopen the Gary M. Sumers Recreation Center for the school year. They had a full plan featuring mask requirements, appointment slots and spaced-out outdoor classes. But as cases failed to lower in the St. Louis area, they had to abandon their plan.
As a result, the recreation center is providing its range of classes, from strength training to kickboxing to yoga, online. And while Washington University students cannot workout indoors at Sumers, they can, as of this week, visit Francis Field and the Tao Tennis Center for single-use only.
Student Life spoke with Assistant Director of Fitness & Wellness Meghann Feely over the phone to learn more about how the rec center is tailoring its workout virtually for students.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Student Life: How can students continue to stay active? What resources is Sumers currently offering?
Meghann Feely: Yeah, starting this week, September 21, we’ll have a new virtual fitness schedule. We’re adding a few more classes that are focused on being in small spaces in your dorm room. We’re encouraging everybody again, as a single person, to go outside…Right now we’re headed into the fall. It’s a perfect time for outdoor walking. Forest Park is right next to us. So go and take a walk into Forest Park and enjoy the park there.
SL: What have the online courses looked like?
MF: If you go to YouTube, WashU Rec is our channel, we have our schedule for our live classes. We are really focusing on classes that you can do without a lot of equipment. We don’t see in the foreseeable future ever lending out or renting our equipment. So with that in mind, our classes are designed for bodyweight exercises. We have HIIT [high-intensity interval training] classes, we have BearFlex, which is one of our strength training classes. It is being rewritten for minimal to no equipment. The yoga classes are also focusing on small spaces with minimal equipment. And we have at least two classes every evening, and we’ll be offering a couple over the weekend as well. The nice thing is you can do them live with us, or if the time doesn’t work, you can look through all the different playlists and find your favorite class.
SL: Has it been hard to rewrite a lot of the workouts?
MF: We’ve had to use our creative brains. But it’s actually really fun. And I would say most of our trainers and instructors enjoy it. There’s something really fun about moving just your body—it’s very playful. A lot of times we get away from that, we just pick up weights and tend to move that way. So to be able to move your body, I actually find it to be more difficult than weightlifting.
SL: In what ways is it more difficult than weightlifting?
MF: I always use the word play. So it’s like really playful movements. For instance, you may want some really good upper body strength, but don’t have a pair of weights to do a heavy chest press. So you can do something like a “breakdancer” where you’re kicking your leg underneath your body and twisting your body and bending your elbows to really engage your chest, all of a sudden, this chest move becomes difficult yet fun. It is challenging in a way rather than just laying on your back and doing a chest press. It’s kind of looking at these moves and coming up with creative ways to get as much weight behind it as you can so that you can build that strength.
SL: [As an instructor,] what has it been like for you?
MF: It’s been really good. It’s been fun. Again, it’s being really playful with your body. Normally, at this point in our year, my body is very sore, it’s very tired. But when we do bodyweight exercises and things that we’re doing, it’s actually been really rejuvenating and reviving to my body.
SL: What has your workout schedule been like?
MF: My workout schedule is, and always has been, whatever classes I’m teaching that week. On Mondays, we have a bar class, so we can think of it as a nice stretch, lots of core, elongating movements. Tuesday is a class called Energy Sculpt, so that’s a little more cardio, bouncy-bounce, plyometric. It’s a lot of agility, a lot of endurance, a lot of power behind the muscle, which is fun. Wednesday, I take a break, but often I will go and do kickboxing class. That’s like a fun, lighter cardio day and just a different way to move my body. I don’t go around everyday kicking things, so to lift my leg and use my joints in that way is really good.
And then Thursday is BearFlex. So again, that’s always fun. It’s a strength training kind of workout. But we’ve done it now with mostly bodyweight, and if we do use the weights, we try and get away with “just grab one heavy object.” So I’ve encouraged people, like if you have a dog or an animal, get their bag of food, carry that around. You can get really creative when you just need one heavy object. Fill your backpack up with books and use that for the workout. So we’ve written it in a way that you can use household items in order to do your strength training.
SL: What have you been focusing on with social media and why are you using it to interact with students?
MF: Over the summer, we used social media to get our workouts out there to try and keep people engaged. I think now we’re kind of switching directions, and we’ll start using our social media for just like trainer tips, Wellness Wednesdays, [and] when we start doing a little more intramural sports, we will use it for that kind of virtual platform for IMs. Of course, that’s going to be the first place that we will update any information. When we decided to open up our fields, that was the first place that you are going to find that information. I always say follow us on all of our social media platforms because that’s where you’re going to get your information first.
SL: A lot of students are obviously struggling to find the motivation and space to work out. What has been the biggest thing in helping you work out and find a routine of staying active?
MF: Yeah, I think that’s a great question. Especially as we get further into the semester, I think all of us will struggle with that motivation. One of the best ways to try and stay connected is getting a group together and making a commitment to each other. Like, “Okay, even though we can’t work out together, at this time we’re all going to go to our dorm rooms, and we’re going to do this workout.” And then afterwards talk about it. Try and hold each other accountable.
I think challenges are always really fun ways to do things, and there’s lots of different ones, like the push up challenge, the squat challenge. As a BearFit group, we’ll release a few different challenges for people to work on. So even if you’re not feeling the motivation to do a full workout, maybe you can do 22 push-ups and at least you’ve moved your body, you’ve done something, you’ve released some hormones, you’re feeling good. So little challenges like that, I really encourage, if you’re just not feeling the full workout, to do these challenges that are out there.