Nine months ago, the MIT gym stood silent. Campus had gone into lockdown and the gym that had been a hub for working off stress between classes, a place where students danced their hearts out to Zumba, now lay empty. Fast forward, and with a new set of stringent safety protocols in place, the workout space and indoor fitness classes recently re-opened to MIT community members with COVID Pass.

Virtual connections

The Covid-19-triggered lockdown has deeply impacted fitness communities everywhere, given that close proximity and breathing under exertion increase the risk of the virus spreading,

The Fitness Team at MIT’s Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation (DAPER) responded by putting together a timetable of free classes sent to members over Zoom. Running the gamut from high-intensity impact training (HIIT) to yoga, these ongoing online classes provide a point of connection where MIT staff and students can still meet while taking a break from the desk.

“The classes have had a positive impact on me, physically and mentally,” says Tina Chan of MIT Libraries, “I have taken yoga for several years, but I am practicing more often since the pandemic.”

The new format allowed those kept away from campus to join, and members from as far afield as Texas, Colorado, and even Berlin have been able to connect with their MIT colleagues.

“During lockdown, even as an extrovert and people person, I didn’t feel the dire need to get out and move/see people because I was teaching every day, meeting new people, and growing a new virtual community,” explains Sandra Kim, Zumba teacher for DAPER.

Virtual classes continue, but having learned much more about creating a safe environment for fitness, indoor programs are starting to re-open again.

Meet and greet

The reopened group fitness space in Alumni Pool and Wang Fitness Center (Building 57) has a familiar feel, but arrows and tape now demarcate large areas on the floor, helping guide social distancing. This has happened under the guidance of Fitness Team in MIT Recreation, which includes Kayla Rothbart, associate director of programs and wellness; Emily Lin, assistant director of fitness; Charlie Salek, fitness coordinator; William Stewart, Alumni Pool and Wang Fitness Center morning manager; and Tyler Deleon, assistant director, who has since left the team for a new opportunity.

“It has been challenging to modify programs based on Covid guidelines,” explains Lin, “but erring on the side of caution has allowed us to continue moving forwards. We are striving to help the MIT community stay connected and moving, both in person and virtually, and safety is our top priority.”

Such protocols are now in place. Apart from demarcated personal fitness spaces, masks are worn and equipment and floors are regularly cleaned.

The Fitness Team continues to support indoor and virtual group exercise as well as indoor and virtual personal training. They also get involved with special events and initiatives across campus, including the recent MIT Reboot aimed at decreasing stress during election week. As the count continued, students and staff alike tuned in for Pilates, yoga, and HIIT, taking a brief break from screens and the news cycle.

Keep moving

Even if you can’t make it to class, finding a way to move on your own can be so important.

“Go out for a brief 15-minute walking break, stretch right before you get out of bed in the morning, take stretch breaks during tele-working,” suggests Kim, finishing with her always sage advice on hydration, “also drink lots and lots of fluids (at least eight cups a day).” 

The Fitness team, meanwhile, is looking ahead.

“The Fitness Team in Recreation at MIT is here for you,” explains Lin, “through 60 Days of Wellness, group exercise, personal training, and more, we are here to support you during these upcoming winter months both in person and virtually. We are ready to pivot as both conditions and needs of the community evolve.”

Rothbart says, “There is no time like now to focus on your health and well-being. It’s easy to focus on how challenging Covid has made life, but I really encourage the whole community to take this time now to focus on yourself. Do not stay still, come join our Movement in Recreation!”



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