Pitt students adapt with pandemic changes to physical education

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TPN file photo

Some gym classes have resumed in person with modifications.

By Stephen Thompson, Assistant Sports Editor

Pitt students know that walking up Cardiac Hill in Oakland will find them swarmed by classmates in sweatpants and sneakers coming to and from the gyms in the Petersen Events Center and Trees Hall.

But now in a post-pandemic world, DeSoto Street is less crowded.

Pitt reopened campus gyms over the summer and, in an attempt to maintain social distancing, marked out personal squares around machines and benches to limit capacity. These precautions have changed how people work out, but some Pitt students enrolled in exercise classes are seeing their experiences changed dramatically.

Graduate student Paige Chalus teaches seven different exercise classes in weight lifting, personal fitness and cycling in between her work studying in Pitt’s Health and Human Development program.

Most of her classes are still in person, but Chalus has learned to embrace the challenges that virtual classes pose to a physical education course. She said her students were eager to hop back on the equipment once they returned to the weights in person.

“In the beginning I would say the weight lifting courses were definitely a little more difficult,” Chalus said. “Because … they were meant to be in the gym … But once we were able to get back in the gym, those were the classes they were the most excited about.”

That makes Chalus and her weight lifting students some of the lucky ones. Not everyone has the option to go to the gyms for in-person instruction. 

Emily Chen is a junior neuroscience major who enrolled in a cycling class with her four roommates and only gets to see the gym for half of her sessions. Her class was split in two and attends in person on alternating days.

One group is allowed to use the stationary bikes in Trees Hall on Monday, the other on Wednesdays. The group not in the gym does workouts from home — led by an instructor over Zoom — which can be a struggle for Chen. She said it’s been difficult for her and her four roommates, who take the class with her, to find adequate space.

“It’s a little hard because there’s five of us doing it together and our rooms aren’t big enough [to do workouts],” Chen said. “So we do it in our kitchen and have to move out all of the furniture to make room.”

Other students like Chen are also making do however they can. Katey Devine, a senior majoring in political science and Arabic, is currently enrolled in Intermediate Weight Training. For the first four weeks, her class was relegated to Zoom while the University was in the Elevated risk posture. 

This left Devine and her classmates without access to the proper equipment. Students had to use backpacks, cans, furniture and other improvised exercise gear.

“For some people I think that was a challenge,” Devine said. “I fortunately found some dumbbells at Goodwill that I have been able to use. So it’s been pretty easy for me, but there are definitely some people who had to adapt more than others.”

After spending the first month of class online, Devine and her classmates have been allowed back inside the gyms, alleviating concerns about space or equipment.

Pitt recently moved back to the Elevated risk posture, the same posture from the beginning of the semester, but exercise classes don’t appear to be under threat. Chen has not yet heard about the status of her class, but Chalus and Devine said they will still be in the gyms for the remainder of the semester.

But despite the challenges, Chalus feels that it’s still been a productive semester of classes. While not ideal, she said the hybrid model still allows instructors to connect with students and teach proper habits.

“I definitely still do think [students] are getting a lot out of these classes,” she said. “Typically at the beginning, particularly in the weight lifting and personal fitness classes I teach … we actually lecture at the beginning … So not only are these classes for showing them the exercises, but teaching them what’s important.”

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