Junior Ben Neikirk likes to arrive at his classes 45 minutes to an hour early. He isn’t there to sit behind a desk, though — he’s a Group X instructor, and he’s there to teach.
Before his students arrive, Neikirk writes a new class plan and builds the perfect playlist.
“Most of the people that do come to my classes come regularly,” he said. “They’ll know if they’ve done the workout before, so I always try to do something new, whether it’s the workout or the music.”
Neikirk is an instructor with Elon University’s Group Exercise — or Group X — program. Group X is one of 10 such programs within Campus Rec.
The program offers a variety of student-taught classes that change every semester. This semester, Group X offers 19 different classes, including “Zumba,” “Kickboxing” and “Power Yoga.”
Classes are held six days a week, Sunday through Friday, at a wide range of times that suit many schedules. Most classes last one hour, though there are 30- and 45-minute classes, as well.
Group X also offers select classes exclusively for faculty and staff such as “Phoenix Fit” and “Gentle Yoga.” Some “Yoga” and “TRX” (total body resistance exercise) classes are open to faculty and staff only. All other classes are open to all Phoenix Card holders who have purchased a Group X sticker.
The schedule and class offerings are determined the previous semester, said current Group X team leader and senior Katie Perez.
The team leaders are in charge of preparing the next semester’s schedule, among other responsibilities.
Instructors submit their class preferences, academic schedule and a list of any other commitments that affect their availability. The team leaders then use that information to build the schedule, striking a balance between cardio, low-intensity and strength classes each day.
“We try to give what students want,” said Debbie Norris, associate director of Campus Rec.
To do this, the Group X team takes notice of what classes are popular and makes an effort to balance out class offerings each day. Campus Rec also gathers feedback from students on the classes they most enjoy or want.
The Group X team leader, with the help of his or her team, creates the schedule. Norris, as the Group X supervisor, reviews the schedule and gives the final OK.
“We try to make it as student-run as possible,” she said.
Currently, Group X has 12 instructors. Typically, Perez said, they try to maintain a 10-person staff to ensure instructors are getting a sufficient number of hours without teaching too many classes a week.
Most classes are taught by one instructor, though in the past some classes — including “Cardio Partio” and “Cardio Fusion,” neither of which are offered this semester — have had two.
“It depends if instructors have ideas that would take two instructors,” Perez said.
Instructors usually teach three one-hour classes a week, though this number varies. Senior Bridget Creel teaches four — two “Sunrise” yoga classes, “Cycle” and “Yoga” — as does Neikirk. He teaches “Bootcamp,” “Power Pilates,” “Pilates” and “Awesome Abs.”
Neikirk said he can teach four classes because “Awesome Abs” is lighter — only 30 minutes long — and focuses on a certain body area.
“I just liked the sound of that class because it is more focused and specific,” he said. “I also just like being in the studio, in that kind of environment, so it was just kind of an easy decision to take on four [classes] as opposed to three.”
Perez said classes tend to be more full during the fall semester, but that some classes still fill up in the spring. A limited number of passes are distributed for each class, the sizes of which are determined by the studio size — Studio 6 can hold 25 participants, and Studio 5 can hold 20.
“We’re limited to the space that we have,” Perez said.
Neikirk sees smaller class sizes, but he said that wasn’t a bad thing.
“[Class size] kind of depends,” he said. “‘Bootcamp,’ in the spring, now that it’s nicer out and people are getting ready for all those banquets and beach weekends and Spring Break, they’re a little bit busier now. I’ve had class sell out before, but it’s not a common thing. I’d say on average that I have 10-12 in a class, which for me is nice because any more than that and it gets a little bit hectic, especially in a class like ‘Bootcamp.’”
A good deal
Passes to Group X classes can be purchased at Campus Rec’s front desk. The pass — a sticker placed on the back of the Phoenix Card — costs $20 a year and allows students unlimited access to classes.
“We realize that the institution is trying to be a best-value institution,” she said. “The lower the cost that we can provide for the students, the better.”
According to Perez, at other universities, group exercise classes can cost $10 per class.
“$20 a year for unlimited classes is a great thing that Elon provides to students,” Perez said. “It’s part of their best value policy. Campus Rec doesn’t want to nickel and dime students for the services that we provide.”
This deal is a part of Campus Rec’s mission, Norris said.
“Campus Recreation strives to provide quality recreational experiences for the campus community in an effort to promote the wise, lifelong use of leisure opportunities,” the Campus Rec website reads. “Our student leadership and teamwork models allow students a forum for the practical application of classroom theories, as well as the opportunity to develop professional competencies.”
Sophomore Sarah Alger, Group X’s current team leader-in-training, appreciates this mission and Campus Rec’s dedication to promoting the physical health of students and instructors.
“Getting to work out as your job is so rewarding,” she said. “You put in the hard work to learn how to do that, how to be an instructor, how to lead and teach a class, how to make up an outline for a class. … You put all that hard work in, but when you’re actually in front of a class and leading and getting paid to do it, it’s just like an added bonus. I get so much energy from being in front of a class and getting to share my passion for exercise with other people.”
Neikirk enjoys working with Group X, as well.
“I like being able to take a bunch of people’s fitness goals and condense them into one class and take them through whatever kind of class it is to help them feel better that day or feel better for a semester,” he said. “A lot of people come back, and there’s regulars and a lot of familiar faces, and it’s just cool to help them with that.”
Perez said she was surprised by the connections she’s made as an instructor.
“I wasn’t expecting to build relationships with participants like I have,” she said. “It’s exciting to see those familiar faces. It’s exciting to hear their feedback and hear that they appreciate the classes and they feel motivated to live a healthier lifestyle.”
The Group X team prioritizes their students’ workouts over their own. Neikirk said his focus during classes is on teaching, not working out.
“Depending on the class style, of course, sometimes I’m not even doing the exercise with the participants,” he said. “I’m just kind of walking around, checking form, seeing if they’re uncomfortable with what we’re doing, if they need to modify it to make it easier for themselves.
“In a class like ‘Bootcamp,’ it’s more circuit stuff and agility stuff, so different people are doing different things at the same time, so it’s easier if I’m not fully participating in the exercise.”
Instructors are internally certified by Elon to lead group exercise classes. Some, like Neikirk, only have this certification, but Norris said others get outside certifications to teach at other locations.
Some of the instructors are Zumba-certified, and Alger was just nationally certified.
While training for this certification, she learned how to structure a class, about different muscle groups, and what music to use during classes.
Alger, who teaches “HABIT” and “TRX,” makes an outline for each class she teaches. She bases these outlines off those of the instructors who mentored her during her initial training, but she also researches new moves on YouTube or discusses them with other instructors.
Alger’s outlines begin with warm-up exercises before moving on to the body of the workout.
“You can use any of the equipment that we have as long as you hit the muscles that your class entails,” she said. “You put together moves and exercises that you can teach and that you can portray well and help other people do well.”
Alger ends her classes with ab work and stretching as a cool down. She enjoys planning and outlining her classes and said it comes naturally to her.
More than just yoga
In addition to its regular classes, Group X offers special events for Elon students.
The past few semesters, they have worked with SPARKS to put on “Glowga,” a glow-in-the-dark yoga class.
This semester, they are collaborating with Elon Outdoors to host an outdoors paddleboard yoga trip. Registration is April 7-8, and there will be an interest meeting in Koury Commons at 4:15 p.m. April 7.
Private class requests are also available. Groups such as sororities and fraternities, sports teams or other organizations can fill out request forms online or pick them up from the Campus Rec front desk.
Classes are $20 for an hour, and the cost can be split among participants.
“A lot of sports teams want to do a ‘Yoga’ class, or they want to do a ‘Zumba’ class,” Neikirk said.
Group X also does a weekly Friday Afternoon Special (FAS) class.
These classes, held 3-4 p.m. Fridays, have a different theme each week. This semester’s themes have included “Beyonce Bootcamp,” “Club Cycle” and “Beach Bums.”
This Friday’s class’ theme is “Advanced Power Yoga.”
The instructors pitch and teach FAS classes themselves.
“At the beginning of the semester, or the previous semester, we’ll all submit ideas for what might be a fun class to teach on a Friday afternoon,” Neikirk said. “We’ll kind of rotate through. Usually the class idea you come up with is the class you end up teaching for that Friday.”
Neikirk enjoys teaching FAS and seeing participants’ commitment.
“Most people on Fridays don’t have that motivation,” he said. “They want to go to class and get out and get ready for the weekend, but I think that the fact that there are people who are still dedicated to come sweat and have fun, I think that’s cool.”
The Group X team is constantly trying to improve its program and attract more participants by expanding its offerings.
“We’re trying to increase the diversity in the people that we see,” Perez said. “We see a lot of female students. We’d love to see more faculty, we’d love to see more male participants.”
Neikirk mentioned that Group X would also like to bring students back to campus for group exercise classes.
“We’re always trying to bring new things to the program,” he said. “It would be cool to branch out and get a class like [‘Pure Barre’] because I know people go off-campus for classes, and that’s one of the classes they go to, so it would be cool to maybe bring them back.”
Overall, Alger said Group X brings a different perspective on working out to Elon.
“I didn’t attend a Group X class before I came to Elon,” she said. “It’s like a whole new world of exercise that I had never been introduced to before, and I think it’s key to have that in college because you can continue it after college.”