How to Workout While Working In

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a fitness class
The JCC is taking its fitness classes online. (Photo by David Stuck)

A rerun of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” hums in the background of a living room. White sparks flicker and crack from the fire you started out of boredom rather than actual cold. Next to your laptop is the third bagel you’ve eaten this morning.

Snacks are at the ready, social interaction is limited, and moving around is unnecessary. As the snow day excitement of getting to work from home wears off, boredom starts to attack.
Amy Schwartz, senior director of fitness and wellness at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC, is fighting off her salt cravings with portion discipline.


“One thing that works for me, if you are one of those salt fans, look at the serving size and put 18 chips into a bag,” Schwartz said. “I never tell people not to eat something; just portion it out.”

To help JCC members get through working at home, she and Surena Cohen, group fitness director at Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC, are managing online workouts. This was a quick move made by the JCC shortly after it closed March 15. Its leaderships looked to what other JCCs have done with livestreaming, and started bouncing around the idea.

“There were a bunch of emails going back and forth between senior management, so we jumped on it quickly, like, this is great,” Schwartz said. “If we’re going to close then we need to give something for our members to do, and we have a lot of members who take group fitness.”

In person, the JCC has 10,000 visits between its Park Heights and Owings Mills facilities per week, with each member coming in about three times a week.

JCC invited its instructor team of 75 coaches to film and share videos to Dropbox, either from home or, quite uniquely, in another setting.

“The instructors come in to Owings Mills, and we have set up this TV studio at the Gordon stage with flooring, backdrops, lighting, you know, like a real sound stage,” said Schwartz.

In the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC, the trainers use the stage like a recording room. Peter Michaelson, senior director of theater and live music, and his team film, sound correct, and light the scene, while the instructors dance and cheer on an invisible audience.

“Despite the empty 550-seat Gordon theater, the J’s fitness instructors are bringing amazing energy and technique to our brand new online platform,” Chief Arts Officer Sara Shalva said. “It has been amazing to watch the Gordon Center stage transform into a virtual video studio with screens, wireless mics, and TV stands.”

Schwartz noted that the classes mostly do not require large space or equipment, as they know people won’t always have access to that.

Within the first two days, one Zumba class received 424 views, according to Robin Rose-Samuels, senior marketing director of the JCC of Greater Baltimore. Classes in person usually consist of 20 to 30 people.

Besides these ghost-group classes, personal trainers are also posting content.

“You have to try and stay active,” said one personal trainer, Blake Piesto. “This is either getting your steps in by taking a walk or running, or you can do endless amount of body weight circuit workouts. The goal here is to try and not sit on the sofa for too long. Try and stay busy.”

As the member engagement coordinator, he also recommends people drink a lot of water, not buy junk food, and fill up on healthy food.

Schwartz said she has more fun instructing when she co-leads the video with someone else, giving her someone to talk to and making it feel more like a regular class.

While membership at the JCC covers any cost to physical classes, the online videos are free to anyone and for any audience, according to Rose-Samuels. The JCC is also receiving content from its partners, and announcing classes on social media and by texting members.

Classes are available at JCC.org/virtual-j during weekdays.

“I know [people are] worried about elders, but teens are suffering too,” Rose-Samuels said. “They’re used to hanging out with their friends, and now they’re trapped with their parents.”

“There’s so much negativity broadcasted. If people can; go out and walk, and try to eat things that take time to prepare,” said Schwartz. She is optimistic about all the responses she’s received, and focused on the weekly plan rather than long term scheduling. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback, people texting me, messaging on Facebook, great, great feedback.” One community member thanked the team for “making us feel like we can still get together.”

“Our goal is to keep our community engaged, healthy, and as hopeful as possible in these difficult times,” Shalva said. “We recognize everyone is stuck at home, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make healthy choices like working out with our favorite J teachers.”

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