It’s 5:10 p.m. on a Wednesday, and Apsara Balamurugan is sitting on a stationary bike at the front of the cycle studio. Although her spin class does not begin for another 20 minutes, every bike in front of her is either occupied or reserved with a water bottle.
Balamurugan, a Bienen and McCormick third-year, hosts weekly classes at the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion and Aquatic Center (SPAC). There are seven student trainers, all female, who teach SPAC classes ranging from Latin Dance to Vinyasa Flow.
Balamurugan has been teaching Cycle Express since her sophomore year. Every Wednesday, students and Evanston community members alike flock to her class, eager to fit a high-intensity workout into their busy days.
Before college, Balamurugan had never imagined teaching a cycling class. She was a swimmer in high school and tried a cycle class her freshman year at a friend’s suggestion. Soon, Balamurugan realized she was pretty good at cycling and enjoyed it too. Her next thought was: “What if I taught the classes?”
Medill second-year Alexia Kadota-Browner has been a personal trainer at SPAC since her freshman year. Her exercise journey began at age 12, and she started to regularly take classes at her local gym when she was 15.
“Around that age, I decided that I wanted to become a personal trainer and a group exercise instructor,” Kadota-Browner says.
As she became closer with her trainers, her aspirations grew. Before she even arrived at Northwestern, Kadota-Browner contacted Northwestern’s Associate Director of Fitness and Wellness to figure out how she could get involved with training.
“I’m not certified yet, but once I am, I’d love to work for you,” Kadota-Browner wrote in the email. By the end of her first Winter Quarter, Kadota-Browner was hired as a personal trainer. She’s since graduated to teaching Cardio Kickboxing every Thursday from 7 to 8 p.m. this Spring Quarter.
Kadota-Browner demonstrates a front kick, one of the basic moves of kickboxing. (Photo by Abigail Lev)
Weinberg second-year Mira Brodsky has been taking yoga classes since she was nine years old. Like Kadota-Browner, she applied to work at SPAC before she even arrived on campus.
“It’s just so awesome to be a teacher and a student at once. I was technically a Northwestern teacher before I was a student,” Brodsky says.
For Brodsky, yoga is all about creating connections.
“It’s just so awesome to be a teacher and a student at once."Weinberg second-year Mira Brodsky
“It’s a cool community space for getting to know people without actually talking to them,” Brodsky says.
Brodsky, who has over 500 hours of training, understands that yoga manifests differently for each individual and encourages her participants to take care of themselves. If she does a flow on her own that feels empowering, her thought is, “Let me teach this so other people feel a version of that.”
Kadota-Browner puts thought into how to improve and best prepare for her Kickboxing classes throughout her week. She went to the studio the morning of her first class to complete a full run-through of her routine. Now that she is more settled in, if she wants to incorporate new choreography, she will practice in her bedroom.
“I went to the studio with the mic on and everything. I taught the entire class to an empty room just so I could really get used to it,” Kadota-Browner says.
Balamurugan also sets aside time during the week to prepare for her spin classes, including curating a specific class playlist.
Most of Balamurugan’s course plan is based on music. For each of her songs, Balamurugan makes sure to plan out a specific movement to match the beat, including various choreography.
She also tries to incorporate song suggestions from her participants. Balamurugan uses music as a way to build a relationship with as many of her trainees as possible. She motivates her attendees throughout the class.
“I try to put myself out there and be relatable in a way that makes people feel comfortable in my class,” Balamurugan says.
Her efforts to connect with participants seem to be effective since Balamurugan’s classes are consistently full.
Balamurugan on a stationary bike in the cycle studio at SPAC. (Photo by Abigail Lev)
Brodsky also says she has amassed a steady following over her two years of instruction.
Communication second-year Alex Angrist started attending Brodsky’s Vinyasa Flow during Spring Quarter 2022. She says Brodsky’s Thursday classes have become a “hallmark” of her Northwestern experience.
Similarly, Kadota-Browner’s classes are well-attended. With a capacity of 70 participants, more than half of the space is consistently filled.
“I genuinely thought the turnout was gonna be like 10 people,” Kadota-Browner says. “So I was really shocked to see over a hundred people come to take my [first] class, and it filled up so fast that we had to turn away over 30 participants. The room maxed out at capacity.”
One of the individuals in attendance at Kadota-Browner’s first class was Weinberg second-year Elle Howard. Like many participants, Howard’s first kickboxing attempt was in Kadota-Browner’s class. “How can I make the class a little bit easier so that when my participants leave, they feel like they’ve learned something new?” Kadota-Browner says.
She does this by starting out with a basic demonstration of the punches and kicks. Before adding a piece of choreography, she instructs participants to watch her and join in when they are ready. For Howard, this was integral to her enjoyment of the class.
“I had no experience, but she made it seem like there was no judgment at all,” Howard says.
Howard tries to go to SPAC around five times a week. Every Thursday, she attends a BODYPUMP class instructed by a professional trainer, rather than a student. She enjoys BODYPUMP, but feels there is something special about having a Northwestern student as a trainer.
“I just feel more comfortable with someone our age,” Howard says.
Angrist shares this perspective. Brodsky is her favorite instructor, and throughout the past year, they have gotten to know each other over the hour-long yoga classes.
Brodsky does a head stand in Studio AB at SPAC, where she teaches her yoga classes. (Photo by Abigail Lev)
“She understands the stress of being a college student,” Angrist says. “She can connect with students on a more well-balanced level because she also just had a day of classes.”