How NOT to get an F in Fitness

The college student’s guide to staying fit from the first day of class to finals

By Falon Sweeney

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Jess, Cara, and their fellow NFA alumnae

Last week at The HB, we hosted a special ride for any local Norwich Free Academy (NFA) alumnae, taught by NFA grad herself, Cara Tramontozzi. We also hosted a ride for Northeastern University’s dance group, Kinematix, taught by Cara as well. It was amazing to see so many students and grads staying fit during college and beyond. 

As a senior, I feel like I’ve almost mastered the feat of staying healthy in college, with a few slip-ups along the way. I’ve done everything I set out to do when I started as a freshman – go abroad, play club lacrosse, go on service trips, rush a sorority, work a part-time job, stay on top of my studies, and make lifelong friends. But each of these accomplishments have come with their own challenges, especially when trying to maintain a relatively healthy lifestyle. From “drunchies,” post lax game meals, and spontaneous wine nights to living in a foreign country, I’ve found that it’s challenging – but very possible – to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle. I figured out my way of staying healthy, but I am intrigued as to how our instructors at The HB stayed fit despite all the challenges and temptations college has to offer. Here’s what they had to say:

Many of you were high school athletes. How did you handle the transition from tough practices 5x per week to having to schedule your own workouts?

Eve: It was a really hard transition not having the discipline of having to go to practice – but I quickly realized that NOT working out in some fashion left me feeling really crummy and actually made me more fatigued.

Jess: I took it easy for a while! I had worked so hard for so long that my first semester at college was a lot of elliptical and easy, short workouts. As I started missing the sweat, I discovered group fitness and fell in love with spinning, bootcamp, pilates, etc. 

Rachel: I played both club and school soccer during high school, so it was definitely a big change for me to go from a regimented team sport schedule to DIY fitness. I would say the biggest thing I missed was the team atmosphere – which is why I love getting to know students and my fellow instructors at the Handle Bar. We’re like one big team (cue sitcom audience “awwww!”).

Sarah: I was a college athlete as well. After practicing twice a day for 9 months out of the year for 8+ years I took an entire year off when I graduated. No gym, no working out, nothing. I was completely burnt out. I started doing yoga to help my body and mind heal. Once I started feeling better, I transitioned into my dynamic workouts like boxer conditioning classes and indoor cycling. The trick I think is to find something you actually enjoy doing again. High and college sports at a very high level tend to feel like a job or a chore and you lose sight of why you fell in love with the sport in the first place. Find something that makes you feel good 🙂 

Why is it important to continue to be fit while at college?

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Cara and NU’s dance group, Kinematix

Eve: Working out actually boosted my energy levels on a daily basis, I noticed that if I worked out in the evening I would have a lot more energy to go to the library and study vs just laying in my dorm all day. It also kept me from getting to stressed out – especially during finals week a good sweat made all the difference! 

Jess: You’ll likely have more free time in college than post college so take advantage! Break up the studying with a quick zumba class, or start off a day of exams with a nice run. Use your time wisely in college to create habits for life. 

Rachel: Stress relief is the biggest benefit, I think – it’s so important for students (or anyone!) to find an outlet where they can truly tune out of the rest of their day and focus on their physical and mental wellbeings.

Cara: College is all work hard, play hard.  And when your college schedule is class, study, socialize, repeat… its nice to have fitness as that constant control and health feel!!  Working out is also a natural high/energy boost and I think in turn effects how well the mind works (for me at least!). 

Sarah: It’s important to get into a routine, especially with a heavy course load. I found that being a college athlete helped me be a better student. There wasn’t any extra time to waste. 

Any tips on how to avoid the dreaded Freshman 15?

Eve: Snacking! I realized that if I brought healthy snacks with me to class it would keep me from binge eating pizza at the dining hall later since I wasnt that hungry! 

Jess: Watch out for the Fro-Yo! The ice cream and many other delights in the Caf are serve yourself, and help yourself. The portion sizes can be out of control. Try and curb the amount you put on your plate… and don’t waste food by loading up even though you know you can’t eat it all.

Rachel: Oh, boy… One thing I would say to students is please please please​ don’t go on a “beer diet” – aka sacrifice nutrition throughout the day to counteract calories from drinking. This is no bueno. Your bodies and your brains need food!

Sarah: Lay off the booze during the week. 

Cara: Dont worry about the Freshman 15.  Just stay active, and enjoy!!  

As college students, we often are forced to prioritize two out of three pillars of our lives – school work, social life, health (nutrition/sleep/fitness). Is there any way to strike a balance between all three?

Jess: For me it was staying busy. I’m most efficient when I have a full schedule. So I got a part time waitressing job which forced me to get my school work done during the day instead of at night. To clear my head and stay energized I used the gym. I never have had a problem making time for my social life:) In college there was always time for a party!

Eve: It is all about time management! You need to figure out a schedule and routine that works for you and stick to it! That can be hard to figure out when so much stuff is going on around you – but what really helped me was a planner and routine! 

Rachel: I always tried to pull double duty and make my other activities social when possible, to avoid FOMO (note that FOMO did not exist in the early ’00s). Study with a friend, cook a big healthy meal with roommates, and grab an indoor cycling class with your BFFs (hint hint!).

Cara: There is an absolute balance for the party/study/fitness routine.  I would force myself out on a run on those hungover mornings to “sweat it out” and start the day fresh with whatever needed to be done before the next party. haha!  Also, hiting the gym or a fitness class following an exam was always an awesome release for my exam mood mind.  That full body cleanse through sweating is the best!  

Did you work out solo or with a buddy during college?

Jess: Both. I was friends with the NU rowing team and I used to try and hang with them in the gym when I was feeling ambitious. I’d get tips on weight lifting routines and circuit training. Then of course there were the times when I just wanted my earbuds and alone time. 

Eve: Mostly with a friend! A lot of times me and friends would make gym dates as a place to catch up. It’s a lot harder to bail on the gym if you know someone else will be there waiting for you/

Sarah: I was a coxswain in college so I didn’t get much of my working out done on the water unlike my rowers. So while I had practice twice a day with my team, I still had to get my own workout in too. This usually happened by myself which was totally fine. It was the only hour of the day I got to myself sometimes. 

Rachel: We definitely had gym and running dates. I went to school in a very small town, which was wonderful, but we definitely didn’t have the amazing fitness options that we do in Boston. I’d like to think my friends and I would have taken full advantage!

Many college students figure that 20 minutes on the elliptical 3x per week will keep us in shape. Do you agree or disagree? 

Jess: If you’re looking to change your body, strengthen your mind, and find new challenges then you need to mix it up. The elliptical rarely provides the intense cardio workout of a spin class, and not incorporating any weights (even light weights) will leave you ‘skinny fat’ – my favorite term for thin people with no muscle tone. 

Eve: Unfortunately that is COMPLETELY FALSE AND YOU WILL GET FAT! college students also often times figure that working out one body part once will amount to anything. Thats why its really important to get full body workouts (like at the Handle Bar) where you work your arms, abs, and legs. Full body workouts are the most effective over all in my opinion. 

Sarah: If that’s all you got time for it’s better than nothing. But I’m a huge fan of weight training, especially for girls! It’s also great to try and find a class or regime that combines cardio AND weight training, just like we do at The Handle Bar! 

Rachel: ​This is what I call the “better than nothing” workout – and I was definitely this girl at times. I personally find that group fitness settings give me more accountability and I am 100x more likely to push myself – and have more fun!

Cara: I fell into the elliptical routine in college because I saw all the “thin and cute” upper class girls doing it… but really saw and FELT the best results from other forms of exercise that worked for me— running, spinning, even zumba!  Something to make that heart rate and body feel something different each week.

Once you got the whole fitness thing figured out and worked into your schedule, how did you deal with the lack of a kitchen and the overabundance of dining hall food that so many of us face?

Jess: It is difficult to use self control in an all-you-can-eat setting. I began switching my meal plan around so that I could buy healthy takeout options or cook for myself instead of eating every meal in the dining hall. That allowed me to control and monitor my intake much better. 

Eve: Snacking throughout the day keeps you fuller so you won’t go crazy with the make your own cupcake station. Also drinking LOTS of water – drinking water itself will fill you up so if you down a bottle of water before going to the dining hall you are a lot less hungry and won’t eat as much! 

Sarah: I would say this is much easier once you live off campus or have an apartment with your own kitchen. Preparing your own meals is the way to go. 

Cara: I could never figure out the whole food thing in college.  I was a victim of the dining hall, the late night pizza, kegs of beer, and pints of Ben and Jerrys…  but really just tried to keep it in moderation (sometimes more than others). You cant say no all together!!

How did fitness keep your stress at bay during those long semesters?

Jess: Its hard to think about an exam or homework when your sprinting uphill and jumping around a spin bike. “Lose yourself in the music, the moment. ” – Eminem 

Eve: Exercising will naturally lighten your mood – when you are stressed and grumpy and tired, a 45 min sweat sesh has the power to completely turn around your mood and distract your mind when your body is at work. After a workout you have a fresh mind to go back to work! 

Sarah: Look at it as your escape and your reward. Finish a paper early? Awesome! Treat yourself to a class at The Handle Bar! 

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