Illustration by Raya Ward

Getting exercise is a crucial aspect of college life. It provides a much-needed supply of endorphins, a way to make friends, and a defense against the ubiquitous freshman fifteen. For some, getting exercise is easy: they’re varsity athletes, they join a club sport, or maybe they just go to the gym. For others, it is the bane of their existence. I fall into the latter category. I hate the gym, I hate team sports, and I have never run a day in my life. If you’re like me, keep reading. If not, I hate you but feel free to keep reading anyway.

In high school, it was possible to get away with a sedentary lifestyle, but at Princeton, that’s unlikely to happen. With unlimited meal plans, late meal, and plentiful study breaks, the freshman fifteen could easily turn into a freshman fifty in the absence of exercise. Out of desperation, I turned to the flyer in my hall advertising free group fitness. It seemed like my best option: it was structured enough that I wouldn’t have to motivate myself to go run (let’s be honest, walk) on a treadmill, but there was no real commitment involved.

I spent the next two weeks trying out a variety of classes. There were some I didn’t love, which I expected, but there were also some I really enjoyed and now look forward to attending weekly. Liking exercise is such a revolutionary experience for me that I felt the strong desire to share what I’ve learned with others. It occurred to me that there should be a guide to group fitness for unathletic hermits like me who are looking for a form of exercise they might like, but are nervous to try because of the fear that they’ll be unable to do it (no one wants to be the loser who has to leave the class early; yes, I’ve been there). So here it is: “The Official Guide to Group Fitness” or “My Ranking, in Ascending Order, of the Five Classes I’ve Tried So Far.” I swear Dillon Gym isn’t paying me that much to do this.

#5. Body Combat. The Campus Rec website describes body combat as an “empowering cardio workout inspired by martial arts. Supported by energizing music, you punch, strike and kick your way through calories to superior cardio fitness!” I describe body combat as “truly very hard,” and I went to the beginner’s class. My teacher focused a lot on the technique of the punches and kicks, which wasn’t too physically demanding, but was pretty boring. However, once we got into the real routines, I was quickly completely out of my element. It was fast, it was confusing, and it was intense. It was also weirdly violent–the instructor kept yelling instructions like “Thrust your knee into your opponent’s head! Harder!” It’s possible she might have been going through something at home. I’d recommend this class for someone looking for a challenge or a way to exact revenge, but if you don’t fall into either of those categories it’s probably not for you.

#4. Cycle. I’ll preface this paragraph by saying that I have a fellow unathletic friend who went to this class with me and loved it. I, however, did not. It wasn’t too difficult–I finished the workout without utter exhaustion–but for some reason, I left feeling like I was about to puke. The bikes were also set up in a semicircle, a design clearly created by a sadist. Who enjoys being in full view of everyone else in the room as she struggles to keep pace and not turn green? I, for one, do not.

#3. Yoga. The instructor started the class by saying “No one is bad at yoga, because no one is bad at breathing.” It’s possible that I’m bad at breathing. With that said, this was a pretty good yoga class. I got a good workout, and I didn’t feel like I needed to be a human contortionist in order to keep up with the group. There were definitely some challenging poses, but for the most part I believed I could get them. My only problem is that I’ve never been able to fully get behind the idea of yoga. The instructor kept saying things like, “We return to the fetal position to remind us of the cyclical nature of life,” and, “You are safe, you are loved, you are important,” which I’m pretty sure she stole from The Help. I couldn’t quite take her seriously, and because of that I could never really get into the class. But if yoga is your thing, go for it.

#2. Soul Body Barre. We now move to the part of the list where I really started to enjoy myself. Soul body barre is a mixture of a floor workout, including moves like push-ups and sit-ups, and a barre workout, which is a workout inspired by ballet barre. If you saw the word push up and immediately considered stopping reading, I don’t blame you–I almost walked directly out when I arrived and saw the class doing tricep push-ups. Yes, the workout was hard, but the difficulty was balanced by the fact that this was the least intimidating exercise environment I’ve ever been in. I don’t know if this is true for all soul body barre classes, but in every class I’ve attended there’s been an excess of laughing, groaning, and falling over. The instructor also seems to empathize with those of us who are suffering, and repeats “you guys are doing great, we’re almost done” frequently. Most importantly, these classes are some of the best workouts I’ve ever done in my life. Soul Body Barre is definitely a struggle, but if you’re looking for a fun time and Michelle Obama arms, I highly recommend.

#1. Zumba. If you’ve talked to me at all in the past two months, I’ve probably told you about my unhealthy addiction to Zumba. It has become my most important extracurricular, passion, and love. For those that don’t know, Zumba is a form of exercise that uses Latin American dance moves to create a cardio workout. I am a terrible dancer, but it doesn’t matter, because as the Wednesday instructor and my new idol, Terri, says: “As long as you’re moving you’re doing it right.” (Some other words of advice from Terri include, “Channel your inner Beyoncé,” and, “This is a booty-shaking class.”) There are classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and they all offer something different. Monday is an intense cardio workout, Wednesday has a decidedly sexual quality, and Friday is right in the middle. My favorite thing about Zumba is that it doesn’t feel like exercise; it feels like you’re having a fun night out on the Street, or at least what you thought your nights on the Street would be like before you came here. And after Zumba, not only do you feel like you’ve gotten a good workout, you feel that you’ve taken part in some kind of women’s revival. There is truly nothing like seeing a room full of (majority) women punch with all their might, then do squats in perfect unison. I leave every Zumba class feeling on top of the world, and I could not recommend trying one more.

So there you have it: my love letter to Zumba, or whatever this article was supposed to be. I’ve transformed into a fitness junkie and might have even invested in a pair of patterned lululemon leggings. My mother has never been so proud, and yours could be too if you just give it a try. See you all in next week’s class!