Celebrating Fitness During National Park and Recreation Month

The community that moves together

I want to tell you a little about drop-in group fitness and the sense of community it builds. It’s like-minded individuals coming together. People who attend group fitness classes are health seekers. People who teach group fitness classes are health seekers trained to lead groups of other health seekers in various movements. Ask a regular gym attendee about the benefits of group fitness classes and you’ll likely hear a wide variety of responses. Some love an instructor who tells them what to do and takes the guess work out of exercise. Others like the routine of showing up at the same day and same time for the same purpose. Others are there for the fun which motivates them to return. We know that people who are regularly physically active have improved health outcomes and an enhanced quality of life. Group fitness classes have the additional bonus of social interaction.

Outdoor Fitness
Indoor Fitness
Senior Fitness

Each July we celebrate National Park and Recreation Month, which highlights the many ways our communities are stronger, more vibrant and more resilient because of parks and recreation. After more than a decade of work within Rec Centers, I am comfortable and qualified to share some of the stories of friendship and community that exists in group fitness settings.

All our Park Authority Rec Centers have drop-in group fitness classes. These classes are included with any Rec Center membership. Non-members pay the general admission rate at the time of check-in. Classes are offered at the centers both indoors and outdoors. If guidance and safety are your thing, there’s a class for you. Popular titles include, yoga, cycle, Zumba, HIGH Fitness, Mix it Up, Core Conditioning, and Strength Mix. You can see all the different class offerings online as well as the schedules at each Rec Center. The Park Authority’s Healthy Strides team offers virtual group fitness classes that you can take from any electronic device. The class links and schedule can be found on the Healthy Strides homepage.

Now, for some of the feel-good stories.

Being a regular in a drop-in group fitness class makes you a part of that community.

Some time back, I received an evite to a Zumba instructor’s baby shower. It was going to be held in the lobby of the Rec Center, a departure from the necessity of reserving a room through the proper channels. Regardless of the lack of protocol, we did have a lovely baby shower in the lobby and celebrated the approaching birth of this Zumba baby right there with a bunch of sweaty women dressed in bright workout clothes.

a Zumba instructor wearing a neon shirt, leading several people in a Zumba class
Zumba at Cub Run Rec Center

I attended my first stability ball fitness class on a random summer day. I wasn’t looking for a class that would challenge how stable I am, but it was at a convenient time, and I always admired the instructor. I found myself in the fitness studio in the back of the room. I had water, a mat, a ball and all the confidence in the world that my 21-year-old self was going to rock this class. I completely forgot that I have a physical disability that has made balance a challenge my whole life and never connected the words stability with balance. After a few times falling off the ball, I took it as a sign this class wasn’t for me. I stuck it out and took the deepest sigh of relief when class ended. While walking to the lobby the instructor came up to me and told me that if I stick with it, I’ll build a stronger core and noted that the first class is always hard. A few others chimed in with ‘it’s true!’ and other stories of their eventual successes with the classes. They were very kind to offer this support. 

A few years later the instructor decided that it was time for her to stop teaching. The class was heartbroken and threw her a big going away party after the last lesson. The beautiful thing was that even though the teacher left, the class didn’t end. One of the other participants had been voted to be the instructor. The staff at the gym helped her navigate the fitness instructor certification process. The new instructor had never taught a group fitness class in her life, but she had a community that wouldn’t let her fail. The same folks who told me that if I stuck with it, I wouldn’t fall off the ball, helped this new instructor find her voice, and find her part-time passion helping people find physical balance and stability.

A group of my friends all sign up for a Pilates Reformer class at Spring Hill Rec Center. The instructor doesn’t play music and just tells us to do difficult core exercises. It’s the greatest. We laugh, we process the week, we exercise, and I’m pretty sure that my posture got better from taking all those classes. We signed up for that class session after session after session.

a room full of people with brightly colored mats doing yoga at Cub Run Rec Center
Yoga at Cub Run Rec Center

After a serious injury during the pandemic, the idea of going to an in-person class was too much to handle. A friend told me about an online restorative yoga class she was taking. I thought about it for a few weeks and then decided to purchase the yoga blocks and give the class a try. After the first class was over, I felt like I had a new set of shoulders. I couldn’t believe it; this teacher had just spent the last hour telling the class different ways to lie down on top of uncomfortable blocks. I remembered the great feeling and went back the next week. Even though I was taking this class from my living room, I gained a community of people who were also going through various physical struggles. We came together each Saturday to lay down on uncomfortable blocks and we all felt better after. This class provided a community during a time when everyone was separate. I got to hear about the college student who was tracking how low her heart rate would go for her final paper. I stretched with the couple who was getting ready to go on a camping trip instead of the pandemic-canceled trip to Europe. The class cheered me on when I shared that I was finally able to walk the dog without fear of re-injuring myself. I’ll always be grateful for this little yoga class and remember how it provided community when it was scary to breathe in another person’s presence.

Being a regular in a drop-in group fitness class makes you a part of that community. You matter to the instructor and to the other class members. You all move together and come out stronger together. Sometimes we make friends quickly, sometimes it takes longer to get to know the people in the class, but we do get to know the people in class. We get to learn about each other’s kids, and pets, and spouses. We celebrate life’s highs and lows together.

Hannah Hutton and Betty Cook

I hope I’ve inspired you to try a class and keep going for a few weeks so that you have the chance to really be part of the community. If you have questions or would like a recommendation for a class to try, please reach out to your local Rec Center Fitness staff, or ask a friend to try a class with you. My hope is that you enjoy the class and find a little community along the way.

Author Hannah Hutton, formerly of Oak Marr Rec Center, is now a business support analyst in the Park Services Division.

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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