Biology lecturer keeps students moving despite pandemic

SVSU biology lecturer Mandy Ross continues to share her love of fitness with students despite the COVID-19 outbreak.

Ross teaches Turbo Kick, PiYo and Insanity Live, among other courses, at the Ryder Center and VIP Fitness in Cass City, which she part-owns.

She first got into fitness classes 10 years, when a friend “guilted” her into taking a Jazzercise class with her. While the first experience was “weird and awkward,” Ross said she kept coming back because she enjoyed the atmosphere.

After Charlene Johnson, a Turbo Jam instructor, encouraged those who loved Turbo Kick to become an instructor, Ross did just that in 2013. She has since become certified in PiYo and Insanity Live.  

“My goal is always to create a community of people who are sweaty and smiling at the end and stronger every time – inside and out,” Ross said.

After all gatherings of over 10 were banned because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ross decided to keep the classes going through the online video platform Zoom. She said she wanted to do her part to “bring joy in the middle of all the chaos.”

“With all of the shifting sands of life surrounding COVID-19, I kept thinking about how much I was struggling,” she said, “and I knew that my students and fitness participants were struggling just as much, if not more. I wanted to be able to bring a sense of joy and normalcy into people’s lives.”

Ross teamed up with instructors from VIP Fitness and other gyms to come up with a way to allow people to stream fitness classes for free from their homes. Since they went live March 17 – right after SVSU and other universities began to close – they have had over 180 users participate from across the country.

Over 30 of those streamers are SVSU students and faculty who attended Cardinal Fitness classes.

“They’ve been inviting their friends and so on,” she said. “It’s pretty cool.”

Currently, Ross and her fellow instructors are offering streamed classes for:

  • CardioFit (a dance-based class);
  • PiYo (pilates/yoga-inspired strength training);
  • Turbo Kick; and
  • C.S.I. (Cardio & Strength HIIT Intervals class). 

“This past week, we offered nine classes during different days and times of the week,” Ross said. “We couldn’t be more humbled and thrilled.”

Each class offered is designed with every fitness level in mind, Ross said. Beginners and athletes alike can find the classes useful.

“What it really comes down to is what style a person prefers,” she said. “ If they prefer dance-based workouts, then CardioFit would be more up their alley. If they prefer athletic conditioning, CSI would be a good fit. But truly, every class guarantees a good workout for every body and every person.”

While exercise is always important, Ross said it should be a “non-negotiable” during times of high stress.

“Global pandemic, final exam week, job interview season, pick your stressful circumstance – this is when we need to focus more on taking care of our physical selves to help bolster the other parts of wellness that may need a boost,” she said. “During this COVID-19 sheltering isolation, we need not only the physical exertion, but the community as well.  And these virtual classes are one way to do both at the same time.”

Ross said these Zoom streams are a great way for those new to exercise to explore. With Zoom, you do not have to show the video of your workout and can instead just watch others and the instructor. Since the classes will be free during the shelter-in-place order, streamers won’t lose money, either, if they end up not liking a certain class.

For Ross and her fellow instructors, making the classes free was also important given the financial burden many are facing because of the pandemic.

“This isn’t a time to take advantage of the situation for monetary gain,” she said. “People – especially students – have lost their source of income and are literally stuck at home. Worst-case scenario, you try it, you don’t like it, and you turn it off, you know?”

Classes will stream at least until the end of the Winter 2020 semester. Ross and Andrea Hamlin, head of Cardinal Fitness, about making Virtual Fitness a regular offering on the Cardinal Fitness schedule.

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Ross said. “As a rule of thumb, supply will follow demand. If people request to have these classes, we will deliver.”

Ross said she hopes students will take advantage of the free classes while they are practicing social distancing.

“It isn’t exaggerating to say that group fitness changed my life,” Ross said, “I know first-hand the positive impact it can have. If someone has been wanting to try but is too hindered to take that first step to walk into the gym, this is the perfect way to get your feet wet. What do you have to lose?”

To learn more about the Zoom courses, visit the Virtual Fitness Class Hub Facebook page. Zoom invites can be found in the group page or by emailing Ross at

Kaitlyn Farley

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