‘It’s family’: UC Berkeley RSF teachers and trainers share teaching experiences

Maya Valluru/Staff

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The combatives room at the UC Berkeley Recreational Sports Facility, or RSF, pounds to the beat of energetic music and the feet of 50 people doing jumping jacks. Class instructor Shola Ogunlana walks between the rows of people, her lapel microphone amplifying her instructions and words of encouragement.

Every day, drop-in group exercise classes such as Ogunlana’s are held in the RSF from morning until night. The unique classes range from Urbankick to high-intensity interval training to yoga and are taught by 40 different instructors. For those who do not want to participate in these classes, the RSF also offers personal trainers.

Ogunlana, a UC Berkeley alumna, has been teaching exercise classes for nine years. Now, she instructs the STRONGER class — an interval workout involving cardio and strength training — and the cycle class. Becoming an instructor “naturally blossomed out of my own exercise routine,” she said.

According to Ogunlana, it was her teachers at classes in other gyms who told her she had that “certain something” that makes a good instructor. After Ogunlana began to teach and got her certification, she said “feeling that tie back to UC Berkeley” is what made her want to teach at the RSF.

Ogunlana said that when comparing the RSF to several corporate gyms, the instructors at the RSF are held to high standards of certification, education and training. She also said the number of group exercise classes and the types of equipment at the RSF are on par with those at corporate gyms.

“I love that the RSF has everything a corporate gym has to offer and more,” Ogunlana said. “It’s there for the students as well as the staff and community as a whole.”

While Ogunlana teaches multiple classes at the RSF, she also works a full-time job as a crime scene technician for a local police department.

She said the reason she continues to teach at the RSF is the joy it brings her.

“For me, it’s fun,” Ogunlana said. “I really enjoy working with all of you different people. I love interacting with the class members. … What I do helps other people, and in turn, you guys help me by improving and coming back and wanting to work harder and doing all that you do, and I love that give-and-take. It makes me happy.”

This sentiment is mirrored in Ogunlana’s students. Zachary Hallberg, who earned his doctorate at UC Berkeley and is now a postdoctoral scholar, has been coming to Ogunlana’s class for at least six years.

According to Hallberg, he comes to group exercise classes because they are an outlet for stress, and he has found a community at the RSF.

“There are so many people at Shola’s class who I genuinely care about and who have been supportive of me, not only in the combatives room but also everywhere,” Hallberg said.

Hallberg, who has taken several classes at the RSF, describes the instructors at the RSF as “amazing” and described Shola as “a damn supernova.”

Shan Dao, who completed her doctorate at UC Berkeley, has also been attending group classes such as STRONGER for several years.

According to Dao, although the first class led by Ogunlana that she attended was difficult, Dao kept coming back because “Shola’s such a great person” and because Dao enjoys the dynamic of group exercise.

“It has this variety that’s very different from running on the treadmill or anything that’s very boring to me,” Dao said.

Another group exercise instructor, Mitch Crispell, teaches cardio dance and Zumba classes. Much like Ogunlana, Crispell began his career as a group exercise instructor after being asked by a teacher to teach a song at an RSF class. Eventually, he built up a repertoire, went through the formal training and certification and, five years ago, got approved to teach his own class.

According to Crispell, dance is a great way to connect with others and make cardio more meaningful.

“I love the enthusiasm and energy of the students,” Crispell said. “They come every week, and they smile and go hard and want to try. We’re here to do good things for our bodies and be healthy, and that’s beautiful.”

Aside from group exercise classes, the RSF has several personal trainers who individuals or groups can purchase sessions with. One of these trainers, Keith Hansen, is a senior at UC Berkeley studying molecular and cell biology and psychology.

Hansen had already been working at the RSF when his love of sports and fitness fueled his decision to take the 10-week course to become a personal trainer. Now, he has been working as a trainer for two years. Hansen said he usually works with clients for two-month periods, but the time period differs depending on the client.

In addition to working at the RSF, Hansen works for the campus athletic department and teaches a spin class at Bridges Rock Gym. Hansen said he works in athletics because it lets him have fun at work, and he added that he has been using sports as a way to stay active since he was 6 years old.

According to Hansen, his favorite part of being a personal trainer is seeing how happy exercise makes people. Hansen added that the community of RSF employees is diverse.

“It’s family,” Hansen said.

Contact Maya Akkaraju at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maya_akkaraju.