WORCESTER — Knowing he was dealing with a group of people who all had varying levels of fitness, Rolando Cruz kept it simple Monday night at the “boot camp” workout on the Common behind City Hall.
“If you can’t jog, just walk,” Cruz told the dozen or so people who braved the hazy, hot weather to get a good workout in. “If you can’t do the exercise, just skip it. Nobody’s watching.”
Cruz, a physical education teacher and personal trainer who works out of the YWCA, is one of several instructors offering workouts, yoga, tai chi and other activities across the city this summer as part of the city’s Worcester Parks Summer Fitness Series.
The series, a collaboration of the city’s Department of Public Health, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and the YWCA of Central Mass., is designed to get people out into city parks and back into shape.
Cruz broke the boot camp down into a few different stages. He started with some warmups and stretching, went through a few exercises, and then had participants combine some of the cardio with some of the exercises in succession. After a few rounds, heart rates were up, but so were spirits, and the people who came Monday seemed to enjoy it.
“Worcester’s great for beer and food, but then you gain 15 pounds and you need something to do,” Molly Sneesby said.
Sneesby said her friend Brittany Balkus saw the 15-week program online, and convinced her to go Monday night. Balkus is getting married in April, and is looking to get in shape for the wedding.
Sneesby said some of the other offerings looked like fun, and said she was thinking about doing the “pilates yoga blend” at Beaver Brook Park. She said she has lived in Worcester for years, but has never been to the park across from Foley Stadium.
Cruz said there are multiple benefits to getting a good workout in, from weight loss to preventing disease.
The summer fitness program originally got started in 2019, but besides some virtual programs, COVID-19 put a hold on last year’s program. After all the stress and sedentary habits that developed for many people due to the pandemic, it’s a good time to get outside, get some fresh air and get some exercise. Domenica Perrone of the city’s Department of Health and Human Services said the idea was to bring quality fitness activities to people in an equitable space. It’s free, and while some of the programs are geared toward adults, there are family-friendly options, too.
Refining offerings to address community needs
Perrone said behind the scenes, the program is gathering research on what is working and what isn’t, and is refining the offerings to address community needs. She said, for example, the tai chi program is quite popular with the senior Asian-American population in the city.
The programs are spread out throughout the city, and in addition to boot camp, the pilates/yoga blend, and tai chi, there’s an Afro/Latino Groove class, a dance fitness class, soccer skills at Vernon Hill Park, and karate at Great Brook Valley Sunday mornings. For the full list and transportation options, visit the city website.
Those who participate in three or more sessions will receive a special YWCA Fitness Membership to gain access to the Fitness Center and pool through Sept. 30.
Heidi Fountain of Blue Cross/Blue Shield said the program was partly created in response to health disparities found in populations within the city; she said the idea is to increase community wellness and health equity.
And maybe to get people sweating a little bit. There was plenty of that Monday night, as Cruz’s repertoire of squats and planks gave way to leg extensions and push-ups and “mountain climbers” and a few other exercises designed by people in really good shape with really good core strength.
But the people who came Monday kept up, and were game to try anything Cruz threw out there. After about an hour, he slowed things down, and returned the group to some stretches and a nice cool-down walk around City Hall Plaza to get those heart rates back down.
Perrone said the program basically offers something that everyone can do, no matter where they live in the city.
“This summer, everyone needs it,” Perrone said. “People are done with working out in their living rooms, in the dark of winter.”