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Off Campus: Sharing a Passion to Move Every Body
By droseyb [at] chop.edu (subject: Cornerstone%20Story) (Barbara Drosey)
Good thing Danielle Apple is no stranger to keeping busy. Most clinical research coordinators (CRC) manage multiple studies, and Apple typically works on at least five projects at any given time as a CRC in the Gender and Sexuality Development Program and PolicyLab at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Her professional interests lie in expanding and improving access to gender-affirming care and reducing health disparities for transgender and gender expansive youth.
"Our general portfolio is adolescent health equity," Apple said. "I manage studies in the Gender Clinic and also am involved in some HIV and sexually transmitted infection-related studies."
Growing up, Apple was an athlete and played sports to keep active. Once she reached college, team sports were no longer part of her routine. Seeking new ways to keep her body moving led her to the gym during her freshman year at the University of Pittsburgh, where she was introduced to weightlifting. But it was sophomore year that she found the passion that keeps her moving today.
"I took my first group exercise class, which was a spin class, and just fell in love with group exercise," Apple recalled. "I loved the team aspect, the motivation, and having someone else plan my workout! I also really enjoyed that there's so much variety."
When her college campus held a train the trainer event that enabled students to get certified, Apple earned certification in Tabata Bootcamp, named for the researcher who developed a specific method of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and in general group exercise.
"I started off teaching strength and cardio-based classes," Apple said. "After graduation, I started teaching spin classes for a local studio, and most recently I started teaching dance fitness. About every two years, I've added a new modality."
Music to Move
While she does receive compensation for teaching exercise classes, Apple described teaching as a passion project.
"When I'm not teaching exercise classes, I'm taking exercise classes! I'm always in the studio, so I figured I might as well teach," she said. "I create all of my own workouts, gathering inspiration from the Internet and from other trainers, and I spend a lot of time working on my classes and putting my playlists together. Music is huge for me, particularly for the spin and dance classes. It's a great physical and creative outlet that I take seriously, trying hard to put together classes that are fun and offer variety so students will keep coming back."
For Apple, music and exercise classes go hand in hand. Cognizant of that fact that her students comprise people of various ages, abilities, and tastes, she aims to find upbeat, high-energy music with broad appeal – music that reflects her approach to teaching.
"I bring a lot of energy and motivation," Apple said. "I can be a little tough, but always supportive. My focus is on encouraging people."
With the aim of creating an inclusive class in which people of all fitness levels and body types feel comfortable, Apple demonstrates modifications for exercises to either increase or decrease difficulty and always focuses on correct form. She's also committed to body-positive/body-neutral teaching, meaning she does not use cues related to physical appearance.
"When you come to my class, you're there to move your body and to feel stronger; the focus is not to achieve a certain esthetic," Apple said. "You'll never hear me talking about 'tank top arms' or 'summer abs.' I try to create an extremely welcoming, open environment. When a new person joins one of my classes, I introduce myself, find out a little bit about them, and just try to make a connection."
That personal touch combined with the sense of accomplishment people feel when they complete a class is what keeps them coming back. Apple does her best to make exercise fun, though even she knows doing burpees can't always be enjoyable.
"I try to joke around and keep people moving to make the time go by quickly," she said.
Apple was hard pressed to choose a favorite exercise class to teach or attend but loves dance fitness because "it's like you're just dancing with friends." Apple turns to spin class for a good cardio workout, and if she's craving more variety, she enjoys a HIIT class.
"As the instructor, dance fitness is the most physically demanding one because I have to execute each move really well and be especially energetic so the class can mirror my movements and follow along. I also had to learn to listen to my body," Apple said. "I may find myself matching the energy of my class, but then I get out of breath and can't talk to give cues! I need to monitor my own energy level to make sure I can continue to deliver."
Her future personal goals are to incorporate more yoga and pilates into her routine — not to teach, just for a different experience.
Exercise is for Every Body
In sharing her philosophy about exercise and caring for one's physical health, Apple said her relationship with exercise has changed over time.
"There was a point in my life where I did not have a positive relationship with exercise and was caught up in an appearance-based model, overworking myself to achieve an unattainable ideal," she said. "I started to really dislike going to the gym and working out."
So, Apple did what she now encourages other to do — stepped back and reexamined her relationship with exercise. She suggests asking oneself what is the "why" of your routine.
"Are you doing spin class because you love it, or because someone told you it would help you burn calories? If the answer is the latter, that's probably not going to keep you coming back," she said.
What changed Apple's approach was a shift in mindset to focus on exercising because it made her feel good, stronger, and helped with stress levels. She now cherishes teaching and working out as her time to connect with her inner self and with others. So, how does someone just starting out their movement journey find their why and their how?
"My best advice is to find types of movement that bring you joy," she said. "Exercise can take so many forms. The most important element is that you're moving your body in a way that feels good to you and gets your heart rate up."
Apple's passion for movement is catching — her mother recently joined her studio and is enjoying a variety of classes.
"Let go of media messages about traditional exercise that only show certain body types," Apple said. "Any body can exercise, anyone can move their body just because they love to do it and it feels good. Exercise can become a powerful tool not only for your health, but for your own self-efficacy and self-worth."