Students and professors have switched roles in the gym this semester.

Exercise science students Ollie Smith and Elias Baer have taken as trainees professors in the communications, nursing, and Bible and religion departments. This is a part of the students’ coursework.

Last December, Brenda Srof, professor of nursing, turned 59. Her colleagues asked her what plans she had for her 60th birthday.

“I’m going to get physically fit,” she replied.

A few weeks later, Srof received an email from Ollie Smith, then a third-year exercise science major who was looking for professors to train. They began training together in January 2019.

Paul Keim, professor of Bible and religion, heard about Smith’s training program by volunteering in an Exercise Testing assessment last fall.

“[Smith] was on the team that did my assessment,” Keim said. “He just happened to mention that he had done some training work with other faculty and that if I was interested in something we could set it up,” Keim said.

Baer, a junior, is training Kyle Hufford, professor of communications, as part of Baer’s Exercise Prescription class. Baer has found the most difficult part of his experience to be getting schedules to line up and also “knowing where to start with [Hufford] … because it was hard to know how [he] would respond during the workouts until the first one was completed,” Baer said.

Hufford and Baer try to meet at the Rec-Fit Center three times a week to focus on doing weight training and bodyweight exercises. “I have assignments on the off days to do and typically that’s cardio,” Hufford said.

Hufford finds it helpful to have guidance during a workout. “I like to have a plan, like here, do this, do this next time,” he said. “And it helps just to have somebody there to challenge you to push yourself beyond what you might have done last time.”

Baer has improved his ability to communicate and motivate, he said.

“I’ve learned that to be successful in training someone, you must be very direct with your client and if the results are going to be seen you must push them, correct any mistakes they make and encourage them,” Baer said.

Smith appreciates the experience too. The training gives him a way to practice the things he’s learned and put his knowledge to use.

The training for each client began with a 30-minute consultation in which Smith asked about their goals and family health history to get a detailed picture of how to shape the workout schedule.

The biggest adjustment was “communicating with clients on [a] professional level, but also mak[ing] sure the clients have fun and enjoy it too,” Smith said. “At first it felt unnatural [to be training professors] but quickly it just became like a normal friendship and a professional interaction with a client.”

The professors are learning, too.

Srof had always thought that she didn’t have time for exercise, but her sessions with Smith have changed her view. “Exercise gives me time back because my mind is more engaged after I exercise,” she said. “Anybody on campus who thinks they don’t have time, it’s just not true. And I’m a living example of that,” Srof said.

With only two sessions per week, Srof is still able to get a full-body workout: upper body on Tuesdays, lower body on Thursdays, and core both days.

One of Srof’s goals was to run the 5k at the Mennonite Relief Sale at the end of September, which she did successfully.

“Ollie has changed my life,” Srof said.

Smith will graduate in December. “It’s a little bit sad,” he said. “I guess graduating in general is sad, but also having clients as well that somewhat depend on you for their workouts and motivation.”

Srof and Keim both plan to continue working out on their own. “I’ll be on my own, but I feel like I have a good foundation now,” Keim said. He has a better handle on “how certain exercises and stretches work certain muscle groups and the kinds of things that I need to keep working on and how I can use [the Rec-Fit Center] to the greatest advantage,” he said.

Smith plans to go back to England for Christmas and then attend the professional soccer tryouts in Florida at the beginning of January.