Meet Nicole Olsen and Shannon Healy, Total Body X Instructors at Shenandoah University

Dorie Triplett

Have you always wanted to improve yourself mentally, spiritually, and physically, but struggled to find the motivation to start? It can be hard to feel like we fit into a community that’s devoted to building each other up and thrives on our fitness journeys. Shenandoah University graduate students, Nicole Olsen and Shannon Healy bring a challenging class and enriching approach to the fitness and self-help experience. 

Before coming to Shenandoah University to study Physical Therapy, Nicole attended Virginia Tech for her undergraduate program. During her senior year, while attending the group fitness classes, she was inspired by how cool, fun, and fit her instructors were. After befriending them, they helped her learn the ropes and guided her in taking the specific courses at Tech in order to become a fitness instructor. After earning her group fitness certification and graduating from Tech, she had her heart set on studying physical therapy and continuing her educational career at Shenandoah. 

“Group fitness was my backbone, I always felt the most comfortable and I could be me in front of everyone, sometimes you struggle with school and you get down on yourself when you feel like you’re bad at certain things…  being able to have group fitness and excel at something- that could be my escape, so I quickly tried to find something in this area that I could continue my teaching with,” Nicole says.    

Nicole currently teaches at Valley Health and OneLife here in Winchester. After Nicole’s classmate, Azita Nejaddehghan, who worked with SU’s head of intramural sports, Matt Levy, made the networking connection, another door to group fitness was opened for Nicole. Since Shenandoah only had Yoga and Dance classes available, Matt had expressed the need for a strength or full-body exercise class. He told Nicole if she could come up with a name and description of her class, they would look it over and consider putting her on as an official SU fitness class instructor. 

Nicole’s best friend and roommate since meeting her at SU orientation, Shannon Healy, has been her right-hand woman in helping to create the premise for the new exercise class on campus. 

“Azita asked Nicole to help out and bring this workout class to SU with Matt’s vision of bringing more of a high-intensity class to expand the fitness department and classes offered at SU” Shannon explains how she and Nicole designed the in-person class. 

With Shannon’s Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Exercise Science, and both pursuing Physical Therapy degrees, they began to brainstorm. Nicole even reached out to her old friends at Tech for inspiration on designing the class. And thus, Total Body X was born! 

“For the most part- girls were attending the class, more so than boys, so it was trying to make them feel comfortable with working out hard and having a routine that they didn’t have to think of doing or if they felt uncomfortable going to the gym being around all the guys lifting heavyweights,” said Shannon.  

Before COVID hit, Total Body X took place in Shingleton gym where Nicole and Shannon were able to have workout stations and interact with everyone that attended. They were even able to have Shannon spend more one-on-one time with the Total Body X’ers that felt less confident in trying the moves, while Nicole would take more time making her rounds and giving instructions. 

Since taking to Zoom, the class had to be modified so the Total Body X community could continue their workouts at home without equipment, and without the motivation from in-person help from class.

Shannon reflected on how they had to change the aspects of Total Body X to accommodate people working out at home now, “We were like, okay- we have to do bodyweight exercises because we can’t just assume that everyone has weights. And also, not that much space, so we started just practicing ourselves, out in the living room, like ‘Let’s do this routine or see how that feels’, we had to regroup everything.”     

Something that Nicole and Shannon have struggled with is redesigning the course so it’s challenging, but not too intimidating that it keeps people from wanting to come back every Sunday. 

“It is tough but it’s doable, and you feel more successful, because if people don’t feel successful, then what’s the point? They’re not going to want to do it” Nicole explains regarding the difficulty of the workout sets. 

Nicole also expressed how previous to Covid, when the class took place on Wednesday nights, they had more turnout. Due to Shannon and Nicole’s busy schedules during the week completing their clinical rotations into the evenings, Sunday nights are the only times that they can both tune into Zoom and lead the classes. But, Nicole plays this to her advantage by focusing on the theme of using this strength from completing each class and keeping that positive energy throughout the rest of the week. 

Something that Nicole also decided to reincorporate this semester was the time for mindfulness at the end of every class. 

During Covid, Nicole found herself in a situation where she was frustrated and started neglecting her health. Then she began to use mindfulness daily. “I honestly started to just focus on what was going on in the present moment and asked myself, what was the issue? What was it that was keeping me held down? It worked for me, so I’m like ‘come on people- let me help you too!’ I think I needed to be knocked down as I was and experience what other people talk about; you know, that feeling of being stuck and not knowing how to get out or if you really want to and then realizing, I need to get out and I need a community, and then there’s Total Body X” said Nicole.

“I feel like it’s a great community, you’re held accountable and encouraged to come and exercise with others,” Shannon says, “I always love when people come and say that they’ve had a rough week, or they’re always looking forward to the class, this is their time to take their mind off of everything that’s happening in the real world and allows them to be selfish and do something that they’re going to feel better with afterward.”

As for the future of Total Body X, both Nicole and Shannon graduate from Shenandoah this August, it is still up in the air. There have been talks about passing the legacy onto another Physical Therapy student, but of course, it is a rather large commitment to make alongside classes. Nicole has also expressed her interest in keeping the course and Facebook group, and continuing the class on their own. 

If you have yet to try a session of Total Body X with Nicole and Shannon, it is a wonderful way to improve your life one Sunday at a time. Not only will you undoubtedly thank yourself for committing to your well-being, but you will find an encouraging community of diverse individuals that are welcoming with open arms! Be sure to tune in and join the Total Body X community tonight, Sunday, at 5 pm!

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