New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

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Exercise evolution: the unique ways students stay active

Exercising can be much more than going to the gym. Here’s how three NYU students exercise both their body and brain beyond 404 Fitness.

When you hear the word “exercise,” the first thing that comes to mind is the typical arm-day or leg-day routine. However, sometimes, the same gym routine every week can get repetitive. Thankfully, exercising can be much more than whatever 404 Fitness or Palladium Athletic Facility offers — it’s just a matter of finding what works for you. Exercising looks different for everyone, so this is how three students found an activity that helps them combine muscle-building and mindfulness.

Mixed martial arts

A person wearing a red shirt with the word “Wisconsin” and blue boxing gloves shadow boxes.
Stern senior Marcos Thomas shadow boxing in the street. (Courtesy Photo by Blake Salesin)

Stern senior Marcos Thomas inherited his passion for mixed martial arts from his father, and now he regularly practices at Midtown’s Renzo Gracie Academy. MMA is a combination combat sport that blends elements of karate and Muay Thai, boxing, wrestling, judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and other disciplines. Thomas has been doing MMA since he was 5 years old, and over the years, the exercise has helped him strengthen both his mind and body. 

“I tell people it’s 70% mental and 30% physical,” said Thomas. “Getting uncomfortable, stressful situations and figuring out solutions on the fly is something I think has impacted my mental health tremendously in a positive direction.” 

Muscle gain through MMA looks different from traditional gym routines. Thomas explained that due to his experience sparring, he was able to build his back strength.

“It’s one thing to lift something static like a weight, but when you’re trying to move a person, and they’re moving, that’s a different type of strength you have to build,” Thomas said. 

On top of improvements in his physical health, MMA has been a mental game, exercising his mind and teaching him to recover from failure.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is dealing with humiliation,” he said. “Being part of a fighting gym where there are people who are better than you, sometimes it is easy to feel humiliated and inferior. However, I think it’s great for character development and transfers a lot to outside the gym, as beneficial as inside the gym, which I am very grateful for.”


A person wearing blue jeans and a yellow button-up shirt stands in Washington Square Park holding a yellow skateboard with an image of a red lion.
Stern junior Adham Amin with his skateboard in Washington Square Park. (Courtesy Photo by Blake Salesin)

An iconic part of Washington Square Park are the skateboarders doing tricks under the arch. Though some see the activity as a pastime, Stern junior Adham Amin also sees it as an opportunity for exercise.

“By skating everywhere, you stay in shape because your muscles are engaged in the activity in tedious ways,” Amin said. “Specifically, you engage leg muscles when you push off on the ground.” 

While the park can be overwhelming with its chaos, Amin often goes there to find peace of mind. Over time, his friends who skateboarded in the park inspired him to begin the hobby.

“I was sitting in Washington Square Park … and all my friends were sitting around me. They all skate, and they’re trying to convince me to get on the skateboard,” said Amin. “So after that, I bought a skateboard and started skateboarding every day I could.”

Skateboarding lets Amin both get a workout in and socialize with his peers. In between classes, Amin can meet up with friends at the park to try out new tricks, which gets his mind off academics. 

Skateboarding takes a lot of focus, whether it’s paying attention when going down a busy road or concentrating to learn a new skill. With tricks in particular, the dedication can be very demanding — but ultimately, it’s equipped Amin with problem-solving skills that have helped him beyond the park.

“You really have to be concentrated and focus on what you want to do,” Amin said. “You can’t just start something and expect to be good at it. With skateboarding, it takes great focus and discipline to become a better skater.” 

Rock climbing

A person wearing a gray beanie and gray sweatshirt climbs a rock.
CAS Senior Damla Önder climbing at Ice Pond in Brewster Hill, NY.(Courtesy of Damla Önder)

CAS senior Damla Önder has been a rock climber at Brooklyn Boulders, a gym in Queens, for over two years. In her senior year of high school, Önder’s Spanish teacher introduced rock climbing to her, and it has interested her ever since. While the activity can be intimidating to some, Önder has often found comfort while climbing.

“One of the mental positives that comes with climbing is that I feel super happy with myself,” Önder said. “Never in my life did I think I would be achieving one of my dreams of doing something as cool as climbing, so mentally, doing the activity makes me happy.” 

In addition to the rush of joy Önder experiences while climbing, she’s also improved her physical fitness.

“I noticed, especially in my upper body, the muscle I gained from essentially having to pull up my body weight,” Önder said. “If you talk to anyone, being able to do a pull-up is a hard thing, but that’s the cool part of climbing — you can acknowledge how much upper body strength you have. You feel stronger because you’re moving and pulling your body.”

The rock climbing community has also become a support system for Önder. By opting for an off-campus gym instead of the NYU Rock Wall at Palladium, she has made friends outside of NYU as well. When she went climbing outdoors for the first time, Önder was initially intimidated, but the friends encouraged her to join. Being surrounded by experienced individuals who she could trust to support her made her a lot more comfortable. Önder says that one of the many benefits to rock climbing is the people you meet, something that isn’t guaranteed with all forms of exercise.

“Being a part of a rock climbing community has become a main form of socializing with people … like my best friends are there, and I also get to meet people from New York outside of NYU, which is like a whole other like a community in my opinion,” she said.

In fall 2022, while studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Önder was able to bring her love for rock climbing to other NYU students by creating a rock climbing club. Through this club, Önder bonded with other students studying abroad, as well as local Argentinians. Even though she wasn’t a Brooklyn Boulders, she was still able to find a sense of community in climbing. 

“This is my third place,” said Önder. “A place outside of work, outside of your home and a place where you spend time doing something. You’re not spending a lot of money. You’re with people, and this gym is my third place. It’s the third place for so many people.”

Contact Chinara Dorancy at [email protected].

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