Inside the Curry Hicks Cage at the University of Massachusetts, four long rows of students belonging to CHAARG stood on yoga mats filling the length of the gym. An upbeat remix of Taylor Swift’s “Willow” played from a large speaker, along with directions from workout instructor Haley Diman.
The workout of the night was barre — an exercise that incorporates both ballet and yoga-style movements to target small muscles. “I don’t like cardio so this is perfect for me,” Madelyn Lapierre, junior education and psychology major said.
CHAARG, which stands for “Changing Health, Attitudes and Actions to Recreate Girls,” is a fitness organization open to all female-identifying students at UMass.
Barre was just this week’s workout; every Monday, the group hosts full-group workouts open to every member at various locations in the general Amherst area. They explore all types of workouts such as dance, cardio and even hula-hooping.
“Our goal is to empower people to find a fitness that they love and show them that fitness and health and wellness can and should be fun,” current CHAARG ambassador, Allison McGlinchy said.
CHAARG is organized similar to a sorority: chapters exist in over 110 colleges across the country. The UMass chapter has over 250 members this year and continues to grow annually.
The group regularly collaborates with local fitness centers including F45, Orange Theory, Amherst Fitness and 413 Family Fitness. These gyms host the group for free and in return, might receive new members and word-of-mouth advertising.
Along with these weekly workouts, every member is encouraged to join what they call a “small group.” Every small group consists of five to seven members, plus a leader who organizes weekly workouts at the campus Recreation Center. There are over 40 small groups that exist within the UMass CHAARG chapter.
“It’s a really great way to get comfortable in the gym,” McGlinchy, senior communication disorder and psychology major, said. “It [the Recreation Center] can just be an intimidating space, so small groups are a really great opportunity to have some of that confidence and go with a group.”
The small groups, however, do more than just exercise together. Often, CHAARG members within small groups will get together to study or to go on outings on campus or downtown.
“My small group and I, two weeks ago, went to Cushman’s Market & Cafe in North Amherst and just got breakfast,” small group leader and member on the Diversity and Inclusion Committee Bridget Tracy said.
Tracy, a junior communication disorders major, joined CHAARG her first semester of freshman year. “I initially joined because I just wanted to stay fit in college and I didn’t really know how I was going to do that; I did a lot of sports in high school.”
However, according to Tracy, being in CHAARG has shaped most of her social life at UMass. “I didn’t really join ideally for the friend aspect of it,” she said. “What has come out of that has given me so much more.”
“I am friends with everyone,” Tracy continued. “The person I joined CHAARG with in freshman year is still my best friend and I live with three people who are also in CHAARG.”
Another member, senior kinesiology major Lucy Powers, said that small groups are “a nice way to make the group smaller, since we are 250 people.”
Powers was inspired to join the fitness organization because she was looking to build more connections on campus. “If it weren’t for CHAARG, I don’t think I would be at UMass,” she said.
Catherine Cunningham, freshman psychology major, joined CHAARG after taking a gap year. Cunningham is in a small group but doesn’t frequently attend the large Monday workouts.
“The girls here are so nice, even when you don’t come that much,” Cunningham said. “You can do however much you want to.”
Along with the joined a small group, members are encouraged to create what the organization calls “Chinstas” which are wellness Instagrams.
The Instagram posts, which are all organized under the hashtag #umasschaarg, allow for the group to connect daily on a virtual level and post anything CHAARG-related.
“It is like wellness-y, but like it’s also so much more than that because people post like their favorite salad and then they post the awesome slice of pizza that they had,” McGlinchy said.
“They post their workouts and they post their lazy days, and they post awesome days and something really good happened to them, and they post when they had a bad day,” she explained. “While things are in person now, we have still been able to maintain that like virtual community.”
McGlinchy herself posts frequently on her CHAARG Instagram, keeping her content grounded in honestly and realness.
“The vulnerability in that space was so powerful especially over quarantine when everything was virtual,” McGlinchy added.
McGlinchy is the current ambassador of CHAARG at UMass. “CHAARG has like completely shaped my life and has completely defined my college career,” she said.
McGlinchy was at first hesitant to apply for the ambassador position. “I had met some people who were also applying and they said, you know the worst that can happen is you are in the same place you are right now,” she recalled.
“I decided to kind of bet on myself I guess and trust in myself that I can do it and a lot of that trust and belief in myself came from CHAARG.”
McGlinchy is one of six other CHAARG executive members who call themselves the “Exec. Team.” According to Tracy, these seven are really the backbone of the organization.
“The work that the seven puts in is really beneficial for the entire community because everyone gets to reap the benefits,” Tracy said. “That’s the main reason why people do like join and feel comfortable because the exec is so welcoming”
The group impressively held up their regular schedule throughout the duration of the COVID lockdown.
“When we got sent home I really was upset, it was midway through my freshman year [and] I was missing UMass,” Tracy said.
“Our first [virtual] event, we had like 170 people on the zoom workout, that’s what shook me,” she added. “It means so much to me and seeing other people feel the exact same way about it just like made me feel very happy.”
Many current members were introduced to the group through a virtual setting, and their CHAARG-based Instagram accounts allowed them a space to make introductions and connections. Sophomore Elle Whitehead, studying Holistic Wellness and Community Education in the BDIC Program, said it was nice to come back in-person and already have familiar faces.
Whitehead is proof that involvement in the organization shows a pattern of benefiting its members beyond just physical wellness. Whitehead was inspired enough from her time in CHAARG to shape her individual concentration around holistic wellness—something that is emphasized greatly within the community.
“It’s such a supportive group of women,” Whitehead said.
Grace Lee can be reached at [email protected].