Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the formal name of the club, the number of universities it has a presence on, the club's first semester on campus and the description of weekly workouts. In addition, CHAARG is women-focused, not exclusive to women, as the original article stated.
The University of Richmond’s new women-focused club, Changing Health Attitudes and Actions to Recreate Girls, is making exercise a team effort -- literally.
CHAARG is a national fitness organization with chapters at more than 60 universities. Members pay $45 per semester and have access to both big and small-group workouts at nearby exercise studios. Its model is similar to a sorority, as it hosts a recruitment week, socials, mental health workshops and more.
Its goal is to revolutionize women's fitness on campus, using group exercise to build community and make exercise fun.
According to its website, “CHAARG liberates girls from the elliptical.” But although focused on women, CHAARG is open to all UR students.
UR’s CHAARG chapter was the brainchild of junior Rachel Black. After transferring from Ohio University, where she was a CHAARG member, Black saw a void here on campus -- there was no exercise community for women.
“From the amount of members we’ve gotten so far, I think it’s obvious that it was such a lacking niche on campus,” sophomore CHAARG event coordinator Emma Alvarez said.
Black started working on the UR CHAARG chapter last spring and this fall while abroad. For Black, the work was well worth it. CHAARG has about 80 members in its first semester, this spring.
Black and her executive team rolled out a social media campaign advertising CHAARG memberships opening in the spring. Weekly workouts are group fitness classes taught by certified instructors and also serve as group meetings, offering opportunities for CHAARG's members to socialize.
“Greek life is so big here, I thought it would be a really successful organization because it’s organized after a sorority,” Black said.
CHAARG had a list of 200 people interested in joining the club, thanks to its social media advertising and recruitment work. During the first three weeks of this semester, CHAARG held its recruitment period.
This included tabling in Tyler Haynes Commons, information sessions, flyers and more. After the recruitment period, in which all UR women are welcome to join CHAARG, Black saw the community she had hoped for come to life.
"CHAARG is for girls of all fitness levels," Black said. "We have people that have never worked out before and never started their fitness journey, and we have people that played all sports in high school. It’s just varying levels."
CHAARG emphasizes its inclusivity and ability to connect girls from all corners of campus.
"You’re able to meet girls of all majors and all ages," Black said. "So it’s a really good way to branch out of your major and your group that you’re usually with."
CHAARG’s weekly workout classes include cycling, boxing and yoga. It works to expose members to different workouts that vary in intensity. Local Richmond studios, such as CYCLEBAR and TITLE Boxing, donate classes to CHAARG.
“It gives people a chance to try workouts that they maybe wouldn’t want to pay for at outside studios or are too nervous to sign up for by themselves,” Black said.
CHAARG members Reghan Ruf and Isabel Bandoroff, both sophomores, echoed this sentiment of group fitness and female empowerment.
“It’s really new and it’s already so big, so I think that’s kind of reassuring that there’s so many people that want to be healthier and want to be a part of a group,” Bandoroff said. “The fact that it’s not just focused on exercise, I think it’s also trying to incorporate wellness and mental health and body positivity, I think that’s really cool, too.”
Ruf felt similarly, she said.
"I think it really helps with helping women feel confident and feel like you can go work out and you can go to the gym, and making you feel like you’re not by yourself," Ruf said. "[CHAARG] really unites everybody under one umbrella group."
CHAARG is open to all UR women, with rolling memberships continuing this spring.
“I like that there’s not a typical CHAARG girl,” Black said. “What we’re hoping people would get out of CHAARG, more so: being confident to walk in the gym by yourself, or maybe go to the weight section that a lot of people think of as just the athlete section or the guys’ section. I think CHAARG mentality is loving yourself exactly where you are, while still being conscious of where you’re going.”
In the vortex of busyness that UR can be sometimes, “you kind of forget about yourself as a person and all that you’re worth,” Alvarez said.
Black hopes to expand membership further through the spring and fall, aiming to offer a body-positive workout community to all UR women.
Contact contributor Isabel Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.