Within the next few weeks, a lot of college freshmen will report to campuses across the country. If you're an AD or the manager of the university fitness center, you're looking at a new group of potential users. Ideally, you'd like to catch them before the dreaded "freshman ten" does.
So, how do you reach out to them? You can put up flyers, post information on the college's website and start a Facebook page for users of the facility. But if you really want to get them in the door and then get them to stay, you have to make it fun for them.
Over at my gym, there's a fall-themed participation program called the Trail to Sleepy Hollow. On one wall is a not-to-scale map of the East Coast. On that map are marked various 'haunted' locations - Amityville, Cape Fear, Salem…you get the idea - with dotted lines connecting each location. The dotted line is the "trail," the overall route from Cape Fear to Sleepy Hollow with all the haunted stops in between.
Each member who wants to participate gets a little numbered sticker that looks like a pumpkin. Every minute you spend exercising is a mile on the trail. Thirty minutes of cardio or strength workouts moves your little pumpkin 30 miles. Thirty minutes of combined strength and cardio workouts gets you a 60-mile burst. Trying something new is worth extra miles. Each time you work out, you record your mileage on a little card. A staff member tabulates each member's mileage at the end of each week and moves the pumpkins around on the map.
Even for adults, it's weirdly addictive and weirdly competitive, with people sneaking peeks at the map to see where their pumpkins have moved each week. There's even some good-natured pumpkin-dissing that goes on throughout the program, which runs for somewhere between two and three months. If you complete the trail, you get a free T-shirt. I don't know what it's like at your facility, but at mine, people will do just about anything for a shirt. They wear that shirt all year long, too. It's great free advertising for the club.
For adults, the program comes at the right time of year - between the end of bathing suit season and the holiday season, when many might drop out of going to the gym for lack of motivation. For college fitness facilities, it's a great opportunity to get students into a healthy lifestyle before bad habits have a chance to take hold. But the bottom line is that it's fun. And isn't that what fitness should always be?