Improved health awareness is making campus recreation facilities “sanctuaries of sweat” for an increasingly diverse population of student gym-goers. Once reserved for athletes and exercise enthusiasts, campus recreation centers are now evolving their program offerings to accommodate a larger demographic with a broad array of fitness needs.

Whereas most students using campus recreation centers were there to improve their physiques or athletic performance, this new wave of incoming fitness participants (or members) has different motivations, such as stress relief from heavy course loads and social interaction. Fitness facilities and programs offer students the opportunity to connect with others in person and “offline” (an increasingly rare occurrence in this digitally driven world). Of course, many of these new participants in the fitness club world come from the couch world — where virtual activities (e.g., video games and Netflix binges) supersede physical ones. Widespread inactivity among students has created a greater demand for programs that challenge the participant in different ways, such as with interactive games, equipment and activities. The need and interest to make fitness more enjoyable and feel like play has never been greater.

Campus recreation facilities that consider these current fitness interests and create program offerings that spark interaction, community and nontraditional physical challenges have an opportunity to engage a broader array of students.

From ABCollege Rec Centers Expanding into Student Life Hubs

How is this being accomplished?

While traditional fitness equipment will always have a place in fitness and recreation centers, a growing number of facilities are creating space for obstacle courses, climbing ropes and walls, and other dynamic physical challenges. Gym floors are opening up, affording infinite opportunities to move in different ways.

Fitness classes have expanded to include small-group training environments, with participants challenging one another to achieve personal goals and benchmarks. Active playground games, such as kickball, have made their way into fitness classes and intramural offerings, and outdoor adventure challenges and races engage participants who are motivated by the thrill and competition afforded by these activities.

Additionally, “recovery”-based elements of health are now more popular than ever. Programs that offer yoga, meditation and similar disciplines provide an opportunity for a more diverse population of students to engage with their health.

Campus recreational facilities are now in a unique position to be able open their doors to a larger demographic of students interested in improving their health. Thinking outside the traditional fitness box with programs that offer interaction, connection and fun will empower these future architects of our society to be healthy and happy for life.