Staying relevant necessitates staying on top of current trends in fitness. Since the needs of college students are constantly changing, it’s up to campus rec departments to evolve with those needs.
“When discussing trends of any kind in higher education, it’s important to view trends through the eyes of the participant,” advised Dr. Christy Nolan, the director of campus recreation at Texas State University.
By filtering all equipment, programming and spatial design decisions through the lens of what your students need, you’re more likely to have strong participation from them. “It goes back to asking if this is a new fad or a lasting trend, which is always tough to distinguish with something new,” said Renee Wood, the assistant director of facility services at the University of Arizona.
Below are some equipment, workouts and exercise space trends Nolan and Wood are seeing.
An increasingly popular equipment piece revolves around Olympic lifting and powerlifting, two common styles of lifting.
“Here at Texas State University, we are in the process of adding platforms for Olympic lifting and powerlifting,” said Nolan. “These two are very popular across all segments of our student population and the need for additional outlets for those activities is growing.”
The rising popularity of both Olympic lifting and powerlifting falls in line with an increased interest in strength training among college students. According to Wood, Arizona has seen the same trend and adjusted accordingly.
“We recently added the Aktiv Rig, which includes TRX straps, wall ball targets, gymnastic rings, battle ropes and shelving units to place kettlebell weight on,” said Wood.
The additions didn’t stop there. In order to expand its offerings, the Arizona campus rec department also installed special flooring. “In 2017 we added turf in the center of our weight room,” said Wood. “We placed the Aktiv Rig parallel to the turf to have an area for functional training and we bought push sleds for our patrons to use on the turf.”
These machines provide students a variety of strength and core workouts to choose from. But the Arizona rec department also doesn’t want to put its cardio offerings in the rearview mirror, as these equipment pieces will always be in high demand.
According to Wood, the department has been researching new cardio equipment to add to its fitness floor. “We are also looking into purchasing Tour De France spin bikes,” she said.
Arizona has also seen more demand for functional training programming and equipment. “We are going to purchase a Queenax functional training system,” said Wood. “We believe this would be great to utilize for a suspension class as well as a boxing class.”
The Queenax system, made by Precor, is a suspended bodyweight training system that is versatile enough to accommodate the needs of small group and functional training workouts.
“We think the Queenax system could be the next big trending piece we will use in small group training programs,” said Wood.
Another prominent trend to take notice of is the usage of technology in workouts. In the past decade alone, the integration of streaming, social media and other smart technology into exercise equipment has become increasingly common. At Texas State, however, Dr. Nolan has noticed an interesting deviation in this trend.
“In increasing numbers, students are either unplugging or not using streaming and interactive features associated with fitness equipment,” said Nolan. “Students are not taking advantage of all the high-tech features on equipment, specifically cardio equipment. Even streaming services like Netflix or Hulu are not being utilized. It seems it’s easier to remain on one’s own personal device and not login to the equipment at the campus recreation center.”
While this development may seem surprising, the reason is actually pretty clear. “Students are most likely already on their phone as they are traveling to their desired workout location,” explained Nolan. “Through their personal device they have access to streaming video, email, text, actual calls and a number of apps with notifications. Removing all those options for the relatively limited features that are currently offered on fitness equipment is just not an option.”
And this disconnection from technology doesn’t end with exercise equipment. It seems college students are becoming solely focused on their workouts more often.
“The other trend associated with this high-tech phenomenon is we see, in increasing numbers, students completely unplugging for their workout,” said Nolan. “Surprising as it is, the digital devices are set down and students are technology free for their workout.”
This trend points to a stronger focus by students on their workouts. Participants seemingly want a more intense workout experience, which means tougher exercises that are uninterrupted by constant technological distractions.
“More people are doing high intensity and functional trainings, which include tire flips, wall ball squats and Olympic lifting,” said Wood. “We offer standup paddleboard yoga, which is very popular, as well as outside high-intensity interval training (HIIT) classes.”
Though different styles of working out, both standup paddleboard yoga and HIIT classes deliver the kind of intensity students are looking for.
While most of the focus in changing trends is devoted to new equipment and workouts, the spaces students are using to work out in is important to pay attention to as well. Perhaps a reason your attendance numbers are low is your students prefer a different type of workout space than what you’re currently offering.
“[Some of the most popular spaces are] boxing and martial arts rooms, an indoor turf section and areas dedicated to athletic-type lifting, dynamic movements, Olympic platforms and others. In many cases, these are placed in repurposed areas of the recreation center; renovated racquetball or handball courts are usually the venue for these activities,” explained Nolan.
However, you can’t magically transform your old racquetball courts into a functional workout area overnight. Renovation projects can take several months. Fortunately, there are alternatives.
“We have seen a rise in outside, open air functional training sites,” said Nolan. “These have been a combination of CrossFit gyms, martial arts training centers and adventure race training.”
Students have been trending toward more open-ended workout spaces lately, preferring to have flexibility in their exercise options. If you can provide a space that can wear many faces — functional training, small group training, yoga, etc. — your attendance numbers should see positive growth.
And in following the same theme, the popularity of moveable workout areas is rising across the nation. “The other [trend is] mobile or pop-up functional training sites that can be moved from one location to the next in a relatively short amount of time,” said Nolan. “These are typically public locations that are easily accessible by a large demographic.”
In the end, the two keys to all these trends are variety and accessibility. Students want an encompassing workout experience from their campus recreation facilities. Being able to offer them choices of workouts, equipment and exercise spaces will elevate your rec center to a new level.