Fit to Equip

Although there’s not an actual science dedicated to equipping fitness centers, many campus rec centers do have a formula for how to do so successfully. At Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia, that process begins with surveying its patrons for what equipment they would like to see.

“Generally, when we do any kind of equipment buying, whether it be replacing or looking for new equipment, we always survey our students, faculty and staff — anybody that really works out in the fitness center — to give them a chance to have their input,” said Elisha Smith, the fitness coordinator at Georgia Institute of Technology’s recreation facility.

The surveys are conducted in a number of different ways, so that no patron’s input goes uncollected. “We’ve [stood] in the fitness center with iPads,” said Smith. “Generally, that same survey will be online. We always make hard copies just for those people who, for some reason, aren’t comfortable using the iPad or it’s easier for them to fill out. We try to do multiple prongs so that everybody gets reached.”

According to Smith, many patrons appreciate getting to have a vote in the equipment buying decision. “We’ve definitely had people say thank you for asking and they know that we’re trying to do things for them,” she said. “I think that’s very important, to make sure they know that. So it’s not my decision solely. Actually, it’s more so their decision what we’re getting. I may look at quality of equipment on our end, but I’m looking for the things that they want and the equipment firsthand.”

At the State Gym at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, the formula for equipping successfully involves evaluating the rec center’s user base and their specific needs. “Because we are a large, public university in Iowa, we serve a diverse age and ability range of patrons,” said Doug Arrowsmith, the State Gym’s assistant director. “We have anyone from 18 years old to people that are 85 years old that utilize our services, so we have to keep that in mind when purchasing equipment.”

As a result, it’s important the rec center is stocked with equipment that will appeal to each demographic. “We need equipment that will stand up to the rigors of 18-to 24-year-old males, to equipment that a novice lifter will understand and know how to use,” said Arrowsmith. “We also try to have a good variety, as some people like power racks, dumbbells and plate-loaded equipment, while others prefer selectorized machines and cardiovascular equipment. We also consider the amount of space we have to fit what we need into the spaces we have available.”

Since the University of Cincinnati’s patrons are mostly traditional students, its equipping formula includes equipment with technological components. “This last year, in fact, we purchased six treadmills with integrated internet access,” said Jayme Johnson, the coordinator of facility operations for the University of Cincinnati’s campus recreation department. “[We’re] looking to add more in the year to come. Those features help to keep our members using our facility and are an added bonus for those who want to join.”

Arrowsmith agreed that technology should be considered in any rec center’s equipping formula. “Because it is such a large part of students’ lives now, they expect it,” he said. “The fitness industry is also catching up with technology, as you are now seeing new and improved features on equipment each year.”

Another crucial factor in equipping success is to peruse the market, which can be vast. Make sure to conduct research on the equipment you’re considering purchasing. At Georgia Institute of Technology, Smith explained she doesn’t take purchasing decisions lightly.

“I think the big thing is to demo so that you can see and make sure the equipment works,” said Smith. “We’ve had pieces come in that we couldn’t get the TVs to work. So that’s a huge factor. When that doesn’t work, we obviously can’t purchase those pieces of equipment. And then also to talk to the other institutions and contacts you have about what they’re using in their fitness centers. Even visit other fitness centers so you can see what they have. Go to conventions and check out the latest and greatest that are coming out in the fitness world.”

Arrowsmith agreed with this advice. “Do your homework,” he said. “Research equipment, speak to vendors with different companies. Listen to your patrons. Get out and try different machines and pay attention to the little details with equipment that could make or break you in the long run. Speak to people that have the equipment you are looking to purchase. They may be aware of issues that are good or bad with certain brands or companies.”

At the end of the day, the formula for equipping success involves the following: surveying your demographic, asking patrons for feedback and thoroughly evaluating the market. By following this formula, the chances of making poor equipping decisions are decreased.

Rachel is the Editor and Chief of Peake Media. She can be reached at

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