More than ever, college students are seeking an all-encompassing workout experience in their school’s recreation facilities.
Gone are the days when you could throw a few free weights in an open room, organize a couple of intramural sports, and open an extra basketball court during the afternoons to keep students satisfied and engaged.
The fitness needs of college students are evolving, and your rec center should adjust its programming accordingly. Integrating functional fitness into your arsenal is a proactive way to offer your students a comprehensive workout experience.
The first step is making sure functional fitness would be well-received by your student population. “My biggest piece of advice would be to avoid the ‘build it and they will come’ mindset,” said Lance Haynie, the director of recreational sports at the University of Georgia. “I would encourage interested decision-makers to perform some data collection to ensure your user groups and patrons will respond to this type of facility and programming. Not every amenity works in all places. Do your homework and make sure it is a good fit.”
When starting new programming with new equipment and instructors, directors can often forget to ask if the students are even asking for the changes. From the start, make sure your students understand exactly what you’re offering and how it can benefit them.
“As we get older we realize how important functional movements are, but students’ bodies are resilient and they don’t feel the aches and pains of old age or the effects of sitting,” said Doug Hurley, the associate dean of students for student activities and campus rec at Pepperdine University. “Describing the type of workout and explaining its benefits is important.”
As with any new programming, your department will face some challenges. Crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s is important in any business setting, and this practice is imperative in licensing matters.
“To use the term ‘CrossFit,’ the institution must pay a franchise fee, which might be prohibitive for some, but it’s worth it for the brand name that is popular with students,” said Hurley.
If a franchise fee is outside your budget, you can still run functional fitness programs without the brand name. However, educating students is always important, regardless of whether you’re using the name CrossFit.
“I believe there are a few users who know what it is just by looking at it,” said Haynie. “However, the larger part of a campus population may need a bit more assistance in understanding what exactly functional training is and how they may benefit from it.”
It’s here your marketing team becomes more valuable. They can help drive student participation by effectively publicizing new programs.
Also, plan for everything in your budget. Consult any experts you have available to determine what equipment you’ll need and what structural changes might be necessary in the workout spaces.
The first few months of your functional fitness programming are when you should make the hardest push to get students through the door. There are plenty of ways to spark interest in functional fitness programming: testimonials, giveaways and free, healthy food.
“Like many campus rec programs, we offer a ‘free week’ the first week of classes,” said Haynie. “This allows users to have a sampling of programs and facility spaces.”
Hurley also advised rec centers: “Have a cool looking space. It never hurts to have a space that just looks awesome – people can be drawn to a visually appealing space.”
Once students start seeing the positive results of functional fitness, word of mouth can do its job.
Finding qualified instructors for a functional fitness class can be just as challenging as finding eager participants.
“Working with potential instructors on their certifications is important,” said Hurley. “They certainly gain an important tool they can use in other areas by having a special certification, but they’re also providing an important service for us by offering a lower cost program for students.”
Whether you bring in outside help or hire within the department, make sure your instructors are qualified, energetic and passionate.
A perk of an on-campus functional fitness class is these programs are usually cheaper than those you’ll find off campus. “Offer a great value,” said Hurley. “We have a local CrossFit box and it’s expensive for students. We don’t have all the equipment they have, our space is smaller, and we don’t have as many classes, but we’re one-third the cost.“
Students want to participate in activities and classes they enjoy — do everything you can to deliver that type of experience.
“Make the workout enjoyable — have fun,” said Hurley. “Play games like tag or create friendly competition. Pair people up and create partner workouts. [Try having] a theme week or month. The point of a ‘functional’ workout is to step outside of the normal routines we often find in our classes.”