When searching for ways to attract more students to the rec center, Eric Hawkes, the executive director of Wellness and Recreation at North Carolina State University (NC State), said his department recently found success with a company called Waitz.
Waitz is a software system and app that can tell students exactly how many people are in different areas at the rec center at any given time.
“Everyone wants to know how busy our building is. This company tells everyone how busy every space in our building is,” said Hawkes. “Anyone can use our app to see what’s going on. It uses bluetooth and WiFi signals from iPhones to shoot out an algorithm to detail how many people are in each space.”
This development is just one example of how technology is continuing to progress based on the student body. Hawkes said the latest generation wants to have an extremely customizable experience while visiting NC State Campus Rec.
“They want tools they can use on their phones,” said Hawkes. “One of the challenges we have is how do we connect with people who are uncomfortable navigating our facilities? How do we get them into an intimidating fitness space? How do we breakdown those barriers?”
Kevin Bretting, the fitness coordinator at the University of Wyoming (UW), said he is seeing similar trends in visitor tracking. His department uses a handful of different programs to assist visitors with tracking and managing various fitness offerings.
“We have Fusion which is a software we adopted about a year ago,” said Bretting. “Acuity is a scheduling software my personal training staff use to train clients. FitDEGREE is a platform I use in the group fitness space to manage our offerings there. Patrons can register for classes through it and pick up new classes as well.”
Tech in Fitness
Through his additional experience as an equipment manager at UW, Bretting said one recent technological advancement is that Keiser Resistance Equipment uses compressed air instead of traditional weights to create resistance for users.
“We have one of those pieces right now, and we are hoping to add another one soon,” said Bretting. “It does two things. From a performance standpoint, it allows the lifter to move rapidly through their task. You can pull on the cable as fast as you can, and there is a digital display of what power was produced. The other is there’s no wear or tear on the machine and less risk of personal injury. It’s very low maintenance.”
This slow evolution of equipment is a trend that caught the eye of Mike Rucker, the chief digital officer at Active Wellness, a fitness design and management company. He said the fitness industry is moving past simple fitness and is now supporting a more holistic version of well-being.
“I’m especially bullish on EGYM, but there are others,” said Rucker. “This new technology is lowering the cognitive load and skills required to work out. If you’ve been in the industry for any amount of time, it’s really easy to forget that for a majority of people working out isn’t second nature. We’re seeing a significant increase in adherence and results in clubs who have used this equipment.”
Rucker said the industry is getting to a place where predictive analytics and machine learning can provide tailored regimens to members at scale. He noted an expensive budget isn’t required for smart equipment either. There are plenty of app-based solutions to choose from as well as innovative retrofit solutions.
One example Rucker provided was Metric Mate. It’s an intelligent training accountability partner that allows users to automatically count reps and sets while also tracking caloric burn, force exertion, muscular fatigue and more.
“It’s now about supporting the individual, whereas it used to be essential about renting people weight training and endurance equipment,” said Rucker. “Technology in our domain is quickly becoming a big tent. But what I think are the most compelling technology trends to watch over the next few years are two things. One, how technology is making exercise more fun, and how better user design is making exercise easier.”
At Texas A&M University, Rec Sports has implemented new tech by adding over 35 wide screens to display digital signage and programming for students. External clients can also buy space on the screens.
Other Future Tech
In terms of other tech, Rick Hall, the director of Rec Sports, said their new Southside Rec Center has turnstiles which requires visitors to swipe their student IDs upon entry.
“The turnstiles are integrated and matches up with our membership database,” said Hall. “The data confirms they are a member. If a person forgets their ID card, we have the Fusion app where you can tap for your ID and it’s your QR code. The scanner on the turnstiles will read it, and it works the same as a student ID. That’s new technology we are using.”
In addition, Jerod Wilson, the Strength and Conditioning director at Texas A&M Rec Sports, said they have moved over 90% of their cardio equipment to TechnoGym due to its user-friendly interface.
“What we have been able to get from them with the technology aspect — it’s worked well,” said Wilson. “They have this thing called a Mywellness cloud. Once you create a Mywellness cloud account at the main student rec facility, you can login to a single piece of Technogym equipment, and it will know who you are. It will recognize all your user statistics and workout information. It’s very useful for moving building to building.”
EXTRA CREDIT: The University of Georgia has seen promising results since installing eye scanners for check-in at the Ramsey Student Center.
Similarly, NC State is striving to improve the fitness experience through new technology by offering in-studio virtual programming through Les Mills.
“When the pandemic hit, it was really difficult to find student workers,” explained Hawkes. “Finding fitness instructors has become more and more challenging. We did move down the path of the virtual studio experience. It’s been really successful for us. We have 10 to 15 classes a week where we don’t need a live fitness instructor present.”
By also using Fusion’s management software, Hawkes shared they can reach visitors better by scheduling smaller workouts at the private fitness studios in the campus rec facilities.
All in all, technology is trending and ever-changing. However, one key has remained consistent through the years. Before selecting new software or smart equipment for your rec center, Hawkes advised to do adequate research. It’s essential to make sure the investment is sustainable for the future.
“Once you implement something, it’s very difficult to go back,” said Hawkes. “If you do select a partner, make sure they are committed to you as well. Nothing is perfect. You are always going to need to adjust and be flexible.”