New technology boosts fitness opportunities

It's mid-afternoon and the Intramural (IM) Building's new fitness center on the University Park campus of Penn State is empty. The clang of dumbbells and whir of treadmills have subsided for the day and the student staff have left their posts. In well-worn sneakers and T-shirts, Mark Lozinski and Josh Davis, both coordinators of athletic programs for Penn State Strength and Fitness, make their rounds, checking a couple misbehaving ellipticals.
 
The space is quiet now, but with the influx of more than 4,000 mostly first-year students in East Halls next door the gym will be one of the busiest on campus again tomorrow.
 
"We expect up to 3,000 students to come through every day during the semester,” Lozinski said. "We're very excited for the community to really start to use this facility, which is now the newest and most technologically advanced on campus."
 
As former Penn State student trainers, Davis and Lozinski remember a time when gyms were designed simply for working out — days before students could simultaneously tweet, stream their favorite music and TV shows, and even earn digital badges while exercising.
 
But, times have changed.
 
As part of a major renovation (which is still underway in portions of the fitness center), the IM Building weight room has been outfitted with nearly 100 pieces of new cardiovascular equipment, 81 of which are connected to the building's wired network and have monitors for accessing the Internet, streaming media content or both.
 
"It's a draw for busy students with expectations for pairing exercise with interactive experiences," said Davis. "An elliptical isn't just an elliptical anymore."
 
Apparently, it's a computer, TV and personal trainer in one.
 
With so many pieces of equipment to choose from, gym members will be able customize their gym-time based on what they want from their workout, explains Lozinksi.
 
If rewards are motivating for an individual, the new suite of Precor fitness equipment enables users to hook up their iPhone to a treadmill or elliptical and use Precor’s Preva app to track calories burned, miles traveled and minutes spent exercising. Once a student reaches his or her weekly goal, they’ll earn a digital badge to display on Facebook and Twitter.
 
With more than 40 virtual bike rides to choose from, they’ll also be able to earn badges and game at the same time. A new set of Expresso bikes can replicate real-life terrain and display biometric data as student riders race a friend online at another university or even last week's version of themselves. Penn State might even participate in a nationwide competition in the fall to log more miles on the bikes than any other school.
 
Life Fitness, another brand of equipment in the gym, has an app for tracking goals and also interacts with such third-party apps as Fitbit, Paofit and Runtastic. Using the room's wireless network, students also can use their Androids or iPhones to scan QR codes to learn how to use a piece of equipment and what muscle groups it activates.
 
So far, Davis is most excited about a new feature on the Life Fitness treadmills that lets students transport a real-life run onto a treadmill at the gym.
 
"By activating GPS on their smartphones, they can go for a run or hike outside and track it using the Life Fitness app," Davis explained. "Then when they get to the gym, the treadmill will actually recreate the experience — incline, decline, speed and all. The best part is that students can race themselves and work to beat their original time."
 
More than trends, apps and interactive equipment are now major players in the fitness industry. In January, approximately one-third of smartphone owners in the United States used fitness and health apps, according to a Nielsen report.
 
"There’s an app for everything and we've seen a huge upswing in manufacturers producing interactive equipment," Lozinski said.

Penn State has a fitness app that students can use to check the University’s fitness center schedules and real-time room attendance. The “PSU Strength and Fitness” app (which is available for free on Apple and Android devices) also can predict when the least busy times of the day and week will be across all three facilities.

"Each of Penn State's gyms sees roughly 3,000 people a day, so when we were choosing equipment for the IM Building we needed to pay attention to both innovation and durability,” Lozinski explained.
 
Davis and Lozinski, who have worked together since college and often finish each others' sentences, spent months ordering and setting up the new equipment based on architectural plans designed in CAD, a design and drafting software.
 
With the help of information technology staff, the two-dimensional plans came to life. "We're very close with our IT people," Davis said. "You have to be when you set something up like this.”
 
During renovations, data and power had to be supplied for each piece of equipment in the building — plus some. Lozinski remembers a meeting with an electrical engineer who was astounded by how many power and data lines Lozinski wanted to install.
 
"Even though we have 81 pieces of equipment that are data-enabled, we’ll need even more connections in the future if we want to move equipment around or if the industry changes," Lozinski explained. "There's about 180 data lines in this cardio area alone, and we have even more in the strength section because that's the next big thing: weight machines that can actually track how many reps you've done and sync with an app."
 
For now, the technology is going to make workouts more fun and their jobs a little easier.
 
From any computer on campus, Davis and Lozinski will be able to log into the Precor and Life Fitness online systems to keep track of how many miles are on each piece of equipment, if there are maintenance issues to fix and the types of exercise programs students are using most.
 
“We have more than 800 pieces of equipment at University Park campus, and between our staff we can’t hop on every single piece every day,” Davis said. “This will help us maintain the equipment more efficiently, promote less-used exercise programs and let us know, for example, when we need to circulate the treadmills — the ones at the end of the rows always seem to have more miles on them.”

With all that equipment to care for, every day is busy for the duo.

“In the course of one week last spring the weight room in the IM Building went from being completely empty to having equipment everywhere and mounds of shipping material pouring out of boxes,” Davis recalled. “Mark and I just stood in the middle of the room wondering if it was all going to fit. But we ordered it and we had to put it somewhere.”   

In just a couple of days, the two of them unpacked and set up nearly 45,000 pounds of dumbbells and plate weights, after which they were ready for a well-deserved break. Even fitness experts take a day off from the gym every now and again.

For more IT stories at Penn State, visit http://news.it.psu.edu.
 

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Last Updated September 03, 2014