New rec facility offers a glimpse of the future of fitness

Football’s not the only way to work up a sweat at California Memorial Stadium any longer. A new workout facility at the stadium has been designed to accommodate anyone who wants to get fit.

Located on the west side of the stadium, near Gate 2, the Stadium Fitness Center takes up 5,000 square feet of space rented from Cal Athletics by Cal Recreational Sports. It features state-of-the-art cardio machines, strength-building machines and free weights and is open to all Rec Sports members. (Anyone can buy a membership, with prices starting at $10 a semester for students.)

Director of Fitness and Wellness Operations Devin Wicks says the Stadium Fitness Center's cutting-edge equipment represents a new approach to healthy lifestyles. (Steve Hockensmith photo)

Director of Fitness and Wellness Operations Devin Wicks says the Stadium Fitness Center’s cutting-edge equipment represents a new approach to healthy lifestyles. (Steve Hockensmith photo)

Rec Sports runs a number of recreational centers and athletic facilities on or near campus, including the 100,000-square-foot Recreational Sports Facility on Bancroft Avenue. According to Devin Wicks, director of fitness and wellness operations for UC Berkeley, between 4,000 and 5,000 members use those facilities each day. Yet up until now, Rec Sports didn’t have a major presence on the east side of campus.

“This gave us a really good opportunity to reach a big population and make getting active and living a healthier lifestyle a little easier,” Wicks says. “If you want people to participate you have to remove as many barriers as possible, and how far you have to walk is a major barrier.”

According to Wicks, planning for the Stadium Fitness Center focused on three priorities: inclusivity, innovative technology and “functional training” (that is, exercise that prepares people for the physical challenges of everyday life). The inclusivity is reflected in a number of the center’s features, such as bathrooms and locker rooms that aren’t reserved for a specific gender only and workout equipment that can be adjusted to accommodate people in wheelchairs.

“The question we kept asking ourselves was, ‘How do we make all this accessible to everyone?'” Wicks says, adding that planners wanted to avoid pushing users with disabilities into a special section of the facility. ” We wanted everyone to be included in the overall space.”

The fitness center’s Kinesis Wall (which allows people to work out via a system of pulleys and handgrips) and Synrgy360 (a work-out station Wicks likens to “an adult jungle gym”) are not only easily modifiable for exercisers in wheelchairs, but also focus on the functional training Rec Sports wanted to emphasize.

“It’s all about functional fitness, not training your biceps because you want them to get big,” Wicks says. “It’s training your body for life.”

Of course, it’s not just people who have to be ready for everyday wear and tear. Workout equipment gets plenty, too – especially Rec Sports equipment.

“A lot of the manufacturers come to us and say, ‘Oh, our stuff is the toughest and strongest,'” Wicks says. “And I say, ‘Give it to us for two years. We’ll see how tough it is.’ We really put equipment through its paces.”

That’s sure to be true for the equipment in the Stadium Fitness Center, but now there’s a difference. The cardio equipment in the new fitness center is networked, giving staff access to real-time diagnostics and flagging potential problems.

“I can go on my computer and see how each piece is doing, and if something looks troubling I can send someone up to repair it before it breaks down,” Wicks says. “With as many members as we see, having one piece of equipment down is really tough. It impacts everybody. So being able to avoid that is great.”

Soon screens like these will feature streaming movies and TV in addition to personalized workout stats.

Soon screens like these will feature streaming movies and TV in addition to personalized workout stats.

And the networking hasn’t just made Wicks’s job easier. It’s made tracking personalized workout stats a breeze, as well. Members are able to log onto cardio machines that remember their past workouts, apply their preferences, count the number of calories they’ve burned and even – in a change coming Jan. 17 – allow them to watch streaming movies and TV shows.

According to Wicks, innovations like that are sure to make the already-popular new fitness center even more of a hit. In the evenings, he says, the Stadium Fitness Center was close to hitting its maximum capacity – 60 members at a time – consistently throughout finals, when Rec Sports numbers usually drop off. By March, he estimates, there will be lines to get in during peak hours.

Mike Weinberger, director of Rec Sports, has taken note of the new fitness center’s fast start and says its innovations will eventually spread across campus.

“This is the approach we’d like to take with all of our facilities, and any new facilities that we build in the future,” he says.

“My sense is that this is a lab for us as we start looking ahead,” Wicks adds. “We can test things out here and then say, ‘O.K., this is working. Let’s take it down to the Rec Sports Facility.’ So this is kind of the future. It’s what Rec Sports hopefully will be.”