Fitness Center Targets Tech-savvy Students
eSchool News, November 23, 2005
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University officials have hit upon a creative way to get
students to exercise: They've outfitted the exercise equipment
on their Mankato campus with computers and internet access. Now,
students can check their eMail, surf the web, watch TV, or even
do their homework while they work out.
With the click of a mouse, Minnesota State freshman Cassie Pap
flips through cable TV channels, her legs pumping away on a
recumbent exercise cycle.
She settles for MTV and reaches for the mouse to turn up the
volume during her 2-mile workout. On another day, Pap might
check eMail or write a homework assignment using a flexible
keyboard that will survive hundreds of sweaty fingers.
Her options are part of the latest technology upgrade on campus:
computer-equipped exercise equipment.
"It's easier to work out with something in front of you to keep
you entertained," said Pap. She credits the new equipment with
motivating her to exercise nearly every day instead of just once
in a while.
Campus officials, planning a renovation of the recreation
building, hit on high technology as a way to get more students
to exercise, and brought in the school's technology staff to
But when they went looking for the equipment--treadmills, bikes,
and stairsteppers with computer/TV capabilities--they couldn't
"We found exercise equipment with TVs in front and others with
computer programs but not a complete computer," said Wayne
Sharp, director of the university's Academic Computer Center.
"We had to take it to the next step."
So Sharp and his tech experts set up adjustable stands next to
40 pieces of exercise equipment. Each stand has a computer,
keyboard, and mouse; the student who uses it chooses his or her
own way to pass the time.
"Exercising can be monotonous and tedious at times," said Todd
Pfingsten, director of campus recreation. "The important thing
is that it becomes habitual."
Pfingsten sees that happening already: Pap and other students
fill up the machines almost all day, forcing students to sign up
It's not clear how many are using the computers for homework;
some students have already found that it takes some
"I can't run and type at the same time," fourth-year student
Jessie Nelson said as she checked her eMail before getting on a
cross-trainer machine. "I'd probably fall over."
Sarah Lerczak, a sophomore, said she'll probably stick to
watching TV, but she likes the eMail option. "If you have to
check your eMail, you don't have to make two stops. You can go
right to the gym," she said. "It's a big convenience."
It will take time for students to get better at multitasking,
said Kent Kalm, a professor in the university's human
performance department, which offers physical education classes.
Next spring, students in one of his fitness classes will use the
equipment while watching video instruction, taking quizzes, and
logging their workouts.
"As more and more faculty use a multimedia-based curriculum, I
see this as a great opportunity," Kalm said. "I think as
students use the 'tech-rec' equipment, they'll probably come up
with even more ideas."
Some other campus directors said they'd consider following
Minnesota State's lead when it's time to replace their own old
equipment. Students are ready for it, they said.
"They've grown up with video games, TV, and internet," said
Chris Oelling, associate director of recreation at the
University of Nebraska in Lincoln.
Off campus, some major fitness chains have moved toward
individualized entertainment, letting people channel-surf on
their own TV screens. But nothing like Minnesota State's
arrangement has caught on yet.
"People aren't really clamoring for that sort of thing," said
Matt Messinger, a spokesman for the national chain Bally Total
Fitness. "What they're really looking for is something to keep
them interested and entertained."
That's a relief to Stephanie Maks, who worked with CEOs and
other busy people in 20-some years as a personal trainer. Maks
said she's had to take people's cell phones away to get them to
focus on the exercise.
"Part of working out is relaxing," she said. "Don't bring the
office with you to the gym."
Minnesota State University
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