Go to the Gym: Amazing Fitness Centers at US Universities

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By Kate Sitarz
Last updated on August 9, 2023

Lazy rivers for swimming, alpine hiking clubs, and even Quidditch: grab your gym bag and check out each of these five university fitness center options, plus health and wellness programs.

Three international students at the University of Utah smile for the camera and make a U with their hands while working out on a row of treadmills at the Utah gym

Experts have proven that physical fitness is beneficial to more than your body. Studies have shown that exercise may improve thinking skills, increase sleep quality, and boost mood. In fact, a study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that exercise decreases the risk of depression by 26%. 

All of these factors — brain power, mood, sleep — can play a huge part in creating successful study habits that, ultimately, contribute to your success at university. That is why so many US universities and colleges have made significant investments in their gyms, as well as health and wellness programs.

While top-of-the-line fitness equipment is expected on any campus, many universities know that not everyone likes to work out at the gym. You will find many US universities also have outdoor adventure programs, leisure pools, game rooms, and intramural sports for students who want to compete, but at a less intense level than a collegiate sports program.

Take a look at just a few of the health and fitness offerings at Shorelight universities and see what is available to you as a student. 

Auburn University: Not Your Standard Gym 

The Auburn University Recreation and Wellness Center offers more than just fitness equipment (though you can find plenty of that!). There is a dedicated space for Olympic powerlifting, a PGA golf simulator, racquetball courts, and several multipurpose courts for badminton, volleyball, basketball, and more. The gym hosts more than 100 group fitness classes per week, with certified trainers on hand for students who want more individual guidance.

Two 50-foot climbing towers and a bouldering wall offer space for those who want to rock climb (or learn how). Fundamentals of climbing workshops are offered for free to students. Auburn Outdoors, the team that runs the climbing program, also offers rentals for bicycles, canoes, kayaks, and all the gear you may need for a camping trip, such as tents and sleeping bags. 

If you want something a bit more relaxing, but often no less competitive, you can head to the game room to play foosball, air hockey, and table tennis. Another way to relax, especially when it is warm outside, is lounging by, or taking a swim in, the leisure pool and hot tub.

The SportsPlex, completed in Spring 2020, offers more than 15 acres of fields, plus 13 tennis courts. You can participate not only in team intramural sports like flag football, sand volleyball, and Ultimate Frisbee, but also in individual intramural events like tennis, golf, and table tennis tournaments. 

A bit more competitive than intramurals, but not associated with the NCAA, the more than 20 club sports allow you to continue playing your favorite sport or potentially try a new one. In addition to more traditional sports like basketball and soccer, club sports include clay shooting, bass fishing, and more.

While some recreation options are limited due to the coronavirus pandemic, Auburn, like many schools, has adapted. In addition to wearing masks in common areas, social distancing, and indicating with bright orange cones which areas need to be sanitized, the Auburn team offers more than two dozen virtual group fitness classes each week, among other virtual health and wellness resources for students.

The University of Utah: A Fitness Center Designed for Flexibility

The University of Utah has increased the delivery methods of many of its fitness programs, allowing students to participate in person as well as virtually through live-streamed classes or on-demand classes you can access at any time. 

Utah’s Campus Recreation Services goes beyond cardio and strength options, too. Mind and body classes, such as meditation, as well as mobility classes like yoga, offer ways to keep mentally fit while you work to stay physically fit.

Other workout options in the 15,000-square-foot fitness center include a 54-foot climbing wall, a 13-foot bouldering wall, an indoor track, combative room, racquetball and other sports courts, and a 50-meter pool where you can take fitness classes or learn to do stand-up paddleboard yoga.

For those who simply want to relax, there are both indoor and outdoor leisure pools, an indoor hot tub, and a fire pit.

Outside, you will also find a disc golf course, outdoor leisure pool, sand volleyball courts, a 400-meter track, and several turf fields. Like many US universities, you can join several intramural and club sports teams, with unique Utah options including alpine skiing, Quidditch, and Kendo. 

Normally, the Outdoor Adventures team has day, weekend, and week-long trips that allow you to explore all the outdoor activities Utah offers. However, the Outdoor Adventures team is adapting to the pandemic with virtual clinics, and classes on how to pack your bag for a backpacking trip and how to make coffee in the backcountry. Students are also able to compete in the Seven Summits Challenge, where they virtually attempt to climb the seven highest peaks on each continent. By hiking outdoors, students can count all their elevation gained towards the challenge. 

Given the ability to more easily stay socially distanced outdoors, Outdoor Adventures is renting snowshoes, mountain bikes, cross-country skis, downhill skis, ice climbing gear, and more. 

Gonzaga University: Earn School Credit for Health and Wellness

The Rudolph Fitness Center at Gonzaga University is huge: 38,000 square feet. That space includes room for three full-sized basketball/volleyball courts, more than 60 pieces of cardio and weight-training equipment, an indoor track, and a six-lane indoor pool. 

In addition to shallow- and deep-water aerobics, you can learn how to swim or improve your swimming skills.

Intramural sports are a major draw for Gonzaga students, with more than 50% of students participating. With more than 30 options, you can likely find something that allows you to stay fit and have fun. 

Gonzaga also offers many one-credit physical activity courses that allow you to spend more time with hands-on instruction in a given sport or activity. For example, you can take the Open Water Scuba Diver course to learn the skills necessary to dive independently. Or, learn to fly fish, horseback ride, fence, or bowl. You can even learn the basics of swing, salsa, and ballroom dancing.

For a bit more adventure, Gonzaga Outdoors organizes trips and offers equipment rentals for items big (bikes, snowboards, kayaks) and small (gloves, rain pants and jackets, headlamps).

Louisiana State University: Health, Fitness, and a Lazy River

LSU has adopted several precautionary measures during the pandemic so students can safely use the University Recreation facilities. And while you cannot access the saunas at the moment, there are plenty of other options for well-being. 

The big perk at LSU is that all of its GroupX classes, taught in groups, are free. Options include cycle, kickboxing, and yoga classes. Right now, LSU instructors lead classes like Sunrise Yoga and Body Weight Burn via Zoom so students can work out from the comfort of their dorm.

You will also find special events that connect physical fitness with mental fitness, such as a series of discussions around body image, including cultural biases, harmful social media trends, and how students can develop greater body acceptance.

Other highlights include a 35-foot climbing wall, one indoor lap pool, two outdoor lap pools, and track that spans two levels of the fitness center. You can even float around the outdoor lazy river (which forms the letters LSU). The Aquatics center also offers courses like lifeguard certification, CPR training, and Scuba discovery dives.

For students interested in competition, there are several intramural tournaments each semester, including non-traditional options like cornhole, billiards, and eSports. Men’s, women’s, and co-ed club sports teams compete against other area schools in cricket, water polo, rowing, triathlons, and more.

LSU’s Adventure Education brings students outside with clinics for kayaking, canoeing, biking, backpacking, and more.  

University of Kansas: Fitness Center and More

KU’s Recreation Services goal is “to provide at least one quality recreational facility that will appeal to all KU students, faculty, and staff.” And chances are with all the options, you will find your spot.

Fitness instructors offer free orientation on the cardiovascular machines in the fitness center so you know exactly how to use each device. The team has even put together several recommended running and walking routes at different mileages so you can get exercise while also taking in the beautiful KU campus.

You will also find two pools, sand volleyball and tennis courts, a turf field, and the Shenk Sports Complex featuring numerous fields for intramural and club sports. 

Intramurals at KU include free-throw contests and homerun derbies, as well as chess and checkers tournaments. Adapting to COVID-19, the school is offering a virtual 5K competition. Club sports currently offered include gymnastics, sailing, Tae Kwon Do, boxing, and water skiing, among many others.

The Outdoor Pursuits Program offers numerous ways to get outside, including a 42-foot climbing wall, bouldering options, and a challenge course designed to get you communicating with your team to complete a series of obstacles. If you want to get out hiking on your own, equipment rentals make sure you have all the necessary items, like a tent and sleeping bag, as well as the more luxury glamping items, such as hammocks and coolers.

These are just a few of the US universities that are ensuring students have plenty of options for staying physically and mentally fit. This is especially important for international students, who can use the benefits of exercise — improved brain power, sleep, and mood — to adapt to life living in a new country and better respond to culture shock.

Even if you do not have a sport that you currently play, you will find plenty of opportunities to try new activities and make new friends. These friendships are another key a good quality of life and keeping you thriving at college. So, grab your gym bag and hit the weights, the trail, or the pool. 

See how Shorelight can help you find your best-fit US university