Success of UM Recreation Center could muscle out local gyms
Before the construction of the new Recreation Center, which was funded almost entirely through undergraduate student fees, the typical student in pursuit of a more toned body had little choice but to venture outside the University of Massachusetts. Their choices were limited to joining local fitness gyms or the much smaller, less-equipped Boyden Gym. Without a good alternative on campus, it was common for students to pay significant sums for memberships at gyms in the surrounding area.
Over the past decade, Amherst gyms such as Leading Edge Fitness (formerly known as Gold’s Gym) and Planet Fitness have prospered as the University supplied them yearly with an influx of students seeking the ideal place to work out. With the opening of the new Recreation Center and its subsequent popularity, it stands to reason that many of those past customers will now favor working out on campus for free. However, certain factors like large crowds and inefficient parking at the new building have also led some undergrads to hold onto their gym memberships nonetheless.
It is hard not to notice the success of the new Recreation Center, especially when walking past the array of students running on humming treadmills in the pursuit of fitness. Since its unveiling last semester, the Recreation Center has been frequented by thousands of UMass students per day.
“When I first walked into the new Recreation Center I was stunned,” said undergrad Dan Dalfonso about his first experience at the building. “Then I saw the basketball courts – I was in fitness heaven.”
The gym offers students cutting-edge facilities for the first time in years, including a college-regulation basketball court, four group exercise rooms, and exclusive lines of equipment designed to work more than one muscle group and take stress off of joints.
Despite the Recreation Center’s clear success thus far, some local gym owners do not seem particularly worried about losing customers thanks to offerings that go beyond what can be found inside the UMass campus limits.
Leading Edge Fitness is located at 10 University Drive, and is the closest private gym to campus. According to Leading Edge’s manager Allie Whitesides, the opening of the new building has not affected student membership at the gym so far.
“Student membership is [only] about 25 percent of all memberships at Gold’s Gym,” said Whitesides. “The rest is made up of locals and faculty.” Because of the small percentage of members who are students, the number of active memberships has not dropped.
“[Leading Edge’s] acquisition of new memberships actually surpassed last year’s numbers,” added Whitesides. She maintained that Leading Edge offers its members many perks that still won’t be found anywhere on the UMass campus, along with a free introductory training session with a personal trainer and group classes with no long lines (unlike those plaguing the Recreation Center).
“I love the new Recreation Center,” said UMass student Jackie Nicholich. “I wish we could have access to personal trainers, though. I can see the benefits of wanting to work out outside the University. You get more personal attention.”
“[Leading Edge] isn’t packed like the Recreation Center and I have access to a personal trainer,” remarked UMass student Joe Cavaliere, who maintains a membership at Leading Edge. “It’s more than a gym to me. It’s like a second home.”
Even though Leading Edge does not seem to have been adversely harmed by the Recreation Center, not all local gyms have been as lucky.
Planet Fitness is a franchise fitness facility located at 335 Russell Street, and has lost memberships due to the opening of the Recreation Center. A Planet Fitness staff member who wished to remain anonymous revealed that approximately 60 percent of Planet Fitness’ members are students, so the gym expected to lose some student members this semester. However, the staff member maintained that some members came back, due to crowdedness at the UMass Recreation Center and the value of a Planet Fitness membership.
“Planet Fitness offers things that the Recreation Center just cannot,” said Northampton resident Noreen Alcott. “Theses extras make Planet Fitness so much more than just any other gym.”
The Recreation Center is free for undergraduate students, but for faculty and local residents the price for a membership runs to $150 per semester. Graduate students pay a little less, but still must pay about $125 per semester. These prices are steep compared to those of local gyms. Leading Edge has memberships for as low as $20 per month. As for Planet Fitness, the prices are even lower, at $10 per month.
With more benefits, smaller crowds and lower prices, local gyms are now hoping to maintain their appeal in a newly competitive student market. One of the clearest winners in the situation remains UMass students, who will benefit from the increased competition for years to come.
While the recession seems to have everyone cutting back on expenses these days, it appears some students are still willing to pay for a workout, which means there’s muscle money to be had – even in this current economy.
Caitlin Soto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.