The inconvenient awkwardness of working out at Lawrence

I came on my recruiting visit to Lawrence in March. It was spring break; in the early moments of the spring thaw, but campus was still grey and bleary. Campus was also empty and still, and mostly quiet, save for the cars passing on College Avenue. In this vacated, mostly dead state, all the doors were locked, so when the football coach who showed me around came to the Wellness Center he was aptly denied access; he assured me though that it had a “sweet weight room,” and there was more than enough equipment to always be able to get a good work out in. I didn’t say it out loud, but that was an important factor in picking out a school; where was I going to get a sweet pump and flex in the mirror? It was not just the promise of a weight room that sold me, but that compounded with the promise of a free YMCA membership and full access to the weight room at Alexander Gymnasium, fit with a litany of lifting platforms, long open stretches of turf, and large, heavy looking things everywhere. Doing the calculations in my head, I couldn’t imagine a single workout that I could not do, given the abundance of resources and venues.

I was right. However, what I didn’t realize at the time was that going about utilizing all of these resources—the YMCA, the weight room at Alex, and the Wellness Center—was, at best an awkward and inconvenient process. They all provide something valuable, but none of them were convenient answers, provide-everything answers.

What I came to learn was that the “sweet weight room” at the Wellness Center is not that sweet. It has dumbbells, but not nearly a wide enough range of weights, and there is not a single plate, EZ bar, of lifting platform. There is only a slew of random machines—there was a leg curl machine, but whatever am I to do for leg extensions? It is hardly more than a nice, but not amazing, hotel weight room at best. This is not to mention the occasions in which I’ve found myself following the swim team down to the locker room, them changing for practice and me for a casual workout, and stuck being the one awkward outsider violating the boundary of an athletic team’s sacred personal space. But on the other hand… nice Speedo, bro.

The weight room at Alex is the most ideal place for actually bolstering performance for varsity athletes on campus. It is large enough that entire teams, and even multiple teams, can be in there at once. It is also advanced enough that even the strongest offensive lineman is adequately challenged. But Alex is not really meant for normal students. If you were to be, say, in the spirit of trying some causal or commercial style routines, you could certainly satisfy your needs at Alex. That is, of course, if you are a) willing to find a way across the river, b) going at a time when it is unlocked, c) going at a time when another sports team is not lifting, and d) going with a partner. With some creativity and a willingness to compromise some of your exercise preferences for others, the weight room at Alex is a perfectly suitable place to get your workouts in, in theory. It lacks many of the machines that the Wellness Center or the YMCA offer, and if you want to do some light cardio, like the treadmill, you can forget about it. But can still hit every major exercise movement. There are plenty of bands, which are a versatile tool that can do nearly any exercise you might need them for and are great substitute for many machine exercises, but they just are not the same. Seeing plates of iron translated through space at the will of your sleeve-busting muscles is pretty hard to substitute. Looking in the mirror with your ‘grr’ face is a whole lot more fun when you aren’t flexing a colorful rubber band. In all, if you are in the business of trying to do some much more traditional, commercial exercise routines, or are just in the spirit of casually working out, you will be better off bypassing the whole making a date with Coach Zemke ordeal and leaving campus to go to the Y.

Ultimately, working out at Lawrence is a problem of both convenience and community. It is entirely inconvenient to try to do everything because the exercise options at Lawrence are unconsolidated. It is a hodgepodge ordeal as opposed to a neat, linear one. Want commercial lifting? Go to the Y. Want yoga? Wellness. Want to train to improve athletic performance? Alex. Light cardio, track workout, swimming? Wellness. Track team and swim team team-lifts? Alex. Playing pickup basketball with friends? Try the Y, unless it’s Saturday morning or five o’clock, then go to the Y to find that all four courts are completely occupied, and then go back across campus to Wellness. Trying to do everything, at least to some extent, requires thorough preparation and organization of your time so that you can be at the right place, at the right time, and for the right workout.

Furthermore, the fact that not everything is perfectly consolidated might actually be damaging to the community at Lawrence. Athletic teams are, in some sense, excluded partly from being connected with non-athletes at Lawrence when one the most important things we do—train and workout—forces us off the main campus and either across the river or to the YMCA. The gym, or workout venues, are a great place to meet people, or make friends, and Lawrence largely loses those opportunities to connect when students and athletes in search of a workout are dispersed all across campus. The unity of Lawrence partly suffers when students can’t form that unique bond that comes with sweating in relatively the same area—because there is an intrinsic bonding in mutual suffering (which is also a note to athletes. Trust is formed through the process of going to practice and team lifts together. DO NOT miss team lifts).

Lawrence could do a much better job of providing exercise opportunities to students. One answer would be to improve the facilities at the Wellness Center by adding more weights, lifting platforms, and commercial equipment so more experienced lifters and athletes will choose to stay on campus as opposed to going to the YMCA. Perhaps another option would be to make Alex more accessible to non-athletes, and to improve the equipment there so that it included more auxiliary and cardio options, and a more diverse range of commercial equipment. Whatever the case, the university would be greatly benefited by improving the on-campus facilities and consolidating the options to make them more convenient and accessible. Lawrence doesn’t boast a facility like Lifetime Fitness or Villa Sport, but it is not entirely unfair to ask Lawrence to strive for such high-class facilities. In doing so, it would make student’s lives easier and improve the overall performance—in life, sport, or otherwise—of athletes and non-athletes while becoming a more promising school to new recruits and prospect students and improving the community atmosphere as a whole.