New fitness court designed to meet growing need for outdoor workout space opens on campus

The outdoor fitness court, designed by the National Fitness Campaign, has more than 30 pieces of workout equipment and is expected to become a popular staple to Elon's campus.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left us with many changes to everyday life which seem to have become our “new normal.” One of those many changes happens to be the way we stay in shape.

The decline in gym memberships has been prevalent during the pandemic as people spent a significant portion of the past year-and-a-half in self-quarantine and didn’t feel the need to resume memberships once restrictions were eased and eventually lifted.

The fitness center includes seven movement zones, and guidance on exercises using QR codes.

Even outside of gym memberships, overall physical activity of Americans declined 26 percent from 2020 to 2021, according to a survey conducted by RunRepeat. The same survey found that there was a 14 percent increase in people pivoting toward outdoor exercise activities.

To address the fear some have about returning to gyms or enclosed workout areas now that COVID-19 cases are surging once again and those who have abandoned physical activity entirely, outdoor workout areas seem to be the solution. And the outdoor fitness court on Elon University’s Innovation Quad is the university’s response to that problem.

Based in San Francisco, the National Fitness Campaign (NFC) is the parent organization of the fitness court and was founded in 1979. By 2022, the company has plans to operate in over 1,000 cities and colleges. Elon became one of those college partners in 2021.

According to Larry Mellinger, director of Campus Recreation & Wellness, the decision to partner with NFC was made after noticing growth in the university’s fitness program, which is the fastest growing area in Campus Recreation & Wellness, and the increased popularity of boutique style and outdoor fitness.

“We got connected with them a few years ago, and the timing just wasn’t right,” Mellinger said.

The center was created due to collaboration from the Student Government Association, along with Vice President of Student Life Jon Dooley spearheaded a committee whose focus would be on enhancing the outdoor areas of campus.

“This project came to fruition through that committee,” Mellinger said. “Which from my perspective is amazing because it’s driven through the students, through a committee of students, faculty and staff. It’s a great partnership with Student Government Association as well.”

The fitness court is approximately half the size of a basketball court, has seven stations – core, squat, push, lunge, pull, agility and bend – for a seven-minute workout that can be done for multiple circuits and over 30 pieces of bodyweight equipment. The court has the capacity to accommodate anywhere from 18 to 24 people at one time.

It also has a QR code that leads the person working out to the Fitness Court app. On the app are various workouts accompanied by a prerecorded virtual trainer that will walk through the different exercises.

In addition to the fitness court, which is completed and currently open for use, there is a half-mile track on the same lot of land along Haggard Ave., which was formerly Elon Elementary School.

After prepping the site to lay the concrete slabs and ensure all surfaces were level, the court itself only took three to four days to assemble. NFC sent its own team to construct the fitness court, which customized to Elon.

Mellinger said the fitness court is a great example of the decentralized model that Campus Recreation & Wellness has used over the past few years. The Koury Center is the primary facility, Mellinger said, but the focus is to have several smaller satellite facilities dispersed throughout campus.

Each one of those satellites serves a particular niche for whichever area of campus they are located, and the idea isn’t the replicate their certain qualities.

“As we continue to grow, if there is a need for fitness or other outdoor spaces that are recreation and fitness-related on campus, it might be [the fitness court] or it might be something that’s a little bit different that offers another nuance,” Mellinger said.

“I anticipate this will be incredibly popular,” he said. “But popular enough to replicate it somewhere else on campus, maybe not.”

The last thing that needs to be put in place is a water bottle filling station at the fitness court. With the court being outdoor, there won’t be any mask mandate in place, although there is a mask requirement to use the Koury Center.

The court requires minimal upkeep and doesn’t need any shift supervision, but a Campus Recreation & Wellness staff member will go to the court several times a day to sanitize equipment.

A grand opening of the fitness court will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 7 at 5:30 p.m. for all faculty and staff which will demonstrate all the capabilities of the equipment.