2023 School Fitness Updates

School athletic departments across the nation are feeling the pinch with limited fitness spaces, tight budgets and fitness equipment needing to be replaced yet again. Despite the challenges, it is important to provide adequate fitness training for students.  If your school’s athletic department is dedicated to providing the best for your students, but has limited resources, engaging the right resource to help you maximize your equipment budget, over the long term, is vital for school fitness facilities.

Schools come to us all the time to solve equipment budget and use challenges since that’s what we do, every day, across multiple market segments. Too often, schools buy equipment in bulk at a discounted price thinking that they need many individual pieces to accommodate classes and athletes in training. A decade ago, this was the norm, but today, more schools are trying for a best-of-both-world balance between higher-quality pieces and multi-use, multi-purpose training opportunities.  “We used to try to buy as many pieces of equipment as possible, to get as much for every dollar as we could,” said Steve H, a Kansas 4A high school coach. “Going that route means things break, and we had to look at replacing a lot more than we anticipated. We don’t have a budget for that. So we’ve switched our approach to looking for key pieces that are multifunctional … and … quality equipment that lasts. That has worked out for us and our longer-term needs.”

Take the vertical rack, for example. With an incline or bench press system, only one student can typically train at a time. A modular system, like the Life Fitness Synergy system, allows multiple students to do targeted movements at the same time. Because it’s a variable piece of equipment, it provides storage space and is more efficient for small spaces. This kind of versatility isn’t just reserved for your equipment, however. When it comes to making a multi-purpose fitness space, other accessories like suspension training, ropes and balls, or even flooring can make a big difference in how athletes use the training space, and the kinds of training you can support.

While wooden platforms were once the standard, they wear out quickly, making them an expensive option. Rubber fitness flooring with flush, inlaid rubber platforms is a more cost-efficient, durable option that does an innovative job of defining the space and contributing to the overall aesthetic of the space. It’s durable enough to support both body weight and suspension training, and provide adequate joint support for squats, bench presses, cleans, and other weighted resistance training. Who would’ve thought that flooring could matter that much? Well, body weight workouts and functional fitness trends are shedding new light on equipment-light or equipment-less options for athletes rehabbing injuries or just looking for a different training regimen.

It’s not just durability that school programs look for, as safety of the equipment itself and how it’s used is also of utmost importance. Students at both the High School and College-age levels are bigger and stronger than ever, and they’re pushing weights around and pushing the limits of equipment. Equipment providers need to offer equipment that is built to withstand intense use over long periods of time, and also provide a safe workout experience for the user. Equipment manufacturers are being held to higher and higher standards for the equipment they supply, to ensure the durability and safety standards are optimized. For example, Hammer Strength does a drop test on its racks using over 860 pounds, dropped from over two feet, to make sure that the rack can handle the stress without giving way and potentially causing damage or even injuring an athlete.

As the year is starting, many education programs are thinking about upgrading school fitness equipment. Durable equipment planning is becoming standard for most schools, especially those with budget and space constraints. Many athletic directors and administrators are of the opinion that you don’t need a total athletic department overhaul; you just need a few quality pieces of equipment that will last longer and provide training for multiple students at one time.

“Training has changed dramatically in the last few years, away from specific circuit systems and more towards functional and body movement methods. Students, faculty and athletes alike are using body weight and suspension training far more, and more often than not they’re on the floor stretching and strengthening, working with every surface and combination our small fitness center can offer,” said University Athletic Director Chris G. in Southern California. “We don’t have a ton of space, so we opted for multi-functional equipment, racks and such, that can be used and accessorized to get the weight training and the functional movement needs met.”

Instead of replacing equipment pieces that continuously wear out and remaining stuck with an old pattern of training equipment and space use, more and more schools are finding longer-term, higher-quality options for equipment that are better investments. Trade in programs are even an option, so that old equipment can contribute towards newer pieces. If the staff is big enough and there’s extra time available, they’re doing the research and sourcing equipment on their own, but it’s a time-consuming and ever-changing market. Multi-faceted fitness equipment experts who are familiar with both equipment and design pros and cons can be useful partners as you plan your student fitness programs in the year ahead.