Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 5, 2020

Getting physical in the Rec. Center - Students head to the fitness center for all of their basketball, ping-pong and strippercise needs

By Jeff Katzenstein | September 2, 2004

You played sports in high school, but without a red-faced, whistle-blowing coach yelling at you to do sprints, you're worried that you'll be soft and out of shape by the end of the semester. Maybe you're an avid rock climber who's worried because you're not seeing any mountains around Baltimore.

Or maybe you'd just like to lose (or gain) a few pounds so your high school friends don't recognize you come Intersession. For the fitness buff or novice, Hopkins has tons of options to choose from. To start, Homewood now has a shiny new (as of 2002) athletic center to serve your indoor fitness needs. In addition, there are dozens of possibilities for outdoor activities offered through the school.

Hopkins raised some $14.3 million from donors to construct the Ralph S. O'Connor Recreation Center, which opened in January 2002. It was certainly a long time coming, as it adjoins the worn-down Newton H. White, Jr. Athletic Center, which opened in 1964, when the student body was still all-male. While the White Center remains open and offers an option when all the basketball courts in the O'Connor Center are full, it is generally more exclusive to varsity athletes.

The 63,000 square-foot, three-level O'Connor Center includes a weight room and cardiovascular/fitness center on separate levels (which creates sort of a separation of genders), a 30-foot climbing wall, an 18,000 square foot gymnasium, locker rooms, racquetball/squash courts, a small classroom and an upper-level multi-purpose room, which is usually used for fitness classes.

The gymnasium is also quite versatile, as the three basketball courts are often transformed into badminton or volleyball courts or filled with ping-pong tables for the table tennis team. The swimming pool, located in the original building, underwent major renovations over the summer to improve filtration, ventilation and lighting.

The student response to the new facility has been overwhelming. In the days of the rusty, run-down varsity weight rooms of the old athletic center, not nearly as many students worked out regularly out as they do now. Director of Recreation and Facilities Bill Harrington estimates that around 500 or 600 students frequented the old athletic center per day, compared to the nearly 1,200 to 1,400 per day that the new Rec. Center sees these days. Unfortunately, such a response isn't a good thing for students, as a crowded rec. center means that working out takes longer.

"There was really no way of gauging what the volume [at the new Rec. Center] would be because the equipment provided previously was inadequate," says Harrington. "The Homewood Apartments had about as much fitness equipment as we did back then, and during the prime time when people wanted to work out, the weight room was occupied by varsity practices."

But just because the Rec. Center is crowded sometimes doesn't mean you have to wait. Your best bet is to go to the Rec. Center during off-peak hours. Working out in the morning is a good idea if you're ambitious enough to do so, because most other students aren't.

Things start picking up around the late afternoon, and by around 7 p.m., you'll probably have to wait to use a machine or a court. Still, with the gym open 18 hours a day on weekdays (6 a.m. -- midnight) and 12 hours a day on weekends (10 a.m. -- 10 p.m.), you shouldn't have trouble designing a workout schedule.

If running on a treadmill or working on your incline bench press isn't for you, the many fitness classes that are offered on the upper level of the Rec. Center present some other good options. Options include yoga classes, cardio kickboxing, step classes and even a dancing class called "strippercise." For a fee of $40 per semester, students can attend any and as many fitness classes as they want to.

For those who would rather spend their time outdoors, the Recreation Department also offers a number of day trips throughout the school year, including hiking, whitewater kayaking and rock climbing.

Finally, there's the option of intramural and club sports. Club sports present a happy medium between the more informal intramural and the more competitive varsity sports. With some 25 sports to choose from, from paintball to taekwondo to lacrosse, you probably won't feel left out.

For the even more spontaneous student, the campus is your playground. Play a game of football on the beach. Get a game of cricket going on the lower quad. Grab a racket and head to the tennis courts. Run on the track at Homewood field. Trek to the BIA fields (through the forest past Homewood Field) to play some baseball. There's rarely a shortage of playing space.

The trick, of course, is to manage your classes and study time well enough to have time to do all this. "[Fitness] is one of the best stress relievers," Harrington says. "We're not advocating four hours a day in the Rec. Center, but even if you catch a late workout, it gets the blood flowing before you study."

With so many options and facilities this nice, you'll probably find you don't need that coach screaming in your ear as motivation.

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