A Vision for Fitness at USC
USC is investing more than $5 million in expanding recreation opportunities on campus.
The plan includes state-of-the-art weight room and cardio equipment upgrades in the Lyon Center, an innovative outdoor fitness area on Cromwell Field, more exercise rooms in residence halls, and walking trails lined with equipment all across campus.
In 2017, students will have access to the highly anticipated, sprawling new 30,000 sq. ft. USC Village Recreation Center and its outdoor exercise fields.
But what fitness options do students have right now? Dr. Ainsley Carry, vice president for student affairs, urges them to challenge preconceptions about traditional spaces for recreation and exercise.
“We are inviting students to come with us, take the map of our campus and turn it into an innovative recreational space,” Carry says.
This is exactly what a number of USC students are already doing.
Moving Out into the California Sunshine
Deep in the caverns of what are the chemical laboratories of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, Tiffany Truong ’16 is absorbed in understanding and replicating the stupefying complexity of nature.
Lithe and earnest among chemical reactors and microelectronics, the chemical engineering major makes it look easy. But the process requires levels of concentration that strain body and mind. She looks at the clock. It’s seven. She sheds her lab coat and jogs to Parking Structure B, where the music is pumping and more than 50 students clad in black have gathered to claim an entire floor of the parking lot.
They share a common goal: get together and get down with the music of the masters: Dr. Dre, NAS, Lauryn Hill, Puff Daddy, etc. They are known as Chaotic 3, a multicultural hip-hop dance group that spun out of CASA (USC Chinese American Student Association). Here, they push the boundaries of dance to dizzying displays of synchronicity and self-expression.
Truong is excited: “We’re like a family. Dance is our escape and motivator.” She loves that she has to shout to be heard over the music. The floor is literally shaking.
It happens in two blinks. She jumps into the mix, gliding past the envious stares of classmates, agile, self-assured, and so good. It’s hard to believe this is the same student pocketed inside a lab, running mathematical formulas.
Truong and Chaotic 3 are part of a university-wide movement led by students and administrators alike to re-imagine the campus as a playground for recreation and exercise.
Watch Chaotic 3 in action below.
The Campus is Your Playground
USC Marshall School of Business student Eric Chan ’15 has turned his creative vision into reality. He and several classmates put together a formal proposal, designed the blueprints and even secured initial seed money to jumpstart the renovation of the outdoor fitness area on Cromwell Field, which opened October 31, 2014.
Chan, who is as competitive as he is patient, brought together university administrators, fitness experts, contractors and investors in a student-led effort to transform the field into a cutting-edge outdoor recreational space. “Coming from New York, I wanted to take full advantage of the year-round California sunshine. We don’t have to box ourselves in the cookie-cutter indoor routine. Why not work out outdoors?”
The new fitness area features customized pull-up rigs for rope climbs (Chan’s personal design), gymnastics and power racks adjustable to the heights of different athletes. There are plyometric boxes and rubber matting throughout. The site is perfect for bodyweight training, which is the top fitness trend according to the American College of Sport Medicine.
“We want to take what we’ve done at Cromwell Field and replicate it at least four times around campus,” says Vice Provost Carry. “What’s unique here is the level of student initiative and involvement which reflect the inclusive values of USC. We are here to support our students in realizing their goals, participating on the decision-making committees and taking control of their own exercise.”
“We want to take pride in our fitness,” says Annenberg student Darian Nourian ‘16, assistant director of wellness affairs for the Undergraduate Student Government.
Nourian, who has encyclopedic knowledge of all the jogging trails on and around campus, together with Dr. Tim Bessolo, assistant provost for student affairs, are spearheading the initiative to build Tommy’s Trail running path that will join campus to the new USC Village.
To complement the completed Tommy’s Trail, the Division will launch a mobile fitness app with an interactive map and fitness guides.
“We’re going to redefine the culture and perception people have of recreation and exercise,” according to Nourian. “You can do it anywhere. As a result, we’ll see the emergence of a more active campus.”
Redefining Culture and Perception
Dr. Jason Kutch may be one of the hardest men to catch on campus.
When the assistant professor of biokinesiology and physical therapy is not cycling his daughter to school, climbing a mountain, overseeing a dissertation, teaching or writing about the existence of muscle synergies of neural origin, you can find him balancing on “The Slackline” – an outdoor recreational invention his department created for students and staff.
“The thing about exercise that we need to change in our thinking is that it can be purposeful, useful work,” Kutch tells us.
And the usefulness of it goes beyond just shedding pounds. It has a big influence on body confidence, a major public health concern in recent years, not just because it can discourage people from being as active as they should but because it impacts people’s personal relationships and achievements.
“When you’re exercising you’re creating a mental model of your body. With every movement, your body creates an efference copy of that command, improving the way your body works,” explains Kutch. “It shapes how much confidence you have when your brain tells you to do something that you’re going to do it.”
This exposes a fundamental misconception about body confidence – it’s not about how you look, it’s about how you feel.
“The key to solid body confidence is to integrate exercise into the day,” advises Kutch. Whether that’s climbing stairs, cycling to class, walking the slackline, dancing or joining an intramural sports team, “the purpose is fun! You’ll be getting the workout without even knowing it.”
His advice resonates with the “Be Well USC” campaign to create a culture where active habits are naturally incorporated to promote healthy living and well being over weight loss and appearance.
Many students are joining the movement, and like Tiffany Truong and Eric Chan, they are creating their own recreation and fitness opportunities on campus and beyond.