For those of us who don’t frequent it nearly as often as we should, the SLC's Wiedman Fitness center can exude an intimidating aura. With a plethora of machines ranging from treadmills to stairmasters to ellipticals, it can be challenging to know even where to begin. Wellness Education Assistant Director Seann McArdle recognizes this issue, and endeavors to make fitness more approachable for the RIT community.  

“At the end of the day, our main goal is to better the lives of our student, faculty and staff populations through the enhancement of physical wellness,” he said.

Need Some Direction?

One of McArdle’s primary responsibilities includes overseeing the Fitness Lab, a space that operates not only as a research facility for students enrolled in the Exercise Science program, but also as a wellness resource for the greater student body.

Located in the lower level of the Hale-Andrews Student Life Center, the Fitness Lab offers a variety of programs, from wellness consultations to virtual-reality fitness sessions.

“If students want to get active, there’s a variety of ways they can do it,” said McArdle. “They can come to the Fitness Lab here and get a fitness assessment done and build an exercise plan that fits their lifestyle.”    

Initial fitness consultations and assessments are free, with additional programing ranging anywhere from $5 for a body composition evaluation to $40 for an hour-long personal training session.  

Aside from one-on-one training and consultations, McArdle also emphasized the variety of wellness courses specifically tailored to helping people feel more at ease in the Wiedman Fitness Center.     

“We are strategic in trying to build what I like to call ‘bridge-like programs’ that help students become more comfortable in these sort of environments,” he said. “A good example would be an Intro to Weight Training class in our WFIT fitness discipline.”  

These classes focus on proper technique and usage, which can help minimize the risk of accidents — especially when it comes to a more injury-prone activities, like weight lifting.  

However, personal training and regimented classes certainly aren't for everyone. In a lot of cases, a regimented schedule and the cost of a fitness program isn't practical for students. For that reason, McArdle had some suggestions on how to get the most out of a trip to the fitness center.

In most instances, he recommends a three-tiered exercise program consisting of a warm up, a conditioning phase and a cool down.  

1. The Warm Up

McArdle explained that the warm up, while an often-overlooked phase, actually serves a crucial function in a workout.  

“When we exercise, we need to move the body from a state of rest to a state of activity,” he said. “In order to minimize the risk of injury and maximize the body’s physical capacities, that transition is paramount.”

Usually, five to ten minutes of warm-up is sufficient. While this activity doesn’t need to be exhaustive, there are certain physical cues McArdle recommended to look for.

“During that time, we’re really trying to increase the heart rate, increase our respiratory rate, we should feel a little bit of sweat forming on our forehead and our body ... that’s a good sign that we’re starting to activate the muscle,” he said.

In terms of equipment to use, there is no golden goose when it comes to this phase. Instead, McArdle recommended that the warm-up activity be tailored to what you hope to get out of your workout.

“We want it to be specific to the exercises and the movements that we’re about to engage in. So if we’re about to do a full body training program, we’d better have a full body warm up,” he explained. “We wouldn’t just want to get on a recumbent bike and just sit and use our legs while our whole upper body is still.”

Typically, McArdle advised utilizing cardio equipment that aligns with the workout goal, and then engaging in dynamic stretching. Unlike static stretching where most of the body is still, dynamic stretching involves moving a muscle through a range motion that often mimics the activity you’re about to take part in. For instance, if you were about to go for a run, some helpful dynamic stretches would be high kicks or lunges, because they engage the legs in an active way.  

2. The Conditioning Phase

Once the warmup is complete, the conditioning phase is next up. Much like the warm up, there isn’t a particular machine in the Fitness Center that guarantees a perfect conditioning phase — rather, the activity should be focused on personal aspirations.

“Your goals might be resistance-based, they might be cardio-respiratory-based,” said McArdle. “Those are the two that we’re typically conditioning — we’re either working the heart or the lungs, or we’re working the skeletal muscle, or we may be working both in conjunction with each other.”

When coaching students on this phase, McArdle often sees two problems: either the student does the same activity at the exact same intensity, day in and day out, or they increase the level of intensity to the point that is not feasible or healthy.

Neither of these approaches provide the answer to a fulfilling work out. Instead, McArdle recommends evaluating how the last workout went, and then adjusting the plan from there.

“I need to ask myself that when I performed this exercise last time, did I reach my goal? If I didn’t, I need to stay the same. If I did reach my goal, I need to increase it,” said McArdle.

For an example, McArdle referenced bench pressing. “Say my goal was to do three sets of ten reps. And the last time I did this activity, I did three sets, but only eight reps. I’m going to keep the weight the same, because I haven’t reached my goal," he explained. "I’m going to keep lifting that same weight until I do. At that point, I’m going to increase the load, but I’ll probably go back to three sets of seven.”

 3. The Cool Down  

The last step of any workout should include the cool down. Unlike in the warm up, the cool down is the time to use static stretching — positions that you hold instead of move.  

“We’re elongating the muscles we’ve been working, we’re elongating the tissues of the body through stretching,” McArdle explained. “In that cool down process, we’re restoring that baseline, how we came at is how we should leave.”

According to McArdle, stretching relieves tightness in the body and reduces the chance of injury in a following workout. Ultimately, the cool down helps prepare the body to repeat this three-step process all over again.  

That being said, McArdle stressed that this three-step program is just a guideline, and that he’d be more than willing to elaborate on any of the aforementioned topics in person.

“We’re really talking general, high level stuff. We’re not getting into the particulars. We're not taking into account other factors, like injuries.” he said. “If you have more questions, you can come find me any time or get into a fitness class.”

Sure, the Fitness Center can feel a little unwelcoming at times. But with proper guidance and a plan, McArdle hopes that it can ultimately become a more approachable place for all students.