Cramming in gym for spring break

Treadmills fill up on college campuses

March 16, 2006|By ABIGAIL TUCKER | ABIGAIL TUCKER,SUN REPORTER

The air here in the second-floor "cardio theater" of Towson University's fitness center is quite warm and a little moist - tropical, almost, with soft breezes created by students racing for the lone available Stairmaster. It feels a little like the Bahamas or Jamaica or any of the other spring break meccas where many of the students frantically churning away on the recumbent bikes soon will be recumbent in a truer sense: utterly inert under a hot sun, glistening with tanning oil instead of sweat.

But before decadence, discipline.

"Oh, it's crunch time," said Kerri Weinstein, 20, a Towson student pounding the treadmill this week before leaving this weekend for a cruise to Costa Rica. "People are drinking Slim-Fast and no beer. The pressure's on."

The last days before spring break, which starts tomorrow afternoon at many area colleges, are among the busiest at campus gyms, where all of a sudden there are snaking lines for the ellipticals and weight machine rotations are out of whack because students are hogging the bench presses. Beach-bound guys do endless numbers of what contemptuous gym regulars call bicep "curls for the girls," girls strap themselves to the cardio machines and almost everyone does hundreds of sit-ups, all in a last-ditch, and some say misguided, effort to get in cruise shipshape.

"It's not going to happen" - or at least not safely, said Randall Watkins, a personal training supervisor at Towson. In-shape students can pile on a few minutes more of cardio or fine-tune their muscle tone, he said, but a semester's worth of sloth can't be cured overnight. "If you gain 15 pounds in three months," Watkins said, "you're not going to lose 15 pounds in two weeks and be looking right for the beach."

Still, students insist they can see the difference, and even if they can't quite yet, they're going to keep trying. Hey, they still have all of today.

Athletic administrators at several area campuses said they see at least a 10 percent increase in activity starting in mid-February as students step up, or start, their training. At the University of Maryland, said Brent Flynn, an associate director of recreational facilities, the spike is more like 15 percent or 20 percent - which translates into roughly 700 extra visitors a day.

"You can tell who's going on spring break, because you've never seen them before, and suddenly they're here every day," said Geoff Rupert, the director of recreational sports at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "And our abs classes get really, really full."

In the very last days before break, students will beg Rupert to keep the gym open after its 10 p.m. closing time: "Please, please, we need 10 more minutes!" he imitated.

Alison Czerwinski's is a typical story. Three weeks ago, the 20-year-old Towson student, who works out occasionally but not obsessively, had an epiphany while trying on a bikini at Towson Town Center.

"I looked at myself in the mirror, and I was like, `um, no,'" she said.

Since then Czerwinski - who's headed for Ocean City - has been on a daily die-hard regimen of 40 minutes of cardio, plus leg-toning exercises and 300 crunches a night. Her exertions are fueled by a calorie-cutting (she hopes) diet of sushi and martinis.

"I think it's working," she said.

So does 19-year-old Dan Ingram, a computer engineering major at UMBC who - though he works out regularly - started an intense sit-up schedule "as soon as I bought my plane tickets" for Florida. He pumps iron at the school gym on Tuesdays and does extra crunches on the floor at home, getting "a lot of weird looks" from his roommate. "But he's not going on spring break," Ingram said.

Students could be spending this energy on many other pursuits, most notably studying. The week before the vacation is often one of the busiest in the academic year, jammed with papers and midterms. Anne Irwin, the fitness director at the Johns Hopkins University, said that a lot of Hopkins students are too busy sweating over their exams to hit the gym.

But not Joelle Urrutia, a 22-year-old neuroscience major who will soon abandon most cerebral functions on the beaches of Cozumel. For the past three weeks, she's been adding extra 90-minute yoga classes to a hyped-up cardio workout, and she's begun to take the 10 flights of stairs in her apartment building to do her laundry.

"Everyone, all my friends, are doing this," she said, "Our academic competitiveness kind of moves to the gym."

There's even "a slight whiff of sabotage in the air," said Urrutia, whose friend, after multihour workouts, has lately taken to baking chocolate-chip cookies for the roommate who will accompany her on a spring break cruise.

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