The Next Normal: Students look for outdoor exercise options

The former Provo High School campus, which BYU acquired in 2018, features a number of outdoor exercise opportunities open to the public. According to a Daily Universe social media poll, an increased number of BYU students are seeking outdoor exercise alternatives to the gym amid the pandemic. (Hannah Miner)

Editor’s note: This story is a part of a series that explores the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and how things have changed on and off campus.

An increased number of BYU students are going outside to exercise as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect indoor gyms and workout facilities.

According to a social media poll conducted by The Daily Universe, 74% of the nearly 200 responders said they were more likely to seek outdoor exercise alternatives to the gym amid the pandemic.

As students return to the BYU campus for Fall Semester, several remain committed to continuing the outdoor exercise habits they developed during quarantine.

“When the pandemic first started, it was easy to maintain an exercise routine because as a senior in high school my classes were canceled,” said Mackenzie Schmutz, an incoming freshman from Las Vegas, Nevada. “I would lift weights in my home and go on five-to-six mile runs daily. I haven’t had the opportunity to experience running on or near campus yet; however, I have mapped out a route that will take me about five miles around the outside of BYU campus.”

Schmutz admits her outdoor runs were eventually interrupted by the brutal Las Vegas summer heat. While Schmutz had to substitute her runs with high-intensity interval training at home, as her local gyms remained closed, she looks forward to taking advantage of the cooler temperatures in Provo soon.

“That’s one of the reasons why I’m so excited to get on campus,” Schmutz said. “The cool morning weather will allow me to start running again.”

Alea Beeston, a senior from Orem, Utah, took up road cycling soon after the pandemic hit. Beeston felt it was the perfect way to exercise while remaining socially distant.

“Biking is an excellent way to get out and get away from people, be it people you live with or just people in general,” Beeston said. “Even though I’m relatively new to road biking, I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Beeston often rides on the Murdock Canal Trail, a popular running and biking trail that stretches from Orem to Lehi. She also plans on trying out the Provo River Trail, a paved trail frequented by students due to its close proximity to the BYU campus.

The former Provo High School track and field has seemingly grown in popularity amid the pandemic. (Hannah Miner)

Another outdoor exercise spot that has seemingly grown in popularity among BYU students since the start of the pandemic is the former Provo High School campus. The property, which BYU officially acquired in 2018, features a number of outdoor exercise opportunities open to the public. The campus includes a full-length track, two fields and six tennis courts.

As select gyms throughout Utah Valley have reopened over the last several weeks, however, some students plan on returning to such facilities for their primary workout and exercise spot. Gyms such as VASA, Planet Fitness and Provo Crossfit have all implemented a number of precautions that allowed them to open again after Utah County moved to a yellow, low-risk phase earlier this summer.

Some students also hope to use the Smith Fieldhouse indoor track and workout facilities this fall. While the facilities are currently open only to BYU’s student-athletes, they will be open to all students starting Aug. 31, according to the BYU Student Wellness website. The website lists a wide variety of precautions that will be enforced.

Although gyms continue to reopen on and near the BYU campus, not all students feel comfortable utilizing such facilities under the current circumstances. Many prefer to continue looking for outdoor exercise alternatives.

“I’ve never been one to go to the gym, but especially not now,” Beeston said. “Gyms and other places are striving to keep their spaces clean, I’m sure, but it’s difficult to believe that every patron of the facility will follow the guidelines set out. Besides, I’d rather be outdoors.”

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