Get Your Exercise On at UVA’s New, State-of-the-Art Gym

January 24, 2024 By Jane Kelly, Jane Kelly,

The University of Virginia has opened yet another state-of-the-art space, this one dedicated to students’ health and wellbeing – and the value cannot be overstated.

At the start of the semester, UVA President Jim Ryan announced the reopening of the expanded and renovated Alderman Library, the restored University Chapel and soon-to-be grand openings of two other seminal buildings, the UVA’s School of Data Science and the Contemplative Commons, home to the new Contemplative Sciences Center, all open to students.

Now, the University can add another innovative student space to this list, and it is the first of its kind at any university in the United States.

The Fried Center for the Advancement of Potential, a gleaming 3,000-square-foot gym outfitted with cutting-edge functional exercise equipment, some invented by center co-director David Luedeka, opened in the Student Health and Wellness building at the start of the semester.

The walls of the light-filled space are painted in cheery hues of green and adorned with living moss-covered panels that thrive in the room’s natural micro-climate, helping remove toxins from the air.

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And if that’s not enough, students can schedule one-on-one functional fitness exercise sessions with a staff member for $30 an hour.

“This is the only university in the country that has this,” Luedeka said. 

“Exercise is such a critical component to having a functional quality of life,” he said. “I always tell students, ‘If exercise were a drug, it would be the most widely prescribed drug in the world because of its benefits. There’s not really one organ system in the body that’s not positively impacted from exercise.’”

Who Is It For?

“Functional fitness” is a type of exercise that helps people perform everyday activities that require compound movements, as opposed to focusing on single muscles, as is often the case at regular gyms.

“It’s for any student who needs and who can benefit from exercise as medicine,” explained Keila Strick, the other co-director of the new gym. 

View of the gym
The new gym is 3,000 square feet and features cutting-edge functional exercise equipment, cardiovascular machines, dedicated treatment space, and a suspension track extending over 50 feet of turf. (Photo by Matt Riley, University Communications)

The services are great for people who have a chronic injury “where maybe the traditional health care model wouldn’t cover a plan of care for a certain amount of time,” Strick said. “We want to work with a lot of the club sports athletes. Maybe people coming from UVA Rec with weekend warrior injuries. The wellbeing model of exercise is really important to help with weight management and anxiety and stress and all of that.”

For One and All

Luedeka said he has been surprised at how many UVA students have orthopedic dysfunction issues and could benefit from the new services at the center.

Keila Strick

Keila Strick is co-director of the Fried Center for the Advancement of Potential. (Photo by Matt Riley, University Communications)

“There’s a lot of things from an orthopedic perspective that are chronic in nature. Spinal instabilities; non-surgical meniscal tears; patella femoral dysfunction – all kinds of orthopedic things. Plantar fasciitis, flat feet. Scoliosis,” he said, listing some of the challenges.

“It’s been amazing to me, the plethora of orthopedic, dysfunctional issues that these kids come to school with. They’ve gone through physical therapy. They’ve gone through the traditional medical route and a lot of times they’ve exhausted all those means and they’re living with these chronic conditions. 

“But in the Fried Center, they’re learning how to manage and sometimes improve these conditions through the use of medically based exercise.”

The Perfect Student Model, Born Out of Goodness

The new center is named for its benefactor, Barbara Fried, who served two terms on UVA’s Board of Visitors from 2014 to 2022, and by Luedeka’s telling, was a constant cheerleader for students during her eight years as a member of the body. 

Demonstration of a hip mobility

April Carter performs a hip hiker motion, a functional way to target the hip muscle structure. (Photo by Matt Riley, University Communications)

“She is exceedingly giving and one of her big things when she was on the Board of Visitors was she always pushed for the student experience,” he said. “I think for her to open this center, as a way to help, to benefit the students so they can have a better life and a better experience, is really an important part of this story,” he said.

Fried is a founder of Innisfree Village, a residential working farm for people with intellectual disabilities located west of Charlottesville, which opened in 1971. There was an exercise component to the program for many years, and after meeting Fried in the mid-2010s, Luedeka, who has been a physical therapist for 30 years, suggested implementing a functional fitness program as a better fit for the residents. 

Aviva Kosto, a club athlete, performs a sumo squat with a pallof press, exercises that target spinal stability. (Photo by Matt Riley, University Communications)

It was “a win-win,” he told Fried, because it would be tailor-made for each person and his students in UVA’s School of Education and Human Development could help.

“It was at that point that I said, ‘Barbara, we’ve got the ability here to create a program where I can teach these students what they need to know to become medical fitness professionals; they can take the skills and work one-on-one, and they clock that experience for clinical hours to apply to their professional schools.’” 

With the new center on the third floor of the Student Health and Wellness Center, recent kinesiology graduates taking a gap year before entering graduate school can log clinical hours while giving back to students at UVA. It’s the perfect feeder pattern, Luedeka said.

Setting UVA Apart

Of the many hats Dr. Chris Holstege wears, one is executive director of Student Health and Wellness. When he became director, he wanted to put greater emphasis on preventative and wellness care, and the Fried Center for the Advancement of Potential, he said, is the perfect complement to that approach. 

“I think this is a very important part of health and wellbeing, and I’m very excited to have the center here,” Holstege said.

“I think, if there’s one thing that applies to everybody, regardless of age, mental ability, physical ability, any other possible situations or differences in the human body, functional fitness is something we all need,” Fried said.  “It’s a win-win for both the students who get worked on and the students who learn how to provide the service.”

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications