Working Out at Harvard

Lots of Harvard’s undergrads are athletes. You’ll find some of the best lacrosse players, hockey players, swimmers, runners, rowers, kickers, catchers, and throwers around. On some nights you’re going to be eating in the same dining hall as the football team, and your reaction upon seeing their eating habits is probably going to be some combination of disgust and amazement.

I am not one of those athletes. But I like to eat - quite a bit, actually. The dining halls don’t always offer the best entrees from night to night, but I can get pretty creative with sandwiches, salads, and burgers (ask me about my peanut-butter-honey-banana-bread or my humus hamburgers!). Food isn’t available after-hours either, but that always gave me all the more motivation to grab a burrito or a slice of pizza before 2 AM if I knew I was going to be staying up late — better safe than hungry, right? So how are you supposed to stay fit and avoid the Freshman-15 when Harvard’s welcoming week involves an ice cream bash, several outdoor barbecues, and a whole new Square of restaurants to explore? By working out.

For me, coming to Harvard was the first time I had full access to a nice gym. In high school, my idea of a workout was a few rounds of DDR, but going to MIT just to play an arcade game definitely wasn’t going to work for me here. Luckily, Harvard has more than a few places to work out, and it’s definitely worth your time to check these places out.

1) Why Should I Work Out at Harvard?

  • It can be fun and rewarding if you do it right! For some people, spending 20 or 30 minutes on the treadmill is a way for them to guiltlessly listen to their iPod or watch a TV show on one of the many LCD displays hooked up to our cardio machines. For others, it’s about getting harder, better, faster, and stronger.
  • Like I already mentioned, Harvard has its fair share of athletes, and besides that you don’t see many people who are overweight at Harvard. Why? No one really knows - one theory is that it’s just another way the student body’s perfectionism manifests itself. So basically, you’ll stick out if those Chickwiches become too much a part of you.
  • For the endorphins! Seriously, though. Once you get in a rhythm where you’re working out three times a week or every other day, you just feel gross if you miss a workout.
  • Finally, it’s your body, dummy! You live in it!

2) Where Can I Work Out at Harvard?

  • The Malkin Athletic Center (aka, the MAC) is the choice for students living near the river, and probably the closest option for those of you Froshies placed in Apley, Hurlbut, Penny Packer, or Greenough. Lower floor has machines and free weights, upper floor has cardio equipment. Home to a 25 meter pool, basketball court, and also a lot of neat classes.
  • Hemenway Gymnasium is Harvard’s newest and slickest gym. Located northwest of the Science Center, getting there is going to be a jog in itself for some of you. Usually packed with HLS students during mornings and evenings (hey, they have to work off all that beer sometime!). Cardio equipment on ground and upper floors, weights and machines on B1 and B2 floors. Learn to box here during the school year.
  • The Quadrangle Recreational and Athletic Center (QRAC) is great! … If you live in the Quad.

3) When Should I Work Out?

  • Some people like to go in the mornings before breakfast. Personally, I usually like to go a few hours after a carby dinner for 30 minutes to an hour. I feel like I have more energy and fewer things going on around then. Afterwards I like to finish up with 8 oz each of a protein shake and some Power Aid, courtesy HUDS. If I worked on my legs that day, I usually take some glutamine also - it can’t be an accident that both GNC and Vitamin Shoppe franchises are present in the Square! Try to get a group of friends together and go regularly for some positive reinforcement.

4) How Should I Work Out?

These are just a few pointers for people who don’t really know what to do with themselves at the gym:

  • If you’re looking just to slim down, you’ll want to start your workouts with either free-weights or machine exercises and aim for a medium to large number of reps per set (think 6 or more). Afterwards, switch over to cardio exercises (you’ll have used most of your glycogen and your body is going to be burning fat as you do your running, cycling, or rowing).
  • If you’re looking to gain strength, first decide how many times you’re going to work out per week. If you’re only going to work out 1 or 2 times a week, you’ll want to do full body work outs each day (that includes legs, arms, shoulders, chest, core, and back). If you’re going to work out 3 or 4 times a week, you can focus on a particular body part each day and do something else when you let it rest during the other days. Your heart’s important, too, so try to finish your workouts with some cardio or make it one of your “days.”
  • In general, it’s a better idea to stick with free-weight exercises. Cable machines are really convenient, but you’re going to get unimpressive results. When you’re doing an exercise for the first time, start at a low weight so you can focus on getting the right posture, stance, and movement before you move on to heavier weights (this is ESPECIALLY true for back exercises!!!).
  • Mix it up! Your muscles will adapt and stop growing if you give it the same challenges all the time. Add some weight every now and then. Put in a lot of reps with low weight one day and do a few reps at high resistance the next. Try different exercises every once in a while.

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2 Responses to “Working Out at Harvard”

  1. 1 Frosh

    This is a great blog! Do you know more about the types of classes offered at the gyms (yoga, aerobics, etc), and are they only offered at the MAC?

  2. 2 Carina

    The MAC and Hemenway publish their class schedules before the start of each new season. The fall schedule has not been published yet, but keep checking back at to find out.

    Also, don’t forget that Harvard students are really lucky to have access to Weld Boathouse for recreational sculling. All you need to do is take a swim test at one of the pools and get an introductory lesson sometime during recreational hours. It’s a great workout and a beautiful way to experience the Charles!

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