University of Montana students are pumping up and slimming down like never before.
February was the busiest month at the Campus Recreation Center since its doors opened to students in 2001.
So Desiree Carley, 22, tries to limit her time on each weight machine to 10 minutes, out of respect for her weight-lifting peers.
It's become an unspoken rule of etiquette at the rec center, where during late afternoons on any given Monday during the winter, the place more resembles a zoo than a fitness center.
Membership generally spikes during the winter months, but this February 2,000 more students set foot in the recreation center than during the same month a year ago. That amounts to 44,453 students, faculty and spouses.
"I don't like working out with hundreds of people in the weight room," said 23-year-old Adam Nelson, a third-year pharmacy student. "It takes too long to get your workout done."
To avoid running in the snow, Nelson takes to the gym four or five times a week. Typically, the gym is crowded for three weeks after students return from winter break and then attendance drops off. This year, it's remained steadily busy deep into the semester.
"It hasn't dropped off the way it has in the past," Nelson said.
It's difficult to explain the sharp spike in attendance, especially during the week of Feb. 8- 14 - when a record 14,232 people visited the campus gym.
Keith Glaes, director of the rec center, suspects the growth has something to do with record enrollment at the UM-Missoula campus during both fall and spring semesters.
However, according to data collected by the recreation center, about the same number of students used the facility this February as last - but they worked out more frequently.
In fact, 75 percent of UM's student body visits the rec center at least once during the semester, and 50 percent exercise there at least once a week, Glaes said.
According to the 2008 National College Health Assessment, UM students rank above the national average among students who get at least a moderate 20-minute workout one to four days a week. Also, UM students eat more fruits and vegetables than the national average, according to the same survey. Ninety-seven percent reported eating at least one to two servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
On Monday afternoons around 4 p.m., the gym is nearing or hitting capacity, Glaes said. The recreation center has steadily added more machines over the past eight years and the facility is running out of floor space, he said. It's questionable, too, whether adding more machines would even help the crowding.
"It's like freeways in L.A.," he said. "There's never enough."
Another reason that more students may be attending the recreation center is the popularity of the fitness classes - such as yoga and Pilates - offered through the Health and Human Performance (HHP) Department. Classes include everything from fly fishing to juggling to basketball, but yoga is the most popular class offered at the rec center.
A year ago, there were 14 yoga classes offered each week. That was ratcheted up to 16 classes per week this year. And there are no more time slots available, despite the fact that all the classes have reached the 40-student maximum capacity, said Adrienne Corti, director of HHP advising and activities classes.
Plus, there's not enough money in Corti's budget to hire additional instructors, she said.
The climbing wall has grown especially popular, and adds to the overall attendance at the recreation center. Glaes estimates that there are five to seven more climbers at the rock wall each hour and the closure of Missoula Athletic Club's Rock Garden a year ago is only partly to blame.
T.J Lipko, 18, frequents the rock wall five to six days a week. He's training for limestone walls in Yellowstone National Park, where he secured summer employment.
"People are usually polite about everyone taking turns (climbing)," he said.
Maybe the surge in attendance is because students are slimming down for spring break. Or maybe people have stuck to their New Year's resolutions. Or maybe it's because they're getting married, like Jennie Gruber, who is tying the knot on May 9 and leaving shortly thereafter for her honeymoon in Mexico. The 25-year-old is preparing for bikini weather.
"I don't want to be a fat American in Mexico," she said.