No Payne, No Gain: Campus Recreation offers more than ‘just a gym’

Contrary to my current priorites, beforethe fall of 2004, I had never set foot in a gym. When the desire for a change of scenery (and abundant scholarship money) brought me to Southern Miss freshman year, it took a few months (and the standard 15lb weight gain from the commons’ pizza and Cherry Coke) before I first became acquainted with the Payne Center. 

Though a decent trek from my second-floor suite in Mississippi Hall, my desire to keep partaking in Friday’s fried chicken lunches meant dutifully carving out time between studio art classes and hanging with new roommates to spend some time on an elliptical machine. Soon, though, I got them involved, too, and we were dabbling in group exercise classes and my love of exercise (read: endorphine abetted stress relief) arose.

Following graduation and the subsequent lapse of a gym membership (it's included in tuition for all Southern Miss students), I found myself working in University Communications – and once again spending my mornings at the Payne Center, exploring further options like circuit training classes and my all-time favorite, deep water aerobics. When I began training for my one and only marathon, it was even at the Payne Center where I first ran without stopping for an entire hour straight.  

Lucky for me and every other local alumni, even though I've left the University system, my diploma grants me access (for a monthly membership fee) to the Payne Center once again. And in the five years since I’ve been a regular, almost every aspect of the gym has received a major facelift. The same group exercise classes are available, but now include options like a kickboxing kettlebell class and TRX boot camp. In fact, the Payne Center boasts one of the largest TRX setups in the state, and friendly instructors offer a guided workout that even beginners can feel comfortable participating in. Another new favorite was a Paddleboard Yoga class, taught on tethered paddle boards in the natatorium, which I can proudly state I successfully survived without taking a spill into the pool. 

The most notable change, probably due to its sheer size, is the addition of a two-story rock climbing wall that greets patrons as they stroll into the lobby. With a few John Hancocks and a little simple instruction, I was strapping on my borrowed rock climbing shoes and strapping into my securely fitting harness. My certified belaying instructor, Maggie, explained that I could follow the paths indicated by different colored tapes, or forge my own. I even tried to auto-belay – where instead of a live assistant, a pulley system monitors your ascent. It was only once I had reached the top that I realized I didn't know the protocol for coming back down. Turns out, the answer is: let go. While my yelp of surprise while I waited for the belay to catch my weight spurred some alarm from fellow patrons, I made it down (and up again several times) safely. 

If you’re ready to relive your days as a Golden Eagle, or create some healthier habits than you partook in as a student, more information for memberships can be found at

About The Payne Center:

Water workouts offer just as effective cardiovascular training as land exercise, with added benefits like lower blood pressure and lower impact on joints. Undergoing an extensive makeover a few years ago, the natatorium offers water aerobics classes, the aforementioned paddleboard yoga and daily lap swim times. 

Whether it’s a kettlebell kickboxing class or a vinyasa yoga flow, the fitness studios offer a full range of group exercise classes to fit all schedules and experience levels.

With just a few signatures, your belaying adventure can begin! Climbing can be done on a dropin basis from 4-9 p.m. Monday - Thursday, 4-7 p.m. Friday and 2-6 p.m. Saturdays. You can even borrow a pair of climbing shoes.

With more than 7,900 square feet of space outfitted with modernized equipment, the Work Out Zone has a plethora of cardio and strength training machines – plus more than 8,000 pounds of free-weight options.

Take your exercise outside the Center walls with Campus Recreations’ outdoor adventure opportunities. Monthly trips feature hikes, rafting and even skiing. Additionally, the Challenge Course at Lake Sehoy features a low-ropes course and dual zipline that is perfect for groups that are looking to enhance team morale, leadership skills, communication and trust.

When Whitney wasn’t spending her days sweating off fried chicken at the Payne Center, she received both her BFA in Graphic Communication and MFA in Mass Communication from The University of Southern Mississippi. SMTTT!