Facility Design for the 21st Century

The design of successful fitness clubs has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. I asked Geoff Dyer, president of Lifestyle Fitness Centers (LFC), a club chain based in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area, to discuss what a successful facility should look like today.

FN: What is the ideal size for a fitness club?

GD: The new club model is bigger than before. It is typically a 25,000-square-foot club that is clean and well-lit with wide open walkways, dramatic cardio decks and an atmosphere that touches all of the senses — sight, sound, smell and the mind.

FN: How important is an entry way to the success of a club?

GD: As owners/managers only have one opportunity to make a great first impression, the club lobby should make a statement about the club’s commitment to customer service.

A walk through the front door should present club members with a spacious, richly decorated and well-equipped reception area, featuring a video check-in system or thumbprint reader to minimize fraud and abuse, and to reassure dues-paying members that club use is restricted to known members.

Signage in the front area should be big and bold. It is also essential to have countertops free of clutter and to have plenty of room for members to come and go through this high-traffic area. IHRSA (International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association) has reported that 25 percent of members’ complaints revolve around the check-in process.

FN: How can clubs create a functional and powerful workout area?

GD: The main workout floor must be equipped with quality equipment. Clubs should allow 50 to 60 percent of their total square footage (in the case of this 25,000-square-foot model, that’s 12,500 square feet) for the main workout area. They should include open walkways between lines of equipment and have a consistently-enforced policy that all weight plates be replaced after use.

More clubs are using the “circuit” or “express” training principles. One way that a circuit can be performed is by having a member start at one piece of equipment and move through eight pieces stationed in a line. Instructors can position themselves at every other station to offer simple instruction, set the weight stack, adjust the seat height and note the completed exercise on the member’s workout card. Clubs that use this method of training will typically provide two to three lines of matching equipment and make this the center point of the club’s main workout area.

FN: The cardio areas at your clubs seem to get special attention. What do you do?

GD: Cardio areas need to be bright and entertaining and should offer yet another opportunity for clubs to create the “wow” factor. The layout should anticipate routine maintenance needs. There should be easy access to treadmills and steppers, and safety lanes behind treadmills. If owners/managers anticipate adding entertainment systems to their cardio areas, they should get specifications in advance so they will know the additional space, power and Internet-access requirements. Thirty-two- or 35-inch TVs are a must if owners/managers intend to keep members entertained. Some members either forget or don’t want to bother with a personal entertainment system, so having six to 10 TVs set on the most popular viewing channels is a necessity. Fully stocked reading racks are also needed.

If a club’s cardio deck is set up in an amphitheater style or built high on a mezzanine level, it can keep members involved in the activities around them. Owners should anticipate cardio areas to represent approximately 15 percent of the total floor area, or approximately 4,000 square feet using the 25,000-square-foot model.

FN: What about separate cycle training or personal training areas?

GD: Group cycling appears to be a permanent fixture in new clubs. Clubs should allow approximately 600 to 800 square feet, with plenty of ventilation and airflow.

A group cycling room typically includes an elaborate lighting system (glow in the dark) and great sound. A cosmic paint scheme on the walls and floor can be added for extra effect.

FN: What about locker rooms and wet areas?

GD: Typically, 10 percent of the total club area is considered appropriate. Again, a greater investment up-front assures less wear and tear in the future. Tiled floors, raised lockers and plenty of benches are key. Private changing rooms can also be essential to keep members happy. Quality lockers are needed to resist the damage from damp workout clothes and swimsuits. Toilets should be wall-mounted, and partitions should allow easy access for the janitorial staff to clean.

FN: How do you build and size group exercise areas?

GD: At LFC clubs, we allow 2,500 square feet with plenty of storage (cubbies) for equipment. This may include weight plates and bars, steps and risers, balls and other hand-held equipment. Owners should budget for a quality tamper-resistant sound package for the group exercise room. Also important are a full-sized mirror and a minimum of two mirrored walls to maximize member satisfaction.

FN: Do you build children’s areas?

GD: Absolutely. We allow approximately 5 percent of the total space allocation to this area and include an activities area for toddlers that is separate from the older kids area. Soil-resistant flooring products (rubber) and wall coverings up to 5 feet are good investments.

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