Special Mega Section:
Recreation Managementís Complete Guide to Designing and Outfitting Fitness Centers
By Margaret Ahrweiler
In a complex yet sedentary society, fitness means a return to the basics. People want to move. Give them some stuff to mimic the labor of life: running, lifting, pulling, pushing, bending, reaching. Then give them a place to wash off the sweat of their efforts when they're done.
Basic? Basic enough to have spawned a $12 billion industry that fills up some of the country's biggest convention halls several times a year. Putting together a top-notch fitness facility, from a hotel workout room to a stadium-sized megacenter, means making dozens of decisions on an amazing variety of necessities, amenities and luxuries. Decision-makers must winnow down hundreds of choices for the things their centers need and must also discover all the things they didn't know they needed.
On the bright side, when it comes to major equipment needs, it's pretty hard to miss the boat, according to one industry pro.
"When it comes down to it, your equipment needs are pretty basic," says Mike Connors, president of Optimal Fitness Systems International, a fitness industry consultant. "You can find what you need with the quality you need from a number of places. Most of your decisions will be based on sales and marketing."
The flip side of that, however: Those sales and marketing-oriented decisions can make or break your center.
WHAT TO BUY? WHAT'S YOUR BUDGET?
But it all starts with the exercise equipment, exercise being the focus of fitness. For centers great and small, basic equipment needs never vary. A fitness facility must have cardiovascular equipment, which increases the heart rate over an extended time, and strength-training equipment. Strength equipment is split between circuit-training machines, known in the trade as selectorized equipment (users can select the weight level), and free weights: dumbbells, bar bells, and the machines and benches that go with them, along with the hybrid plate-loaded pieces that combine elements of both selectorized and free weights.
This equipment, after all, is what a fitness center is all about, and represents a huge chunk of a center's budget. On average, a 10,000-square-foot facility will spend between $175,000 and $200,000 on equipment, according to industry guidelines. At the University of Pennsylvania's new David Pottruck Health & Fitness Center, equipment and fitness accoutrements accounted for about $750,000 of the total $24 million tab of the 115,000-square-foot building, which features 50,000 square feet of rehabbed and 65,000 square feet of new space, says Dr. Michael Diorka, director of recreational sports at Penn.