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Feature Article - February 2013

Exercise Your Options

The Future of Fitness Facilities

By Tammy York


Fitness facilities face several challenges, including keeping up with trends in design, health and well-being. Facilities in the design phase have the advantage of creating spaces that are flexible and easily transformed as expectations change.

While old facilities might have the same sterile appeal of entering an airport security line, new fitness facilities are aiming for an almost coffeehouse-like appeal. "The original gyms were designed for 18- to 25-year-old males, and that has changed over the years," said Jeffery Nagel, owner of Nagel Design in Edmonds, Wash. "Gyms now have to be nimble to the space needs and to be able to be reorganized every two years."

This allows fitness facilities to differentiate their offerings from the low-cost models that crop up.

As a group, consumers are demanding better facilities and amenities. Indeed, newly emerging smart consumers are more frugal and smarter about their expenditures. Instead of going with the cheapest option, they are evaluating the long-term benefits of their investments. Potential members are looking for a partner in their quests for health and wellness—not necessarily the least expensive vendor. This comes at the same time that a large portion of baby boomers are taking a more proactive approach to living longer, healthier lives.

Trending Design

While the big box version of fitness facilities is still applicable, consumers are seeking facilities that offer a sense of community. Designer Rudy Fabiano, AIA, president, design director and founder of Fabiano Designs International in Montclair, N.J., sees new fitness facility designs in the same light as department stores. Where some people are happy with getting what they need at the least expensive price and will sacrifice the community feeling and ambience, others seek an experience that provides them with a sense of community and place.

"Successful retailers are not just providing access to a product, but they are developing cultural experience," Fabiano said. "New designs are articulated rather than just all under one big box. The sections are articulated in a certain way so it is easy to find and shop there. Retailers want you to spend your money there and to feel like you are getting a lot of value from that one trip and that you got a lot accomplished by shopping at their store."

The means leading retailers are using to gain clients can also be applied to fitness facilities. In general, there are two types of fitness facilities. First are the low-cost, big-box fitness facilities that offer equipment-based solutions to getting fit, such as treadmills, circuit training and free weights. Typically, there is no personalized training, and the probability of achieving fitness goals is minimal unless the member has the motivation to work out.

The other is the multi-use full-service club facility, which includes everything from community centers to lifetime membership fitness facilities. These fitness facilities tend to offer a much more rounded approach to fitness with traditional equipment, functional training, courts, group classes and more.

"There seems to be continuing trends for these two attitudes about fitness to keep growing," Fabiano said. "What isn't doing so well is the regular box in the mid-price range."