Operations & Maintenance: Fitness Facilities

Formula for Fitness Facilities

By Tammy York

Fitness facilities receive a lot of use on a daily basis. Some of the most basic and common management practices, such as daily walk-throughs and regular cleaning of the equipment and facility, will help to increase the lifespan of equipment within the fitness facility. Even though this is painfully obvious and simple—it is also one of the most commonly overlooked tasks.

To begin the fitness facility's day, a regularly scheduled walk-through should occur and include turning on the lights, fans and televisions, as well as evaluating each piece of equipment such as elliptical, treadmills, steppers and weightlifting to make sure that each piece is working properly.

This means having a dedicated staff member responsible for turning on a piece of equipment and checking to make sure that everything from the LCD screen to the actual mechanisms of the equipment is working properly. In addition to this, perform a simple evaluation of the overall condition of the machine, including the belts, cables and pulleys. This is especially important regarding weightlifting systems to ensure that no one will have a nasty surprise later in the day.

Visually check that treadmill belts are properly aligned. If a belt isn't aligned properly it can fray and create a costly repair or someone could be injured.

With cable weights and other pieces of exercise equipment that use weights based on a pulley system, it is important to check for frayed cables. Cables that exhibit signs of wear should be replaced and the machine placed on hiatus until such maintenance is completed. "Test the range of motion on strength equipment. The operator needs to take it through the push and pull to make sure the unit operates smoothly," said Bryan Green, president and CEO of Advantage Fitness Products which designs and supplies commercial fitness environments. "If the weight pin is jammed or the unit does not feel like it is properly lubricated, then that needs to be addressed."

The upholstery experiences a heavy amount of wear and should be checked daily for signs of damage and any exposed sharp edges. To increase the lifespan, keep the upholstery clean and advise users on placing down a towel as well as wearing proper clothing when working out. They should not wear clothing with buttons or tabs that can tear at the upholstery.

Systematic Maintenance

There are a myriad of companies, including many of the vendors that sell commercial-grade equipment, that provide ongoing maintenance contracts. If your facility receives a high amount of use, it might be wise to invest the money in a maintenance contract. Most contracts allow for a maintenance technician to come out on either a monthly or quarterly basis to examine, maintain and repair the equipment.

Maintenance technicians will check for common things such as frayed cables or worn-out belts, and will also clean the internal components of the machine. This is very important if your facility receives a high amount of use because dust, cotton fibers and general dirt and debris can cause extensive damage to the motor. The damage can be severe enough to warrant replacing the motor or the entire machine—an expensive option for any facility.

Another benefit of having a maintenance service contract is that typically you are higher up on the food chain for receiving prompt service for any unexpected repairs, as maintenance contract providers will naturally fix their regular clients' equipment first.

Maintenance contracts can be purchased at the same time the equipment is purchased or added on a later date. If a maintenance contract is added later, the first thing that will occur is an immediate safety check to make sure all of the units are operating safely. Each unit will be evaluated for the current condition and be brought back up to working performance by an authorized technician who replaces any worn parts, and makes sure that everything is properly lubricated and in working order.

If your facility has a variety of fitness equipment and your participants request different equipment, it is easier and more cost-effective to make that kind of change if you've purchased from the same vendor and have a maintenance contract with them. Often, the vendor will understand the benefit of giving you a higher trade-in value for the piece of equipment you decide to change out.

Some maintenance contract providers also offer an asset management system. This allows for the fitness facility manager to view online the inventory of the specific equipment that is in the facility, schedule emergency services for any down equipment, track the history of repairs, track the history of maintenance, receive help, download daily walk-through sheets, download specific information on the fitness equipment, and schedule regular preventative maintenance.

"We are with the same company that we bought the equipment from, the warranty and an ongoing maintenance contract," said Joe Anthuis, director, administration division, of the American Academy of Family Physicians, based in Leawood, Kan. "When we were looking at companies to purchase equipment from, we checked their references and looked to see if they had worked with facilities similar to ours. We looked for a committed response time and that they had a good trade-in policy if we decided to change out equipment."

In selecting a company to provide your fitness equipment, look for companies that also offer ongoing maintenance contracts, have several locations throughout your area, have a staff of technicians available to service the equipment, and have a dedicated response time to fixing any down equipment.

"Maintaining fitness equipment is much like maintaining the rest of the building's components," said Shari Epstein, director of research for the International Facility Management Association, the world's largest and most widely recognized association for professional facility managers. "If the various components and moving parts of the fitness equipment are maintained properly, it will increase the longevity of equipment. If no maintenance is applied, you end up paying the cost of replacing expensive equipment."

"Besides considering the cost of ownership, you also have a cost from an operational perspective. A good maintenance plan that is well executed can increase the useful lifespan of the fitness equipment by up to 60 percent. During the life of the equipment it will also reduce the costs of various repairs," Green said. "When people don't properly care for the equipment and follow manufacturer recommendations, the reality is things wear out prematurely and cost substantially more to fix."

The better maintained the equipment is the greater the amount of uptime. More uptime on the equipment means that the investment in equipment and in the maintenance is paying off.

Facilities that see a high usage rate will most likely benefit from a maintenance program. Some facilities with fewer pieces of equipment and a dedicated and technologically capable staff member able to service the equipment could opt to forgo a vendor-based maintenance program and only use the vendor for repairs. If this works for your facility, it is crucial to adhere to the manufacturer's guidelines on servicing the equipment and to keep accurate records.

Basic Cleaning

It is important that the facility be kept clean. One way of doing this, besides having a dedicated staff member to wipe down equipment, vacuum and clean the floors, and do basic cleaning, is to create a system that is easy for the patrons to help you keep the equipment in the facility clean.

Such simple systems as disposable cleaning wipes and a trash can at each workout station will encourage your members to clean off the equipment prior to using it and hopefully after they are done. Keeping the equipment cleaner will help reduce your maintenance cost as well as increase the satisfaction amongst your patrons.

"We have cleaning wipes and hand sanitizing gel dispensers at each station, and they are everywhere so it is convenient for people to use them," Anthuis said. "We also have a day porter on staff that wipes down all of the equipment and helps keep the facility clean throughout the day."

Other things that can be done to help mitigate the amount of sweat left on equipment is posting simple reminders such as laminated cards reminding patrons to place a towel down on the bench prior to working out. This also helps to reduce the wear and tear on the seam lines of upholstery.

Simple Safety

In the morning walk-through and throughout the day, basic safety measures need to be practiced. Make sure that power cords are not creating tripping hazards. Position fitness equipment so that if somebody goes flying off the back of a treadmill they won't go flying into the deck of another treadmill, elliptical or stepper machine, glass window or passersby.

"The safety of the user should be the primary concern. Making sure that the products are in proper working order is very important," Green said. "You want the user to have a good experience with a machine that is working smoothly and performing correctly without a lot of noise or vibration."

Other safety measures include diagrammed or photo instructional cards on the proper use of the equipment. This is not only important for the patron using equipment but also for the nearby patrons as well as for maintaining the equipment.

For free weight areas, post basic safety recommendations such as always making sure to have a spotter, using spring clips to secure the weight disks to the bar, not to overload the weights and to balance the weight.

Creating Buy-In

Your patrons are your greatest allies and can help you develop a sense of community within your fitness facility, increase membership and make your facility run smoother. "People volunteer for the wellness committee because they want to be involved in healthy living communities," Anthuis said. "Our wellness committee puts together activities throughout the year including aerobic and yoga classes as well as having healthy bake sales, walks and other workout programs."

To tap into the reservoir of knowledge that these fitness devotees have, consider creating a committee to help decide what fitness equipment, programming and other social exercise activities your facility will present. The committee should be composed of people from different demographics and probably should not exceed eight people. Committee members should be limited to two years with half of the committee being new members any given year.

"I rely on the wellness committee to suggest new fitness equipment and accessories," Anthuis said. "The group has a diverse depth of knowledge about fitness and can make better decisions as a group about fitness equipment and programs than a single person."

Your patrons are your greatest allies and can help you develop a sense of community within your fitness facility, increase membership and make your facility run smoother.

Reporting Problems

At a large fitness facility during the course of the day, if a treadmill or elliptical is not operating, then odds are a patron will simply move to another machine and not alert staff. However, once you have buy-in from the patrons and you have a system that is easy for them to use, keeping up with the fitness equipment will be a lot easier.

It can be something as simple as a laminated "Out of Order" card for them to place on the machine. If each machine is individually numbered then it is easy for them to report to the facility manager via face-to-face, phone or e-mail which specific machine is malfunctioning.

Reserving Time

If your facility has a high amount of use at common times, such as prior to the workday, noon and at the end of the workday, then you might find it beneficial for your patrons to use an electronic calendaring system. This simple reservation system helps alleviate traffic jams at favored pieces of fitness equipment.

The patrons log in to an online calendar and reserve a specific piece of fitness equipment such as a treadmill, elliptical or stepper for a set period of time. This is the same type of system that is used for scheduling meeting rooms, just adapted for fitness equipment.

Most of the time spans are for 20-minute increments and patrons are requested that if they're unable to make this time to cancel the reservation. If the fitness equipment is reserved and the person who reserved it fails to show, then that the machine goes to first-come, first-served.

Keeping Accessories Fresh

Consumable fitness accessories are an affordable and vital component of any fitness facility. These items include stability balls, foam rollers, yoga mats and resistance exercise bands. Since these easy-to-use items receive a high amount of use, it's important to inspect them on a regular basis for abrasions or soiling.

"Typically a moderate-use facility should expect to replenish these items biannually. And for higher-use facilities, quarterly replacement is strongly recommended," Green said. "Beyond the concern for the general appearance, these products must be regularly replaced for hygienic reasons."

Controlling Costs

If your facility is small, don't make the mistake of purchasing residential-grade fitness equipment. While this equipment is typically fine for the home user it will not be able to withstand the constant use it will receive in a fitness facility. Commercial-grade equipment is made with components that can withstand a higher level of wear and tear.

Locker Rooms

Fitness facility locker space is limited, but there is still a need to provide ample locker space for participants. However, some people who exercise on a regular daily basis want to maintain a locker. This reduces the total amount of locker space available throughout day, as well as the week. To solve this problem some facilities have divided and conquered.

The lockers can be divided evenly into weekly rentals and hourly use with the locks being provided by the fitness facility. The weekly rentals are available on a first-come first-served basis. The hourly lockers are used during the times when the person is working out at the facility. The patron submits a photo ID to check out the lock and receives their photo ID back when they return the lock.

Flooring

The flooring in the fitness facility needs to be nonslip, nonporous and has to meet all of the functional requirements of exercise. "We recommend an engineered sport flooring surface of rubber, sprung wood floor with cushioning underneath, or the vinyl made specifically for fitness flooring," Green said. "The surface needs to have some cushion and be able to handle heavy pieces of equipment on it."

Making It Work

A fitness facility has many different variables the two most important being the equipment and the patrons. To make your fitness facility run smoothly, keep the equipment in good working order and invite the patrons to be active and involved members of your team.



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