Feature Article - November 2003
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Special Mega Section:
Recreation Management’s Complete Guide to Designing and Outfitting Fitness Centers

By Margaret Ahrweiler


After selectorized, free weights make up the final component fitness equipment's Big Three. The weights themselves are divided into two categories: dumbbells, which are hand-held, and plates, which slide onto bars and weight machines.

Free-weight areas need to be designed with user preferences in mind. Plate-loaded machines, such as crossovers, can take up a great deal of space, while dumbbells and traditional benches require less room. Noise reduction, comfort and durability are among the key points to consider with free weights.

Industry tips include:

  • Look for plates with grips, which can offer users a safer and more comfortable way of picking up, carrying, loading and unloading them. Plates with two opposing grips make it easier and more ergonomically correct for users to carry as well as reduce the intimidation level for new lifters.
  • While more expensive, urethane- or rubber-coated plates reduce noise and help protect floors, walls and other equipment from impact with hard metal. Urethane often lasts longer and leaves no scuffs, while some users prefer the feel of rubber.
  • On the other hand, some gyms prefer the look of uncoated chrome as part of their design scheme.

  • Solid dumbbells are gaining popularity over "pro-style" or bolted dumbbells. While many users like the look and feel of pro-style models, solid models offer easier maintenance and improved safety since they do not require tightening and can be easier to maneuver with their smaller length.
  • Choose benches with an eye toward flexibility.

Look for flexibility, especially with space-eating, plate-loaded equipment. Among the more popular plate-loaded pieces include isolateral equipment and crossover machines that perform a variety of motions for upper and lower body and full cage to accommodate squats and presses without spotters.



ABS: Abdominal muscles. When highly defined, referred to as the six-pack

DELTS: Deltoid muscles, which span the shoulders

PECS: Pectorals, chest muscles

LATS: Latissimus Dorsi, the central back muscles

QUADS: Quadriceps, the front thigh muscles

GLUTES: The infamous gluteus maximus muscles, made famous by Buns of Steel

HAMS: Not the canned variety, but the hamstring muscles along the backs of thighs

RPE: Rate of perceived exertion—look for a lower RPE in cardio equipment, so users can do more while feeling like their trying less

REPS: Repetitions—how many times a user performs a particular exercise in a row


With dozens of manufacturers, how can facility decision-makers possibly see all the choices and get a handle on their differences? The solution is unanimous: Visit the trade shows, use the equipment and then use it again.

"You have to get out there early, visit every single booth, try out every single piece of equipment, and then come back the next day and try it again," says Shank, who has plenty of experience with equipment issues. His club opened in 1976 and has seen countless generations of fitness trends, products and equipment types come and go.

This not only provides operators with a sweeping view of all the equipment possibilities, it can afford the opportunity to identify emerging trends and find new products—sometimes before the competition does.

And while Shank generally sticks with major manufacturers, he says he's not afraid to stick his neck out occasionally to try something new, which has helped keep his club fresh.

Trade shows provide a better marketplace because the manufacturers' big guns of their sales forces can better assist buyers. Penn's Diorka says he felt he was getting nowhere fast with the local sales offices of fitness manufacturers but was able to get the answers he needed from the corporate staff on hand at a big trade show. Corporate staff often have accrued greater product knowledge than a local sales staff, he theorizes, and are less concerned about reaching sales targets than satisfying the customer.

Buyers also can see what kind of changes the manufacturers are making to equipment—and change may not always be good.

"A lot of companies keep changing their product to keep it new, but those changes aren't always necessarily going to work," Connors says. And before rushing out to get the next generation of products, make sure your clients want change, he adds, since many people prefer the comfort of the familiar.

Finally, operators need to survey their members repeatedly to find out what they like and what they want.