Feature Article - November 2009
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Fit(ness) Designs

Meeting a Growing Need

By Jessica Royer Ocken

The relationships—with staff and with others new to exercise—that can be created during an introductory session are also an important programming component, McCall said. "That way when you join you're not just being patted on the butt and sent through the door," he said. "Instead you establish a peer group to achieve your goals. That's a big trend—group exercise classes or small-group personal training. You develop relationships that encourage adherence [to your fitness plan]."

One final programming note: Don't be afraid to resort to trickery! "Everyone knows they need to exercise, they just need to get there," Burnell said. "Maybe introduce [the idea] with a luncheon lecture, [because] if they don't exercise at all, they may need something else to get them there—an education thing with a little introduction to the movements."

Make sure potential guests don't feel pressured or put on the spot, and they just might have a good time, said Burnell, who herself has hosted "Wine, Dine, and Align Your Spine" events. "We talk about posture, and then you get those who would normally not go to a fitness thing," she explained. "You have to trick those people."

Parents & Children

Design solutions: As noted previously, kids don't bring themselves to the gym, and they're not the only ones using your facility, so there's a sensitive balance to be struck. "One thing we tried to do in our design is [be] kid-friendly, but we didn't want to destroy the adult culture," said Barry Klein of Elevations Health Club. "We were able to set up our facility so kids are dropped off at the front desk for the babysitting area, and adults go on [in]. If kids need to be in the pool, it's a straight shot from the babysitting room to the locker room to the pool. So, there may be some disruptions in the locker room, but there are no kids downstairs. That's a sanctuary," he explained.

But other design choices tip the scales toward family needs. "We made the decision that our pool is for lessons and group fitness," Klein said. People are welcome to swim laps, but they do so in 3 to 5 feet of water. "If you want to be a serious swimmer, this is not your place," he said.

Essential equipment: Rather than specific equipment needs, parents and children are likely to appreciate a broad range of possible activities housed in a comfortable environment. When Elevations was renovated, the owners shifted their target demographic on purpose, explained Bishop. "We didn't want to be a lower-priced, hard-core gym, we wanted to be health club for professionals." This decision led them to raise rates, but also provide more family-friendly amenities.

Programming potential: A spectrum of options—something for everyone to do—is a big part of making your fitness center appealing to parents and kids, and the childcare and children's programming you offer can be an especially important aspect. IFS's Conti suggests a childcare program where kids can engage in physical activity, not just spend time watching TV or playing with blocks in small room. Because if the point of coming to the gym is the pursuit of fitness, everyone should be getting involved.