Feature Article - May 2015
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Make New Friends, Keep the Old

Trends in Strategic Fitness Facility Design

By Chris Gelbach

Comforting the Non-Exerciser

By using more flattering, dimmer lighting and fewer mirrors, club designs can make patrons who don't feel happy with the way they look feel less self-conscious or discouraged. Likewise, they're less intimidated if they're not confronted by a sea of equipment when they walk in the door. "If an out-of-shape woman walks in and sees a treadmill right there, she says, 'I'd be so embarrassed to be on that treadmill. This club's not for me,'" Carter said.

For these skittish potential patrons, a welcoming environment is critical. Certain soothing touches might even help their workout go better. "Research is now showing that people feel less pain when they're exercising in nature," Carter said. "So we're bringing nature into our environments. It might be in the form of a beautiful nature graphic or materials like woods and stones. Because people feel less pain and more comforted, and therefore the exercise doesn't have to sting."

In general, designers are open to breaking with tradition as the influence of the hospitality industry and new technologies make new approaches to reach a wider demographic both attractive and feasible. "Everything is being reinvented—locker rooms, steam rooms, showers—there's enough new products, new cutting-edge ideas that every client we are talking to needs to be aware of," Visani said.

Options for Better Operations

Among the innovations that Fabiano is seeing are things like larger 4-by-8-foot tiles that reduce grout-related maintenance, and high-density foam walls in showers that don't permit mold growth and are impenetrable to water.

As concerns about sustainability grow, gym designers are also looking at the health implications of the materials they use. "We're LEED-certified, so we're always looking for products that don't have off-gassing, especially in a fitness facility," Plaza said. "You want it to be a really clean environment with healthy air quality."

Fabiano is also seeing that air quality is being enhanced in facilities with aquatics through new technologies such as those that can exhaust harmful chloramines at the gutter level of the pool to enhance air quality throughout the facility.

Designers are additionally incorporating more reused, recycled and repurposed materials as more appealing products with these qualities become available. They're even getting creative in using local materials as part of this effort. "Incorporating items that have some significance to the local market is appreciated and makes your facility more unique—whether it's local beetle-kill wood in the West or some local firehouse brick that was torn down," Visani said.

Designing for Non-Dues Revenue

As boutique clubs that offer more social opportunities and specialty programming continue their upswing, larger big-box clubs are trying to compete with them, as well. They're still providing plenty of traditional weights and cardio, along with multiple specialty programs and spaces devoted to them to vie with boutique offerings. "It's not rare in a typical club to have three or four studios, whereas at one time one large studio would be enough," Fabiano said.

These efforts often include a greater emphasis on individual branding for the different program spaces. For instance, Plaza just worked on a series of mind-body clubs in New York and New Jersey featuring yoga rooms with yoga walls. Spinning rooms with theater environments as well as Pilates, hot yoga and barre classes are receiving similar attention.

"The big box clubs are trying to figure out how to create a boutique club within the big-box club, and that's always a challenge," Plaza said. "How do you get a SoulCycle feel in a big-box club?" Getting that feel can help clubs convince members that such an offering is a special experience worthy of an additional fee.

"I call it the retailing of fitness," Fabiano said. "We like to think of those elements as their own boutique element that should be presented as a specialty item as you would in a department store. So when you're using the club, when you tour the club, there is so much more than is being presented to you as an offering."