Feature Article - May 2016
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Design Your Niche

Designing Facilities for Fitness Niches

By Chris Gelbach

Functional Fitness Keeps Growing

One niche element that continues to explode in recreational facilities of all types is functional training areas. Chris Poirier is general manager at a North Kingstown, R.I., company that has been focused on the functional training and sports performance niche for more than 25 years, and is seeing the trend continue unabated.

"A lot of facilities are seeing people leave their gyms and go to Crossfit, or some will have memberships in both places," Poirier said. "So a lot of these gyms are saying, 'How do we provide some sports performance or personal training or do some functional training so we can get added dollars out of them, but also keep them here?'"

If it's an existing club, it comes down to how much space they're willing to devote to the area. Poirier is seeing many gyms opt for less selectorized equipment. "Instead of taking a huge line with three leg extensions or three leg curls, they're reducing it down to one," Poirier said.

When it comes to carving out space for a functional training area, a long, narrow space is often best. "We can do more with that kind of space," Poirier said. As part of the trend, Poirier estimates that about 80 percent of the facilities his company is currently designing include a turf area.

"It's not just to kick a soccer ball or play on. It's turf to push sleds on, to foam roll on, to do agility stuff or movement prep stuff. Because you can still exercise on it," Poirier said. "But the turf has a nicer surface so you can do a lot more plyometrics stuff on it. It's much softer on the legs to bound on turf than on rubber."

For facilities that need to be able to accommodate many athletes at a time—such as a high school facility that might have 40 football players working out at the same time—a good design is crucial. Old-school weight rooms with different sections for Olympic benches, squat racks and platforms in their own areas are going by the wayside. "That takes up a lot of space in a room, and it costs a lot of money," said Poirier.

Instead, facilities are favoring multiple racks or half-racks with connectors in between where athletes can do pull-ups, suspension training and other work. "We try to create areas where three or four athletes can do their Olympic lifting stuff and bench, squat, press, clean and deadlift, so they can stay in the same area for two-thirds of the workout," Poirier said. The remaining space can be used for supplemental work and may include some turf and movement prep area where the athletes might be for the other third of the workout.

The success of these facilities hinges on educated staff with training from a major certification agency such as NASM, ACE, NSCA or ACSM, according to Poirier. "To get results, there's a lot of education behind it," Poirier said. "If you get people who come in and don't get results, they're going to leave."

A Focus on Wellness

As part of a shift toward a more specialized approach, many recreation centers are also taking a more individualized approach to health and fitness through an increasing focus on wellness. Dave Larson, senior vice president and director of design for TMP Architecture, is seeing this manifest in facility designs in a variety of ways.

One is through the inclusion of an area for one-on-one consultation. "You might have just a little examination area, little conference room, and a larger space for a few pieces of equipment," Larson said. "So you can get some baseline data on the person from an attitude and wellness and flexibility perspective, and then chart a course for their use of the regular facility."

Larson has installed areas like these in recent recreational facilities for the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa and at Michigan's Kalamazoo College. In other facilities such as community centers that he's worked on, it's become more common for healthcare providers to rent space and use it as an outreach to facility members.

In another facility at the University of Alabama, TMP is installing a demonstration kitchen. "It's about showing people how to do basic things with food—demystifying cooking so they aren't as tempted by the ramen noodles as they would be," Larson said.

Cannon Design's recent work for the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus included a teaching kitchen as well as doctor's offices and research labs. "It's also got a mock grocery store to teach students how to shop for and buy food," said Colleen McKenna, principal for Cannon Design. "The data from the users in the wellness facility is then used to capture and advance their research, which is terrific. It's really a very unique facility."