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How to Best Use Space for a Great Design

By: Bruce Carter

Bruce Carter

No matter what the size of club we have dealt with over the years, whether it was 5,000 square feet or 200,000 square feet, there always seemed to be a need for more space. Therefore, getting the most successful use out of your available square footage is an optimal goal. However, it is common to try and “put four quarts into a 3-quart container.” When this happens, the result is often an inefficient and non-functional operation.

In an effort to compete with larger clubs, the viewpoint by smaller operations can often be to try and offer more facilities and programs, even if the space does not sensibly allow this. So, the end results are areas that don’t work well, overcrowding and uncomfortable traffic flows. Often, it’s better to offer less, and then be the best at what you do, which can be better than offering a lot but only being average in everything.

This principle is a reason there’s growth in single purpose or smaller boutique clubs. The concept is to offer a better specialized space and programming for spinning, group personal training, yoga or other classes.

Key questions such as, “how big should a group exercise or yoga room be,” are only answered by looking at the overall facility and program offering relative to the size of the facility and then deciding how to divide up the spaces optimally, where the areas offered are going to result in the highest revenue per square foot for the club.

Therefore, there is no correct size for yoga, cycling or group exercise space. It all depends on your other offerings, type of club, competition, amount of total space available and your budget.

It should be noted that this decision-making process can apply to both a new facility and also to a renovation of an existing club when deciding on what spaces may be repurposed for more revenue producing in-demand programming.

In an effort to make sure that you are allowing enough necessary space for important areas, here are some general parameters to go by. If you take a look at the space needed per person, equipment types and the numbers of people you ideally want to provide for, you can then better decide what size spaces should be.

What Size Spaces Should Be…

Lobby Areas: For a typical fitness club, the reception desk should be a minimum of eight feet from the front door (10 feet – 12 feet is better). However, the socialization of clubs has increased the demand for more seating areas, so count on a minimum of 75 square feet for this area. As a side note, stay away from couches because they take up more space, but often, no more than two people sit on them so individual comfort chairs are better.

Retail in clubs is not what it used to be, so most clubs don’t allocate space for this. But, a spacious, more inviting lobby and seating area is clearly a positive trend for clubs. It’s often thought this is taking away from exercise space. But, space for social areas can be as important as exercise space in creating a favorable first impression and in retaining members.

Exercise Areas: The square footage for conditioning equipment on average is 40 square feet, including the movement of using the machine. Plan on approximately three feet around the perimeter of a machine. Cardio equipment machines (treadmills and ellipticals) on average take up approximately 25 square feet.

The square footage needed per person for a group exercise class is 40 – 50 square feet, or more, depending on the type of class. This applies to classes such as Zumba, yoga and stretching. Group cycling on average needs 20 square feet per bike. Suspension training needs approximately a 6-foot-wide by 8-foot-long space.

There is a clear trend evolving with exercise areas: the need for open floor space for stretching and functional training movements areas becoming as important as areas for free weights, individual muscular conditioning machines and cardio. Therefore, how space gets allocated is different than it used to be. In general, personal trainers have more income potential utilizing open functional training areas than with individual machine areas.

Locker Rooms: A surprising number of clubs have locker rooms designed in a manner that allows people to see into the locker rooms. Trying to save space is the reason for this. Often, the assumption is that doors prevent this visibility. But, when the doors are opened, people can see inside. So, a rule of thumb is that 100 square feet is needed to allow for an entry into a locker room where people cannot see inside. Use either a minimum of 4-foot-wide flow (64 square feet) for clubs with fewer than 1,000 members and a 5-foot-wide flow width with clubs over 1,000 members. The 5-foot-wide space also applies for flows in locker rooms going to and from lockers, toilets and showers.

The minimum distance between two rows of lockers that face each other is eight feet. Often, locker rooms are designed with a certain number of locker openings. But, space between the rows of lockers is too limited. Therefore, only a minimum number of people can actually access lockers, so the total number of lockers that are readily assessable can be considerably less than the total count.

A general rule for a person standing is to allow for nine square feet (3 feet by 3 feet) so someone can go past that person without the person standing having to move. This applies whether standing at a reception desk, in a hallway or standing in front of a sink in a locker room. A key life safety/fire code requires an unencumbered flow of 5-feet-wide (including hallways) to get to an exit.

The ADA American with Disabilities Act requires, in general, that any space a non-handicapped person can get to a handicapped person should be able to get to the same space. This includes bathrooms, sinks, drinking fountains, reception desk access, doorway widths, etc. This code is somewhat complicated. For example, if you have a mezzanine, you may not need to have handicap accessibility if what is on the deck (such as cardio equipment) is also available on the ground level. If you are working with a designer or architect, he will know the code, and if not, then Goggle ADA codes. It will show what sizes and spaces are needed to meet the code. The ultimate decision maker for space needed to comply with certain codes, such as life safety or handicap, will rest with the local building inspector.

With startup and renovation money being more challenging to find, the size of clubs has decreased. This then increases the need to be more space efficient. Making people feel comfortable in any space is one of your ultimate goals. So, prioritizing what you want to do with the space is an integral part of a successful operation. Successful space planning often involves trying a number of different options before you come up with the optimal solution, so the more you know about the variables that affect the sizes of spaces you want to create, the more successful your operation will be.

As published on clubinsideronline.com, April 2016.