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How to Design A Club to Be Less Intimidating

By: Bruce Carter

Bruce Carter

Anyone associated with the health and fitness club industry is quite comfortable in a club environment. Familiar surroundings and like-minded people make up this tremendous industry. Yet, many do not feel this comfort level, and therefore, try to avoid clubs. Yes, the need is there, and maybe even the desire, but the club experience does not “speak” to the majority of individuals.

In the August 2019 issue of CBI Magazine, an article entitled, Fitness Fears Are Quantified by a New Study, showed a survey recently conducted with 2,000 respondents. 50% showed a fear of working out in front of others, and a third had anxiety about getting in shape. Clearly, clubs have a problem that can turn into an opportunity, make a club a more user-friendly and less intimidating experience and communicate this to the marketplace.

The important first step in designing a club to be less intimidating is to acknowledge the above fact as a serious variable when designing or renovating a club. Most club people probably can’t “feel” the actual discomfort, and yes, the fear that someone out of shape feels when in a club. Then, add people finding themselves in a variety of awkward positions, sweating and not looking good in exercise clothing, and this is one of the major stumbling blocks the club industry has in attracting and keeping more members. So, taking this key design factor seriously can better direct a successful “club of the future” design. Here are some key design variables to make a club less intimidating.

So much of such a design has to do with achieving a balance. This is a balance between the need for excitement, successful programing, operational control, effective physical conditioning and cost and the need to make sure that members (especially, deconditioned members) feel as comfortable as possible.

Layout is the positioning of spaces and how they relate to other spaces. When done properly, this creates the excitement and successful day-to-day functioning of a club. When entering a club, previous design techniques were to overwhelm people with the amount of equipment a club offered and having rows of cardio front and center make for an impressive image. Current design trends have people entering a club in a more controlled and divided off environment/lobby with possible views of equipment or exercise areas but much less so. Simply, a more inviting lobby projects a less intimidating club.

Another factor to consider is having too many people and too much equipment in too small of a space. In an effort to try and offer as many facilities and programs as possible, clubs should realize that, at some point, there will be diminishing returns because the quality of the exercise experience will be compromised.

A key part of most clubs nowadays is an open functional/core/stretching area (these areas may be closed in spaces also). Once again, balance is needed for these areas to add more excitement to a workout area than the traditional cardio, machine and free weight areas. However, putting them in the middle of an area can make people uncomfortable, so adding something like plants or small partition sections (such as louvered walls, glass or Plexiglas) can make the area “feel” more private. Also, consider putting these areas off to the side but still very visible to the general workout areas, because often, these areas provide fee-based programs and classes. The more people see what the workouts are, the more likely they will “buy into” the classes.

Obviously, group exercise/training rooms should allow for people to “view in,” catching the excitement and energy. Yet, too many windows and the wrong positioning of the room in relation to other spaces can prove to make people in the room uncomfortable. For example, a group exercise room with windows viewing out to a free weight area would be a poor decision. Consider the use of decorative window film (such as the “frosted” window look) to provide more privacy for people inside the room, yet still allow for good visibility into the space. Many window film options are available online.

Another key is equipment layout. It is understood that the layout needs to provide effective conditioning, yet certain machines can put people using them in compromising positions. Therefore, any layout should take this into strong consideration. As mentioned previously, the days of having equipment almost at the front door is changing because most people on equipment don’t want to be what people see when they first enter the facility.

The above also applies to exterior windows and what people can see while walking or driving by. Here, again, balance is needed because it is “good marketing” for people on the outside to see in, helping to remind them of their need to be more active, especially if people look into a beautiful exciting area. However, those on the inside can easily feel like they are on “display,” so proper equipment placement can achieve a beneficial balance.

Locker room design should always allow for as much privacy as possible. Changing rooms for women are now commonplace (a minimum of two with one having to be ADA accessible). Big open locker spaces where everyone can see everyone else should be replaced with separate locker “sections.” Obviously, changing or drying off spaces connected to showers are always preferred, or at least have a private area when people come out of showers. Showers (and ideally toilets) should not open directly out to a locker area. Even consider that, when people are looking into mirrors above sinks, they should not be seeing people changing behind them reflected in the mirrors.

Bright white lighting (such as industrial type lighting with color temperature of 5,000 K or more) can make people more self-conscious in spaces, so a little less lighting is better than overdoing it. Combine this with the use of mirrors. Trends now are for fewer mirrors, although they are still needed (especially in free weight areas). Think about it: Out of shape people in brightly lit, mirrored areas is exactly what they would want to avoid.

Conditioned people, the fit getting fitter, are comfortable in working out in a variety of environments. Deconditioned people (with a growing trend of more overweight and out of shape people) feel a lot different about themselves and working out in clubs. Yet, this group is the majority. If clubs make a focused effort in designing a club to be less intimidating, it is a win-win situation. Fit people would be fine with such design features, the less fit will greatly welcome such changes. This puts a club into a stronger competitive position with stronger profits.

As published on clubinsideronline.com, October 2019.