Fitness center layouts offer design challenges. Often there’s limited space, competing demands, and traffic flow that varies greatly depending on the time of day and season.

In recent years, the fitness industry has seen big-box health club chains explode in size, emulating the “globo-gym” scale made famous in the 2004 movie “Dodgeball.” Meanwhile, boutique fitness centers have proliferated in smaller yet highly efficient spaces. Hotel operators have gotten creative in providing effective fitness center layouts, carving out room in facilities built long before travelers expected professional-quality workout areas.

“The biggest complaints you’ll hear across the board are that a fitness center is crowded and you have to wait for equipment,” says Omi Iwasaki, EXOS vice president of performance. “Having open space and not having to wait is key.”

Regardless of the size and demands of the fitness center, here are five considerations when laying out a club to ensure the space is welcoming, efficient, and provides the most value to members and guests.

1. Clutter
Like a children’s playroom, a fitness center can seem cluttered with too many gadgets lying around. Necessities such as physioballs, medicine balls, foam rollers, suspension trainers, mini bands, yoga blocks, and mats can quickly overwhelm a space.

A closet, storage chest, or wall-mounted storage options will keep even a smaller area neat. So too will versatile equipment. A set of adjustable PowerBlocks can replace a rack of dumbbells. A suspension trainer provides a multitude of options.


Organizing gym areas for specific functions, like recovery, can help keep your gym organized.

Members and visitors should be able to walk through the club without stepping through and over equipment and people.

2. Open space
The Chinese practice of feng shui focuses on the notion of whether the space evokes a positive feeling. That encompasses areas ranging from paint color to indoor plants to music, but a key focus is on use of space.

Just as home design has evolved from the boxy layouts of the 1980s into open spaces that flow seamlessly from one room to another, fitness facilities have become more open. That’s not just for safety as more people cocoon themselves with earbuds and are more likely to bump into each other. It’s also to allow for better traffic flow. Members and visitors should be able to walk through the club without stepping through and over equipment and people.

Though there’s no longer the traditional division of a male-dominated weightlifting area and a cardio area packed with women, it can still be intimidating for beginners to venture into the lifting area if the space is tight, regardless of traffic.

“The more breathing room you can create, the less intimidating it’s going to be,” Iwasaki said.

3. Group exercise
From Zumba to step aerobics to boxing, yoga and spin, group exercise classes have evolved for more than three decades and likely will continue to do so. The important consideration is to have a separate, versatile room or rooms to handle what’s likely a busy slate of classes. Such rooms should have their own thermostats, sound systems, and storage areas for equipment.

Clean, well-equipped locker rooms and shower areas are key to retaining membership.
Group exercise trends are constantly evolving, so rooms must be versatile to handle the changes.

A lack of available parking and bicycle racks can be a serious detriment to building and retaining membership.

4. Recovery areas
With greater emphasis in recent years on functional movement, stretching, yoga, and active recovery, it’s important to have either a padded area or at least one with yoga mats available for those wanting to stretch or engage in bodyweight movements. Getting on the floor in close proximity to dumbbell use is dangerous. Newer clubs tend to position such space away from high-traffic areas both for safety and to promote a more quiet, mindful environment. Recovery areas also solve some of the clutter issue mentioned above since it’s a natural area to place and store foam rollers, physioballs, and stretch ropes.

5. Parking and showers
Some people will circle the parking lot for a closer spot at the fitness facility, missing the irony. But a lack of available parking and bicycle racks can be a serious detriment to building and retaining membership. So too can cramped or unkempt locker rooms. Just as restaurants and doctors’ offices recognize the importance of an immaculate bathroom, health clubs must have spacious, clean, well-equipped locker rooms.

“This is not the area you want to scrimp on,” Iwasaki says. “Now more than ever, having nice shower facilities is important.”

In addition to layout, find out five other things successful fitness centers get right.

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