FM Articles

A Perfect Fitness


Gyms and fitness facilities are an increasingly popular addition to a range of public and private buildings. From apartment complexes to office towers, a fitness center is a headline amenity now viewed as a necessity rather than a luxury.

But a fitness center is unique space, with a range of complex technical, logistical, aesthetic and financial considerations to account for. Simply sticking a couple of treadmills in an empty room isn’t going to cut it. Smart and strategic space planning and fitness center layout and design is essential in making the most efficient use of space, maximizing your return on investment, and creating a fitness center tenants or employees will want to use.

People Power
Space planning for fitness equipment begins with one question: who? Who will be using the space? Is it a gym in an apartment building? A corporate gym in an office? Is it a high school or university workout space? The answer is important, because who will be using it has a direct effect on how it will be used­–with significant planning and design implications. A high school gym, for example, is a more controlled environment, where equipment will almost always be used under supervision, working within a specific curriculum and program. Equipment there can be fairly advanced, and capable of holding up well under heavy use. A fitness center in a residential tower, on the other hand, where residents can access the facility at any time and work out unsupervised, should be more intuitive and accessible, with equipment that is comparatively easy to use. Usage patterns, priorities, and preferences are a critical consideration. For example, a training studio with functional trainers and guided classes will want more open space, while an unsupervised facility will need to be more of a machine-driven workout space.

Technically Speaking
To accommodate a fitness center, your space needs to meet certain structural and technical requirements. Basic facilities considerations such as sufficient electric/power infrastructure (most treadmills require 20V dedicated circuits, for example), fitness flooring, and high-quality lighting need to be factored into the design and development equation. Proper ventilation and HVAC is also important–fitness centers are almost always kept cooler than surrounding areas. The size of a fitness center can vary quite dramatically, from small compact spaces of around 500-600 square feet (which is a tight squeeze, but sufficient to build out a viable small-scale facility) to cavernous spaces closer in size and scale to a professional gym. One good rule of thumb is to allow approximately 10-15 square feet for every person utilizing the center. When evaluating the potential pool of users, keep in mind the usage rate tends tend to be significantly lower than residents and employees anticipate: if 50 percent of respondents say they will use it, the actual rate is likely to come in closer to 15 percent. Another issue that is easy to overlook is ceiling height. The standard 7-foot ceiling in a commercial application is just not enough. Typically, a fitness center requires a minimum of 8 feet, and preferably 9 feet or more. Another thing to think about is access, specifically for equipment delivery. A facility should be located either on the first floor, or close to freight elevators, with double-wide doors to accommodate large equipment.

Light and Sound
Some light and sound considerations depends on what floor a fitness center is located. Second- and third-level facilities need to be especially cognizant of what’s underneath them. If your accounting department is directly beneath your fitness center, having users pounding on treadmills overhead all day might not be a smart choice. In-gym noise from TVs and loud music can be reduced by using equipment that allows users to plug in their personal device or headphones. With fitness centers, maximizing natural light is always a priority. If that’s not an option, such as with a basement facility, make a strong effort to really light it up. Any kind of dim or muted lighting can create an atmosphere of gloom that can have an impact on the mood and even the physiological response in users.


Gearing Up
Once the physical limitations and atmospherics of the space have been considered and accounted for, the next step is to select and suggest specific equipment. Space constraints or code limitations can place some unavoidable limits on certain types of equipment (you can only fit so many stationary bikes into a small space, for example), but there are often creative design solutions and alternative options that can be employed. One option is to use devices that are flexible and can accommodate a range of different exercises. Treadmills and cardio equipment are the most popular and heavily used. Standard strength equipment takes up less space (and generally lasts much longer), but is also used for much less time on average. Consequently, it’s usually a good idea prioritize cardio equipment–unless specified otherwise. Newer high-tech equipment like Peloton bicycles or other equipment utilizing virtual reality or group elements are extremely popular and can work to get more people in the door. What keeps them there and coming back varies however, so creating a diverse space that appeals to a wide range of different groups and preferences is almost always a good idea.

Running the Numbers
So what will all of this cost? A fitness center can be designed and assembled for anywhere from $5,000 on the low end to $300,000 (or more) on the high end. The average for a modest sized space is in the neighborhood of $40,000-$60,000. A lot depends on the space, the sophistication and quality of the equipment, and whether or not the owner/operator decides to lease or buy the equipment. Both choices have pluses and minuses, and deciding which makes the most sense for you is a financial calculation with a very different answer depending on individual circumstances. Commercial-grade equipment is necessarily more expensive, something that can lead to sticker shock for owners and operators who may be more familiar with home treadmills and exercise equipment. Some planners and providers may even offer a unique equipment maintenance, repair and replacement program, which can be a popular and cost-effective long-term solution. When you are running the numbers, make sure to account for upkeep, repair and replacement over time. You can’t just create a great space and forget about it. It takes care, attention, and dollars to keep it running and running well. The average high-use facility with high-end equipment will need to cycle through new equipment every 3-7 years. That number increases to 5-10 years in moderate-use centers, and even longer in spaces that receive lighter use. Strength equipment, on the other hand, can last almost indefinitely.

Tactics and Timing
Sometimes the big decisions regarding what a fitness center will look and feel like are made by building owners, but some owners will empower property managers or regional managers to be in charge of the process. Whoever is making the call should remember even small decisions can have big ramifications, and should be made with strategic vision and an awareness of long-term ramifications. Working with a professional space planner and fitness center designer is advised. The best space planners use video walk-throughs, voiceovers, software platforms, and other design and education tools to help decision-makers understand the options available to them–and the considerations they need to account for when designing their space. These multimedia tools can not only give you a better sense of what the space will look and feel like, they can also be used as sales and marketing tools to help a company sell apartments in a building that is still under construction, or for a business to get employees excited and informed about a future facility. With respect to timing, so much depends on whether the space itself is ready. The layout and design process should take about a week, and it’s possible to have equipment in as little as 4-6 weeks, and be up and running in as little as 8 weeks. That said, most owners and operators prefer to be a little more thoughtful and deliberate with the planning process, allowing a good 6-12 months of planning and design time. That lead time allows you to plan more strategically and provide detailed specs to contractors–who can then use specified or specialized materials and can design the space itself to accommodate the space plan and the equipment layout within the center itself.

Kristen Tassielli is the owner of Fitness Things and All Pro Exercise, a joint venture providing fitness equipment and space planning expertise, located in Livonia, Michigan. To learn more, visit and