The gym is a powerful place. Clients come from across the city to all work out together under one roof. Where else in our daily lives do we have a central location of humans coming together to better themselves?
Nothing has highlighted this more than COVID-19. When gyms closed in 2020, it quickly became clear how much of a void these gym closings left. While not all gyms are reopened, it’s clear that the gym industry is adapting and coming back stronger and safer than ever.
How to Improve Your Gym Design While Fostering Community
Have you ever tried to work out in an overly crowded gym with a terrible arrangement of machines and stations? It kills the whole workout vibe.
If you run a gym or studio, you’re at risk of losing customers that have a sub-par experience. You want customers to flow in and out with ease, get their workout done, connect with other members, and leave raving reviews for your company?
How do you do this?
Usability, wayfinding, and human psychology all come into play and can have a significant impact on the visitors experience.
Whether building a perfectly bespoke luxury fitness studio, or trying to engineer the best layout for a small local gym, the planning details can make all the difference.
If you don’t have the luxury of working with gym architects from the beginning, you can still optimize your current gym layout, design, and visual communication.
How does this impact the bottom line?
Retention is key for gyms and fitness studios. If the member have a poor experience too many times in a row, this will lead to churn. By listening to members and iterating on what’s working, gym and fitness studio owners can extend the membership length and therefore, customer lifetime value (CLTV).
Advice from the Experts
We asked experts in gym design and management to share their thoughts on the most effective and exciting design trends in their industry.
“In order to maintain relevance and a competitive edge, the gym owner must constantly be evaluating the design, layout and functionality of their space” says Kelley Gray, Gym Design Consultant and Owner of Dallas-based gym chain Trophy Fitness Club.
Gym spaces, of course, vary hugely. Making the best use of your available space is about considering exactly how design decisions impact members’ experience. “Clubs that are getting it right,” says Dr. Michael Rucker, VP of Technology at Active Wellness, “are designing for user satisfaction.”
This sense of user satisfaction is ultimately what keeps members coming back. “If people like the space they are in,” says Bruce Carter, Owner and President of Optimal Design Systems International, “there is a much better chance they will start and stay on their exercise program.”
We spoke with seven experts about the current gym design landscape and where it’s heading. Based on their answers, here are six design trends that are helping gym-goers across the globe enjoy the satisfaction of an excellent workout:
2021 Gym Design Trends
We’ve done the research and checked in with top experts in the field to bring you and exclusive list of impactful gym design trends for 2020-2021 and beyond. Let’s dive in.
1. Multi-Purpose Spaces & Equipment
Paul Steinbach, Senior Editor of Athletic Business, identifies the rise in popularity of functional strength training as the catalyst for some of the most creative gym designs in recent years. The resistance-based exercises inherent to functional strength training require open, flexible spaces. But even in smaller spaces, many gyms have been able to make innovative use of their floor plans to accommodate for these exercises.
“Using a variety of flooring materials to create dedicated training spaces is exciting,” says Jeff Washburn, General Manager of Vivecorp, a firm that specializes in corporate fitness spaces. “Training staff can be more creative and flexible with their programming, providing a better experience for their members.”
But floor plans aren’t the only innovative and multi-purpose design elements that a gym can employ. Dr. Rucker points out that many gyms are also multiplying the functionality of their equipment, like with “battle ropes that can double as suspension training straps.”
“But clever architects are seizing on this trend in other ways, as well,” says Steinbach, for instance “by designing incline ramps or stadium stairs next to traditional staircases to make the act of traversing a multilevel facility part of the user’s workout experience.”
2. Immersive Group Training
“Something that is big throughout the industry in major cities are boutique group exercise studios,” explains Mark Reynolds, owner of UK-based gym design firm WeMakeGyms. Following in the footsteps of big brands like Barry’s Bootcamp and SoulCycle, many gyms are designing their studio rooms around this business model with “rows of matching high-end equipment ready for classes.”
Because they are so intimate and deeply engaging, group training spaces like these carry powerful branding potential. The equipment is often highly specialized and exclusive, making the experience hard to reproduce elsewhere. Furthermore, these settings are highly atmospheric, drawing from experiential design tactics. Steinbach points to the “immersive workout experience” they afford by providing intense audio-visual submersion. When class is over, consumers leave these exercise spaces feeling like they truly lived through something unique. Where in previous eras gyms were filled with a wide variety of selectorized equipment, current gym design trends favor models like these that revolve around a single machine. “Gyms have less equipment today than they did just a few years ago,” says Gray. “This directly relates to a generation that is looking for increased community in all areas of life, fitness is no exception.”
3. Rewarding Locker Rooms
Many elite gyms are tapping into the psychology of great design, and not simply from an architectural standpoint. “A majority of us tend to let our final interaction bias our sentiment of any given experience,” explains Dr. Rucker. “For many, working out is not inherently satisfying until it is over. Great design offers the member a reward for their hard work.”
The locker room represents a gym-goer’s final refuge after a workout, and its amenities can truly make or break their experience. Dr. Rucker points to Equinox as a shining of example of a brand that pays careful attention to their members’ final moments in their facilities. In addition to a posh atmosphere, their locker rooms are stocked with fine details like luxury toiletries and infused towels. “The peak-end they have designed has led their clubs to some impressive net promoter scores,” he says.
Gray agrees that locker rooms are one of the areas where many gyms could use the greatest improvements. “Members are looking to feel safe and comfortable in an area that has traditionally been overlooked,” he says. Locker room adjustments like larger shower spaces with full sized doors, private towel-off areas, dedicated wet spaces, and well lit vanity areas can all contribute to a member feeling comfortable and satisfied upon leaving they gym.
For privacy panels, especially with the elevated need for social distancing, adding on frosted window vinyl to glass dividers in bathrooms is an easy way to add a luxurious feel while meeting safety standards.
4. Energetic Visual Interest
Of course, copious natural lighting and a stellar view are desirable elements in just about any space. But even when these elements are not possible, contemporary gyms are finding other ways to incorporate branded visual interest into their spaces.
“Dramatic lighting design and graphics make for powerful marketing tools,” explains Gym Brand Architect Cuoco Black. These features give facilities a seductive edge, says Black, because they give off the vibe that a space truly has “a pulse on all that is new and uber-cool.”
But even beyond the attractiveness of striking lighting and graphics, incorporating these elements into your gym design plan can have very practical benefits. Washburn identifies floor graphics and wall murals as a growing trend tied to the rise of functional training. Including these graphics in a gym’s layout, he says, “both increases the energy of the space and provides users with education on how to use newer functional equipment.”
Digital displays are another tactic that gyms are increasingly using both to modernize the appearance of their facilities and to provide motivation for their members. Video displays are becoming increasingly affordable, says Dr. Rucker, and can be used “to push content and messaging, enhance the user experience (e.g., leaderboards), or be used to run virtual fitness programming.”
5. Interactive Tech
Gyms today are in a very unique position at the crossroads of advancing health science, digital technology, and user experience design. The wide variety of interactive, ergonomic, and customizable technologies on the market gives gyms a lot of resources when it comes to innovating their spaces. Of course, equipment is one of the most obvious areas of gym design that stands to be improved by advancements in technology. Reynolds sees functional treadmills like Woodway’s Curve model as hugely influential in the current landscape of gym design. “The fact that they are eco because they run off kinetic energy is the icing on the cake,” he says. Washburn points out that self-powered cardio can also give gym designers some additional flexibility, allowing them “to get creative with equipment placement while not being tied to outlet locations.” Just like the public perception of physical fitness is shifting away from images of bodybuilders towards a functional strength model, evolutions in biometrics and technology are changing the way consumers approach their fitness narrative. Dr. Rucker names technology like InBody devices, Fit3D scanners, and TRX MAPS movement assessments as exciting methods making headway in member onboarding. “There are plenty of good reasons to stay active,” he says. “We are now able to offer improved technology empowering our members with new and improved success measures.”
6. Hip Hotel vs. Hollywood Hangar
The aesthetic direction a gym chooses says a lot about its clientele and their lifestyles. Current trends in gym design point to something of a split between health clubs designed like a soothing hotel and those like a Hollywood action film set. Carter sees the fitness industry evolving to become an extension of the hospitality industry, observing that “many of the trends popular in industries such as hotel, restaurant and retail would now apply to health club interiors.” Gray echoes this sentiment: “Most of the gyms we design today would not look like a gym if you removed the equipment, they could pass as a nice hotel lobby or office space.” Channeling the boutique-hotel-getaway vibe could be especially attractive for members who work in stressful office environments. Washburn sees the use of natural elements and vegetation that are inherent to this aesthetic as helping to create an oasis where members go to “decompress from the stresses of the day.”
Black, on the other hand, finds that many consumers are tired of this “relentlessly curated” aesthetic that has become all too common on Instagram, Pinterest, and HGTV. He finds that the health club industry is primed for innovation with designs that employ theatrical, Hollywoodesque visuals: “gyms that inspire motivation and excitement, gyms that telegraph fitness.”
This more dramatic approach is especially common among “new A-players coming from outside the industry who have a fresh vision for their brands,” says Black, who is excited to see gym designs that depart from those of “chill boutique hotels and restaurants.” But before incorporating any visual trend into your gym design, Reynolds advises thoroughly evaluating the interests and needs of your clientele. “There’s no point having neon lights and inspirational quotes written in street art style graffiti if your target market is suburban families, “ he says. “Know your market and build your business around that.”
7. Social Distancing Signage – But Well-Designed
Let’s be honest – this is a trend that no one saw coming, and isn’t really optional at this point.
Gyms across the country are required – and expected – to include sufficient social distancing signage to clearly communicate to members the rules and spacing needed for everyone’s health and safety.
The upside? Beyond the known health benefits and laws, it’s a unique opportunity to redesign the flow of your gym. You’ll be required to think about what you truly do and don’t need, think about how visitors flow through the gym floor, and their interactions with the equipment.
It’s a forced crash-course in physical user experience planning! We always try to see the upside in everything.
But don’t just blindly choose boring social distancing signage that is totally disconnected from your brand. Make it custom, useful, and communicate your authenticity and brand voice.
Kelley Gray is the owner and founder of the popular and successful gym chain, Trophy Fitness Club, that has 3 Dallas-area locations. He has two decades of fitness industry experience and is an expert at fitness center design, management, and consulting. Kelley holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Dallas and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). Kelley is married with three children. He enjoys hunting and fishing, traveling, teaching his kids’ Sunday School class and coaching his children’s sports teams.
Michael Rucker, Ph.D., is accredited by the American College of Sports Medicine. In 2016, Dr. Rucker was recognized as one of the 50 most influential people in digital health by Onalytica. He sits on IHRSA’s Innovation & Technology Advisory Council. Dr. Rucker is a peer-reviewed author and currently functions as the Vice President of Technology for Active Wellness. You call follow Dr. Rucker on Twitter at @performbetter or visit his website: michaelrucker.com.
Bruce Carter founded Optimal Design Systems International in 1980 and the firm specializes in all types of fitness, wellness, spa and medical facilities. Bruce and Optimal’s projects have been featured in a wide range of media including the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Business Week, Forbes, Elle, Glamour, Women’s Day, CBS, NBC and Bloomberg. ODSI has created approximately $1 billion dollars of projects in 48 states and 33 countries.
Founded in 1977, Athletic Business is an internationally recognized multimedia brand. AB’s award-winning editorial content is read in print by more than 40,000 qualified subscribers and tens of thousands more online representing colleges and universities, high schools, park and recreation departments, military branches and bases, health clubs, YMCAs, professional sports teams, stadiums and arenas, sports architecture firms, and hospital and corporate wellness centers.
Jeff is the General Manager for Vivecorp, Inc. and holds 18 years of experience designing and staffing fitness centers for some of the most recognizable brands in the U.S. At Vivecorp, we understand the unique challenges that come with different types of fitness facilities, from commercial to corporate, residential and multi-family. Jeff and his team transform the client experience through thoughtful collaboration and a unique approach to program and facility design.
WeMakeGyms are experienced fitness specialists dedicated to the design, construction and management of innovative, industry-leading gyms in private homes and commercial spaces throughout the UK and worldwide. Whether it’s an in-home personal workout room, a corporate gym or the focal point of a large residential development, our end-to-end service provides everything you need to create the perfect fitness space.
Cuoco Black is a trusted and respected master fitness facility designer, gym brand architect, design academic and natural bodybuilder. A former faculty member of the New York School of Interior Design, Black advocates for the development of conceptual and theatrical gym models that dominate consumer attention in any fitness marketplace. The designer promotes an ideal that fitness facilities must embrace design attributes which embrace luxury, telegraph fitness, motivate fitness consumers to exercise; and most importantly, amplify the brand. His work includes independent gyms, personal training studios, women’s only facilities, residential fitness centers and new franchise models.
What trends do you see developing in the world of gym and fitness studio design? How does a gym’s design impact your workout experience? Join in the discussion by leaving a comment below.