After years of fitness clubs being dominated by sterile, uninspiring wooden boxes lined with mirrors, today fitness studio operators recognise that image is everything. So what does it take to build an awe-inspiring space that members can’t wait to sweat in?
Fitness design legend Rudy Fabiano, whose firm Fabiano Designs is responsible for iconic gym designs for some of the world’s biggest operators including Gold’s Gym, Xtend Barre, YogaWorks and more, offers his top tips for creating a standout studio.
Draw inspiration from other sectors
Very few great ideas simply appear out of thin air. Most are inspired by our experiences, so it’s vital to always keep your eyes open for design ideas. Theatre is always a great source of inspiration, as are cultural events, and the trendy boutique clubs have harnessed these particularly well. Think of a nightclub or a concert where people are inspired to get up and dance. That’s a beautiful thing, a spontaneous eruption of movement and joy. I look at that and I think, ‘there is something gyms can learn here’. Group exercise isn’t just a class, it’s a performance, so the studio has to support that performance and elevate it through design and the way it makes members feel.
Sit across the key trends shaping fitness design
In an industry as trend-driven as ours, it’s vital to stay on the pulse and this is just as true when it comes to design. In the industry currently, I’d say clubs are looking for a cleaner and more stripped-down aesthetic. There’s a bit of a Bauhaus ethos at the moment, driven by efficiency, economics, and a desire to strip away the BS in the name of authenticity. I think ‘form follows function’ is going to start to be more the rule and style. Great clubs are going to be simpler, more honest in their approach and delivery. That said, coloured lighting – done well, I should add – is also proving popular and I think this will remain the case for the next 3-4 years at least.
Think about the ‘Gram
Instagram has played a big role in helping to bring club design, and fitness in general, to the fore. If you can create a great-looking space to showcase a workout, then members are happy to snap, share on Instagram and rave about it to their friends. Create Instagram-friendly walls that say who your club is and help members to tease out ‘This is where I’m at, I’m having fun, why don’t you join me?’ Get this right and members will become a major cog in your social media machine and will effectively do your marketing for you.
When it comes to designing a great fitness studio, you need to ensure you have enough space for everybody. Too often clubs undersize their studios. Having more people in a group studio is a good thing – it’s smart from an economics perspective (see graphic below) and it builds a buzz. Then it’s about choosing the right lighting, flooring and acoustics to create a sense of theatre.
But without a killer sound system and without a rockstar Instructor who knows what they are doing, you can have the best studio in the world and it is not going to move.
On a more practical note, storage is another important factor that gets overlooked. Your storage solution needs to look great, optimise the space and make it easy to reach the equipment. We actually like putting the storage by the doors so you can grab your gear on the way in and put it back as you leave.
Choreograph the entire member experience
We always live by our guiding principle that when you design, you’re actually choreographing someone’s experience. How do you want people to feel and when? You’re not leaving it up to chance, so you need to consider every detail. What happens when your customers come into the club space? Where do they see it? When do they see it? What are the proportions of the space? What is the lighting? The flexibility of the space? What do the door handles feel like?
Choreography is an important element of club design. But instead of designing workouts, in this case you’re designing emotional cues to help shape an experience.
Avoid common club design pitfalls
A major pitfall I see is not having a big vision for your club or studio. By this I mean being short-sighted in terms of just looking at the ability to improve just one area through design, forgetting that the member experience is from the front entrance, right through to the back of the house. People will spend a million dollars designing their lobbies, but then ignore the fact that the free weight area lighting is horrible and the acoustics suck in the group ex studio. Not taking the opportunity to look at the club holistically is a big mistake and one you should avoid.
Don’t prioritise style over substance
For all that we’ve spoken about the importance of design to the club member experience, I’m not going to short-change the importance of having a great team and great programming. That’s the heart and soul of the fitness space. Design is the backup that makes all those things look good. We make all those things feel right. We make people feel at ease and comfortable to take that next step in going from a gentle yoga class to a more intense workout like BODYPUMP.
That said, design can have a huge impact on shifting perceptions and changing the way people feel when they’re in a space. I’d argue that Les Mills has always been at the forefront of understanding that programming doesn’t live alone, and that design is critically important to elevate that experience and make it more than just a workout. I was always amazed by how Les Mills was able to build 8,000sq ft studios and make them feel intimate, appropriate and the backdrop for a theatrical performance. Frankly, I learned from those a little bit, but through my designs now, I am trying to give inspiration back.
*Article originally published on Les Mills.