The 10 Biggest Design Mistakes Fitness Facilities Often Make


Fitness facilities of the future will use state-of-the-art aspects of design differently from how clubs use them today. Clubs that do not change run the risk of becoming clubs of the past. Some significant design mistakes keep clubs rooted in the past. Knowing what these 10 mistakes are before beginning a new design or renovation will result in a beautiful and inspiring club that gets you the most value for your investment and puts you on track for the future.

1. Thinking club design does not matter that much

The vast majority of people dislike exercise. In fact, only about 5 percent of the U.S. population regularly exercises at health clubs. Therefore, clubs must offer an experience that goes beyond the workout itself. Extraordinary design can provide such an experience.

2. Not working with a plan

A good design takes into account a variety of variables, such as budgets, sales, marketing, growth for the future, facility offerings, space planning and efficiency, plot plan, and existing elements (doors, windows, columns, mechanicals and fire exits). If a renovation is done in phases, all the phases need to be coordinated with regard to space planning and décor so that all phases fit together. Renovating one part of the facility without thinking about how it will work with the other part can result in a disconnected and confusing environment. Planning out budgets also is important, as spending too much of the budget on one area could leave owners without money for future phases.

3. Designing and decorating a club to your taste

Often, owners forget to design for the market's needs and wants, rather than their own, which most often fails to excite members.

4. Trying to fit in too much stuff

In an effort to get everything into a facility, club owners sometimes end up with a wide range of offerings and equipment that are crammed into too little space. This creates a cramped feel and limits traffic flow.

5. Not using a professional with proven health club design experience

Proven professionals get the “Wow!” and “Oh, my God!” responses. Designs done by owners rarely do.

6. Making choices without thinking of aesthetics

Some decisions about seemingly innocuous items negatively affect a club's appearance. For example, a club owner might purchase a bookshelf or bulletin board at Target for the lobby, but the item might clash with the surroundings, making it feel out of place and throwing off the balance of the overall design.

7. Not “wearing the shoes” of your customers

People in the fitness industry think everyone views a club and exercise like they do. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most people hate exercise and see clubs as boring and intimidating. Proper space planning (including social areas) and beautiful non-intimidating interiors ease people into the exercise experience.

8. Failing to focus on every detail of a design

The wrong decisions about details often create costly long-term problems that easily could have been prevented with better initial decisions. For example, if club owners don't know to choose non-slick tile for the locker rooms, they'll end up spending money to add mats to the floors, which look bad and require more cleaning.

9. Thinking that the cheapest way is the best way when it comes to décor

The days of refusing to accept that design and décor are a major influence on club sales and marketing are coming to an end. Budget priorities have to include dynamic interiors because a club's environment is just as important as the equipment itself in attracting new members and creating word-of-mouth advertising.

10. Making a bad first impression

This mistake is so simple to avoid but often occurs anyway. Scientific research has shown that the moment people walk into an environment, they start to “take pictures” mentally of that space and immediately judge whether they like or dislike it. Clubs that focus little attention on first impressions can lose out on potential new members.

Make sure that your new design or renovation does not fall prey to one (or more) of these design mistakes to significantly increase your potential for a more competitive and profitable club. To the majority of your market, a motivating environment can do more to attract new members than exercise itself.


Bruce Carter is the president of Optimal Fitness Design Systems International, a club design firm that has created about $600 million worth of clubs in 45 states and 26 countries.

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