Seven years ago when Hervey Lavoie sat in the lobby of a major Chicago-area health club in a mostly residential area, he counted the number of people who came into the club during the peak hours already dressed to work out. The number totaled 15 percent. In January, Lavoie sat in another residentially based health club, this time in California, and counted those who came in during peak hours dressed and ready to work out. The number had risen to 40 percent. Those numbers reflect a growing trend that architects, such as Lavoie, president of Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative in Denver, have recognized and are taking into consideration when renovating or designing locker rooms.
In essence, locker room use, while still high at clubs in business areas, has declined at clubs in mostly residential areas, says Lavoie. Chalk it up to time and privacy concerns. Many members don't have the time — or the desire — to change and shower at a facility before or after a workout.
While it's perhaps difficult for club operators and staff to relate, a large percentage of the population is not comfortable in the traditional locker room atmosphere. For the 85 percent of Americans who are not members of health clubs, their only exposure to locker rooms comes from their days of high school physical education classes. They are people who don't have a history of athletic participation, who didn't play sports in high school and college, and who aren't comfortable with a locker room environment that includes a bunch of naked people walking around, said Lavoie.
“People who played on sports teams have gotten used to that, but there's a huge portion of the population that wouldn't consider joining a club because they aren't used to that,” he said.
To make that huge untapped market more comfortable in the locker room, clubs are moving toward more private spaces.
“There's more privacy and a generosity of space where two people can pass without having to rub up against each other,” Lavoie said.
The drive for more privacy at clubs has led to locker rooms geared for subsets of members other than just for men and women. Family-oriented clubs have had family changing rooms for quite some time, but now even non-family-oriented clubs are putting in family rooms or assisted changing rooms. These clusters of individual rooms allow a mother and son, father and daughter or an elderly husband and wife to change together when one of the individuals needs assistance. The assisted changing rooms have a shower, toilet and sink, but often the locker is part of a common area where the members can complete their grooming process.
Some clubs are also including an adult-only section in each locker room and a section where a parent can bring in children.
Another change comes in the lockers themselves. Individuals who come to gyms already in their workout clothes often only need a locker to secure their gym bag or purse and a spot to change their shoes, Lavoie says. For that reason, some clubs are installing “express” lockers, which are often smaller and can be located outside the locker rooms with benches to allow members to change their shoes. Locating these lockers outside the locker room helps decrease traffic in the locker rooms and creates more privacy for those changing in the locker room.
“We create three locker alcoves in the coed part of the club that gives them a secure…locker like in a locker room,” Lavoie said. These lockers often are just half or quarter size lockers.
In addition, the toilet facilities are changing in many locker rooms to allow for more privacy. Three out of four projects that Lavoie's firm works on involve toilet rooms, which are small rooms with walls from floor to ceiling and a door that encloses one toilet. Each room is ventilated separately from the other toilet rooms.
For the Back Bay Fitness Club in Newport Beach, CA, privacy was a primary concern. Each locker room features three toilet stalls, three sinks, two showers and 30 lockers. The toilet stalls, while still the traditional stalls with open bottoms and tops, have no more than a 1/8-inch opening between the stall and door for privacy. The benches in the locker room sit up against the lockers for a more private feeling. In addition, the locker area has partitions that separate no more than 10 lockers in a row, providing a greater sense of intimacy, says Lisa McGhee, co-owner of Back Bay Fitness.
The shower area was particularly important to McGhee, who disliked not having a private space to change in the locker room. Each shower stall features an attached private dressing room with a faux leather water-treated bench, hangers and frosted glass to allow showering and changing in a completely closed off area.
In addition to an emphasis on privacy, many higher-end clubs design their locker rooms with a lounge-type atmosphere in mind. The Athletic Club of Overland Park in Overland Park, KS, has had “lounge” locker rooms since it was built 17 years ago, says Rhonda Pollard, GM of the Athletic Club. Both the men's and women's locker rooms feature about 350 lockers as well as a couch, TV, chairs, a phone, an ironing board and an iron. Each area also features a separate steam room, hot sauna and whirlpool. The men's locker room also includes a cold plunge area.
The women use the lounge area for private phone calls, getting ready for a workout and waiting on friends, says Pollard. Some of them also use it for abdominal work and stretching. The lights in the lounge area can be dimmed, allowing the women to stretch in privacy and in a relaxing environment. The locker room provides privacy and the ability to take care of things such as ironing clothes, but it also provides camaraderie, says Pollard. For the men, they often gather around the television to watch sporting events before and after working out, providing an opportunity to talk and joke around. For the women, the lounge area tends to be geared more for pampering. The lounge area features three separate makeup areas with bright light bulbs for illumination. The locker rooms include shaving cream, deodorant, powder, blow dryers and lotion.
Regardless of gender, the locker room lounge is important to the members of the Athletic Club. The club built the locker rooms with lounges to provide a country club atmosphere, said Pollard.
“To this day, we have some male members who don't use one piece of equipment or court,” said Pollard. “They come in and steam, do the plunge, shower and then go about their day.”
For the membership at the Athletic Club, a lounge atmosphere is a must. The membership is older professionals (generally between 45 to 50) who are more affluent with grown or almost-grown children.
“The problem with the lounge approach to locker rooms is that including a couch and TV in a locker room area can lead to a feeling of being watched for the individuals in the locker room who are undressing, said Rudy Fabiano at Fabiano Designs. Besides, who wants members spending their time in the lounge watching TV instead of working out? Instead, he suggests offering a lounge space outside of the locker room.
The lounge area of the locker room at the Athletic Club requires stepping through a doorway to get into the actual locker room area, said Pollard.
“You wouldn't see one person changing in our locker room [from the lounge],” said Pollard.
While lounge-type locker rooms haven't gone completely out of vogue, more clubs are now making locker rooms a bit smaller because fewer people are taking the time to use them, says Lavoie.
The lower usage of locker rooms doesn't mean that locker rooms are no longer important parts of a club. Back Bay Fitness caters to the affluent in Newport Beach, CA. The newly opened 5,000-square-foot club keeps its clientele in mind in every area of its facility — even the locker room.
“When we built this facility the two most important parts were the entryway and locker rooms,” said McGhee of Back Bay Fitness. “We get nothing but compliments on [the locker room].”
McGhee and her business partner, Katherine Coultrin, paid special attention to the 500-square-foot locker rooms because, as a transition area before and after exercise, it provides the first impression and the last impression of any health club.
“Our goal was to make sure that when they walk in the door, they have a similar experience to when they walk into their homes,” said McGhee. “It's key to these people. It's going to leave a huge lasting impression.”
Members at Back Bay Fitness receive complimentary gym towels, yoga towels, cherry wood veneer lockers with digi locks, hangers, toothbrushes, hair ties, and a make-up station.
McGhee simply asked people what their wish list was for a locker room, and she said that they asked for little things that she never thought of.
“It was worth it,” McGhee said about adding all the details to the locker room and the facility in general. “We knew that when we were making our decisions. We went the extra mile knowing our clientele and knowing what we wanted to achieve in the long run.”
That's perhaps the most important part of a locker room design: knowing what your members want and providing it, especially as the industry reaches out to bring the deconditioned and locker room-wary member into the fold.
CALL THE PLUMBER
While plumbing issues may seem cut and dry when it comes to locker room renovations, an evolution in design has occurred in regard to plumbing location. In the early days of locker room design, owners perceived an economy to clustering all the plumbing, meaning that showers, vanities and toilets were all in one part of the locker room. However, now the industry sees that while clustering may work on the cost side, it doesn't work for the user. It is not appealing as a user shaving at a sink to see a row of toilets behind him, says Hervey Lavoie, president of Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative.
“It's not about the plumbing,” he says. “It's about what it feels like to be a user walking around a locker room with a bunch of naked people.”
Besides, showers and toilets don't necessarily mix, Lavoie says. “There's a wet floor shower pattern and you don't want that mixing with people coming in in street shoes using the toilets,” he says.
So, for your next locker room renovation, take a walk in your members' shoes and consider plumbing solutions that allow for more privacy and respect for personal functions than may have been afforded members in the past.