Design Principles to Consider for Your Group Exercise Studio

Design Principles to Consider for Your Group Exercise Studio

The design of group exercise studios is crucial to a superior member experience. Prior to any studio construction or renovation, club owners should keep the general principles of studio planning and design in mind.

Here are the basics:

Size and shape: User capacity can be figured at 50 square feet of open floor per occupant. Room shape should be conceived with instructor location and student sight-lines in mind. Combinations of straight, curved or angular walls can create attractive spaces.

Entry and exit: Doors should always swing out and be located at the back of the studio, so late arrivals do not disrupt the class. Studios larger than 1,500 square feet often trigger a code requirement for two exit doors. A generously dimensioned assembly space, with a water supply and towel racks, immediately outside larger studios will enable groups to gather outside the studio before and after classes without creating congestion.

Flooring and ceiling: Flooring choice is driven by programming purpose, durability, maintainability, safety, comfort and style. Have fun researching the options and challenging the knowledge of your designer. Ceiling designs have great impact on the feeling of a studio. Both the appearance and reality of adequate overhead clearance are essential; a nine-foot clearance to the lowest ceiling element is a minimum, with 10- and 11-foot clearances preferred. Variation in the ceiling plane is beneficial for both visual and acoustical reasons. Open ceilings, exposed to structure and utilities, can be used to good effect when coordinated with lighting design. Avoid lay-in panel ceilings; they are too reminiscent of sterile office environments.

Equipment and storage: Many studios find their occupant capacity reduced by piles of steps, racks of balls and stacks of mats. Providing adequate storage for equipment is key to efficient use of program space. Our rule of thumb is 1 square foot of storage for every 25 square feet of floor space. Storage areas must be positioned to allow users to easily circulate as they pick up and return items.

Privacy and visibility: Owners often rule out glass walls for studios due to the perceived need for privacy, but without some glass, potential participants can only assess the room by opening the door and looking in. There are creative ways to screen a glass wall for privacy, including decorative glass pattern treatments and window coverings, both of which can allow motion, light and color to be seen without compromising privacy.

Mirrors and views: Exterior glass and attractive vistas are always an asset to a group exercise environment. One concept for an ideal four-wall studio will have one wall for mirrors, one wall for exterior glass, one wall for interior glass and one wall for storage. A fully mirrored wall—full width and floor to ceiling—always has greater visual impact than a partially mirrored wall.

Style and theme: Studios are prime candidates for esthetic enrichment, such as colorful floor graphics, large wall banners, decorative glass, specialized lighting and acoustical surfacing. These details can help establish a theme for the room: calm and Zen-like for mind/body programming or high-energy for more vigorous activities.

Lighting: Indirect lighting arrangements are always best for a room where participants are likely to spend time on their backs looking up at the ceiling. Controls should be wireless or located convenient to the instructor.

Acoustics: Interior resonance is always an issue in studios. Bear in mind that hard surfaces everywhere will create an echo chamber that is not desirable for group activities.

Heating and cooling: Comfortable space conditions for group activities are a result of properly engineered solutions to a variety of environmental factors, such as outside air temperature, humidity, air movement, occupant load, intensity of activity, cooling and heating capacity, type of lighting, wall/roof construction, rate of air change, controls and filtering. Due to the complexity of these variables, club owners should seek professional engineering assistance rather than try to resolve the issues themselves.

Group exercise environments are rich in opportunities for distinctive and differentiating design. Let the creative juices flow and watch your members vote with their feet and fill your classes to capacity.


Hervey Lavoie is president of Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative, an architecture, aquatic design and interior design firm. With 35 years of design experience, he has completed club design assignments in 42 states and six countries. He can be reached at

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.