How to Design for the Optimal Cardio Experience


Kurt Broadhag, MS, CSCS, is a fitness professional with more than 15 years of experience in personal training and gym design. He is president of both K Allan Consulting, a firm specializing in health club design and management, and 23D Gym Design, which develops both two- and three-dimensional fitness center layouts. Kurt can be contacted at 310-601-7768 or via e-mail at [email protected].

How many membership sales opportunities have been won or lost by your cardiovascular area? Modern members have seen the light. Gone are the days of long, drawn out cardio sessions where members count down the time—second by second—for what seems like an eternity, only to find out they have burned off only one-quarter of the dessert they indulged in the previous night. However, with today’s modern advancements, fitness facilities can offer their members the ability to exercise with a new audio/visual (A/V) experience.

Studies show that gym members are much more likely to use cardiovascular equipment that is placed in front of TVs. The reason is obvious: Many associate cardiovascular exercise with suffering and boredom. How does this affect the gym owner? Boredom decreases one’s motivation, creating a downward spiral of fewer trips to the gym and the eventual cancellation of a gym membership. With proper planning and design of the cardiovascular area, gyms can increase membership sales by offering a high-tech exercise experience that is also functional and safe.

In the past, there was one type of A/V system available to the gym—the drop-down TV. Eventually, that morphed into personal screens. Today, these two systems are available, as well as a new trend: cardio cinema. Each system is specific in terms of design aesthetics, and each has its benefits and drawbacks.

Drop-down TVs
Drop-down TVs consist of a row of TVs placed in front of the cardiovascular equipment. This is the most cost-effective system to install.

The viewing angles in relationship to the cardiovascular equipment are an important consideration with design. The optimal viewing angle for each TV is about 30 degrees, or 15 degrees each way from the center. This means that equipment should be placed so that each cardio piece has a TV within 15 degrees of line of sight, both to the side and above. Lower equipment, such as bikes, is placed in the front row so as not to block the line of sight of the larger pieces, such as treadmills and ellipticals.

There are a number of additional factors to consider with this system, including ceiling height, TV size, number and make-up of cardiovascular equipment and type of audio-delivery system.

Personal Screens
Personal screens are the new gold standard for the cardiovascular A/V experience. Each piece of cardiovascular equipment has either a personal screen that is either on a stand or built into the unit itself. These are preferred over the drop-down TVs because they allow each user to choose what they want to watch. In addition, these systems save space because they eliminate the room needed between the TV and the cardiovascular equipment.

The one downside to this system is that you have to plan for individual cable and power. Although each unit can be spliced or daisy chained, you must determine the power load for the electrical and the signal strength for the cable to determine how many units can be linked together. Proper planning with either floor outlets or some type of cable floor housing should be considered.

Cardio Cinema
Many larger fitness centers are developing cardio cinemas, or cardio theaters, in which cardiovascular equipment is placed in front of a theater-size single screen. This type of set-up normally consists of a theater-style arrangement where the cardio decks are tiered for better screen viewing. Facilities should take into account ADA compliance for these systems to ensure that they are not discriminating by offering this stair system.

There are a number of common factors to consider with each of these systems in terms of member safety and personal space considerations. Each design must incorporate at least 36-inch walkways. In addition, design needs to be planned for accessibility for each type of equipment. Treadmills, climbers and some ellipticals are rear-access pieces and can be placed fairly close together, often only 8 inches apart. Other pieces, such as bikes and some ellipticals, are side-mounted and therefore must have enough clearance on the side for members (at least 2 feet). In general, the higher-end the facility, the greater distance you should have between each piece of equipment.

It is not enough to provide members with the equipment needed to get and stay in shape. Members must also be motivated to reach and maintain their goals. With the proper planning of the cardiovascular area, you can design a safe, functional cardiovascular space that ensures a strong, healthy membership.

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