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Turning Your Office Fitness Center Into an Asset

Gensler office

Most buildings have one, though it’s usually tucked into leftover basement space like a neglected piece of furniture. Such is the plight of corporate fitness center: Underutilized and musty smelling, they don’t tend to see much activity, and if they do, it’s hardly an enjoyable experience.

Fitness centers do not generate direct revenue and it is not the first thing tenants look for when leasing space. However, the fitness center can be an asset that sets your building apart from others for that very reason.

Fitness and wellness are now critical issues in corporations everywhere. Successful companies understand the correlation between healthy employees and productivity. Wellness plans are beginning to include fitness incentives in benefits packages. Corporate fitness centers can easily answer a need for a convenient workout option.

It’s time to move the corporate fitness center out of the basement and breathe some much needed life into this traditionally underutilized space. One reason that most people don’t use corporate facilities is they are uninspiring places, typically out of site and therefore out of mind.

Design Principle #1: Let there be light.

Natural lighting improves performance. As widely illustrated in studies ranging from academic performance to faster recovery times in hospitals, it is well know that natural light has a positive effect on the human body. Sunlight directly affects the levels of serotonin and the hormone melatonin in the body resulting in feeling calm, alert and reducing depression tendencies. Also, people are more drawn to facilities with natural light so locate the facility along the perimeter of the building with windows.

Design Principle #2: Show them what they are missing.

People are not comfortable entering fitness areas that they can’t see what is going on. Perceived safety and security are paramount to creating an enticing environment.

Gensler office

Provide a space where people can see the activity taking place inside without compromising users’ anonymity. Achieving a balance of transparency and privacy is important. Consider a design including translucent screens that you can see people inside and sense the activity, but not be able to identify the individuals.

And make sure the center is located on a well traveled path. No you may not put it in the basement.

Design Principle #3: Provide sturdy, well maintained equipment and provide a purpose to go.

You don’t have to purchase the most current state of the art equipment. There are many fitness sources that offer quality equipment on a leasing plan. This allows you to rotate in new equipment as well as have a maintenance plan in place.

Building owners often opt to buy the equipment outright because it is less expensive but when the equipment breaks it sits for a long period of time with no maintenance. That is when you start to lose your clientele, as they fall out of regular fitness routines.

In addition, you need to activate the space. Variety is critical in whether or not people stick with an exercise. Consider offering group exercise classes. It not only ties in the social aspect of exercise but it also encourages activity at specific times of the day. You may even find that some of your employees are actually already fitness instructors so your staffing needs may be easy to fill.

Kari Frontera secretly desires to one day turn every workplace into a gym thus eliminating the excuse of not having the time/opportunity to fit in a workout. Believing that the world’s problems can be solved through sport, she strives to bring in an element of recreation to every project. Kari is the Southeast region’s practice area leader in Sports and is always willing to discuss the intricacies of recreation and fitness facilities. Contact her at kari_frontera@gensler.com.

Reader Comments (13)

I couldn't agree more. It is so important to turn "gyms" into "fitness centers".

The typical gym smells of sweat soaked into carpet and tire rubber floors. Some gyms like this, they want the smell as gym rats love that environment.

But, at work you don't want that. Work is to be streamlined and organized. So you want to keep the space full of fresh air and keep it easy to clean. Don't use materials that suck in sweat and smell. We just did Stubhub.com in San Francisco and the whole office space has a feel of a fitness center. Employees love it.
11.10.2011 | Unregistered CommenterEvan Adams
Very true, Evan. Material selection is paramount in fitness center detail. Selecting the right finishes combined with a well designed mechanical system can easily solve the smell issue.
11.11.2011 | Unregistered CommenterKari Frontera
Hear, hear!

One key to the success of a fitness center is management making it clear that it's not only okay to use the center, but *actively* encouraged. This is best done by example, but also by promotion campaigns and even internal fitness challenges.

With rising healthcare costs and rising obesity rates, no company can afford to implement only passive employee health benefits and hope things work out. Organizations have to get progressive and aggressive in this battle, and that definitely includes fitness centers for big companies, and for smaller companies, locating in buildings or on sites that provide shared facilities.
11.11.2011 | Unregistered CommenterEL
I think one of the hindrances to fitness center use is time -- we all know that its easier to get in a 45 minute (or 60 minute) workout in mid-afternoon or some other facility "down" time -- but even in firms that actively encourage employee fitness, there is often tacit disapproval of someone being gone in the middle of the day. Many of our tasks are deadline dependent, not "being at your desk at all hours" dependent. Most of us are adult enough to work as necessary to meet a deadline or attend a meeting.
Regular all day use can have other benefits -- you don't need to size the gym and shower facilties for a three time a day peak load (before work, lunch and afterwork); but rather for an average load. The facility is used (and therefore safer) more hours of the day. The equipment count can be based on average use rather than peak use. And, employees have the option of using the facility at a time that really works for their bodies rather than a proscribed time. I've personally found that a 2 pm workout does wonders for that slumpy time in the mid-afternoon.
11.22.2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Whitacre
Great point, Anne. There is definitely an argument to be made for flex hours. As a culture we are being requested more and more to work evenings/ nights/ weekends as a result of the globalization of our work in addition to being "on call" for our clients, so why not be able to step out during the day to workout without feeling guilty. The key is clear communication and planning so the last minute scheduling of meetings doesn't create resentment when someone is at the gym.
11.22.2011 | Unregistered CommenterKari Frontera
Yes- most desireable to have natural light. I used to design fitness centers for Equinox and I've been doing a couple of corporate gyms now. Right now I have a project where the fitness center (and medical center- thus being deemed "wellness center") are located in the basement- with no natural light. This was deicded before Gensler was on board as part of the master plan for this project, so we get to make this a destination. We are at the very beginning of this project and thus I have already stressed to the lighting consultant how important lighitng will be in this. What's interesting is, in New York, there have been a number of clubs (David Barton, Crunch) that have gone more for that dark club look- sort of night club esque.
I agree with opening up the views as well so taht one can sense the energy- I find this to be majorly important to get more people to participate, esepcially in group fitness classes. I've seen too many studios that are closed off and that cuts off the energy and the motivation to try new classes.
11.23.2011 | Unregistered CommenterKatie Michael
I had the pleasure of staying at a hotel the last couple of days that took the light/views advice to heart - the fitness center was on the top floor in a corner spot with floor-to-ceiling windows, opening up fantastic views to the hilly vistas in the distance as the sun came up in the early morning - WOW! The hotel was nice overall but this was the highlight.

I usually crab about fitness center fees at hotels, but I'd pay to use this one...and the next time I travel to this city, I'll be sure to stay at this hotel. There's really a payoff for the owner to do this right, whether it's a hotel or an office building looking to attract tenants and command strong lease rates.
11.30.2011 | Unregistered CommenterKEK
Hotel fitness centers are fascinating studies. Hotels are often old and have been remodeled over and over. Many of the fitness centers are placed into spaces not initially intended.

I'm a tall 6'4" and was in a L.A. hotel. The fitness center was great, except when I got on the elliptical. My head got within inches of the ceiling and it really effected my workout. Luckily when I realized it was a dropped ceiling I was able to just move the paneling aside so there was an open spot above my head. People looked at me like I was crazy but I sure got a more comfortable workout in.
12.2.2011 | Unregistered CommenterEvan Adams
It's always a good feeling to work in an office that smells clean and fresh and has a great ambience!
12.5.2011 | Unregistered CommenterGerard Brightman
I am working with a global law firm with an office in the heart of Paris occupying an entire building located on the banks of the Seine. The fitness facility is on the top "penthouse" floor with exercise equipment facing full height glass walls with spectacular views of the Seine and the Grand Palais directly across the river! There are "french" doors that open onto an outdoor balcony for those who want fresh air and an even better appreciation of spectacular views! Amazing! I wish I could post some of the photos I took there to give the full impact. Kari, let me know if you would like photos!
01.6.2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteven Martin
I would love to see some pictures. How are you handling the impact needs on the outdoor space? It sounds amlost hawaian with the indoor out door use. Does all equipemt remain indoors?
01.6.2012 | Unregistered Commenterevan adams
I would love to see the photos, Steve. The interesting thing is my new apartment building here in LA has the same thing. They actually have some of the equipment actually outside on the roof. Granted that isn't really feasible in climates that change as much as they do in the MidAtlantic region.
01.6.2012 | Unregistered CommenterKari Frontera
Nice information, thanks to the author. It’s helpful to me now, but generally, the usefulness and also significance is overpowering. Thanks again and all the best!
08.15.2015 | Unregistered Commenterbest fitness band

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