Gyms are preparing to reopen, and this has many operators rethinking the design of their facilities. Beyond enhanced cleaning routines, many operators will be making significant changes to the design of their gym to make sure members know their safety is at the heart of their business. But what does a post-COVID gym look like? And how can you make the necessary changes without compromising the customer experience? We sat down with Richard Sheen, Commercial Sales Director at Pulse Fitness to find out. We talked to Richard about:
- Beyond adding space between equipment, what else operators need to consider
- How operators can enhance the experience
- How COVID has impacted purchasing decisions
- The potential pitfalls operators should look out for
Adding more space between equipment will be a given in a post-COVID world, but what else should operators consider?
In order to adhere to the ukactive guidelines of 100 square foot per person, gyms will need to consider reducing or rearranging the equipment they have on the gym floor. This requirement has caused a mixture of changes. Some gyms have simply removed equipment to allow for two-metre distancing. Other gyms, have put signs or screen savers on every other machine saying they are temporarily unavailable due to social distancing measures. We have seen some gyms in other countries purchasing and installing expensive Perspex screens to divide the cardio equipment, but this hasn’t been a trend to date in the UK. The reality of the cardio area is that this is where people are going to breathe more heavily and sweat more, so some gyms have rearranged their equipment in a clever way where everyone is facing and breathing away from each other. This creates a slight complication in terms of connecting the machines to electrical outlets, but with a clever design, it is possible and can work well.
In a free weights area, gyms can add a two-meter perimeter around each product and where possible, remove temporarily some products or extend the area.
In strength areas, we’ve tried to position products so they are facing away from each other or adequately spaced so people are never close enough to be touching.
What can operators do that will actually enhance the experience vs. compromising it?
Operators need to return to financial viability as soon as possible and the only way to do this is to ensure members know you’re doing everything possible to ensure their safety.
Some gyms have created a booking system to limit the number of people in the facility. People can book 1-1.5-hour timeslots and gyms build in time for deep cleaning in between bookings. This strategy is not the most sustainable model. During that deep cleaning process, many gyms are using fogging, a mist that you spray on equipment that kills bacteria. But the reality is that as soon as someone comes in and touches a treadmill handle or picks up a weight, they are potentially contaminating that product. Fogging can also be extremely expensive, especially if a gym has multiple locations.
The actual way forward is a proven, trustworthy, air purification system that is continually running in the background that kills all bacteria, not just COVID, but things like e-coli or mould as well. This kind of system, originally seen as a luxury, would be 100% effective and would allow gyms to get back up to maximum capacity with complete peace of mind for members. There are affordable, cost effective options that exist today, and in my opinion, this is what is critically needed by operators.
How has COVID impacted operators purchasing decisions when it comes to equipment? What sorts of things are operators now looking at that perhaps they didn’t before?
Many forward-thinking operators have looked at ways to maintain their volume of product by expanding areas within the facility to accommodate equipment that would normally need to be removed due to social distancing. For example, many operators have repurposed unused nurseries, studios or sports halls to create more space. Other operators have purchased equipment and have it in situation but have it temporarily unavailable until social distancing measures can be relaxed in gyms.
Many gyms are thinking about innovations in cardio equipment like HIIT-style products or products with variable movements. Typically, gyms divide their space evenly between cardio, functional/resistance training, and free weights. This trend and layout mix is continuing despite the pandemic.
What sorts of equipment work best in a socially distance gym?
Resistance machines tend to work best as you can space them out a lot more.
Functional areas are more versatile in terms of layout. You can control the volume of people by making different stations available with adequate spacing.
General Stepmills will also provide height which will have people breathing higher up and at different levels which helps prevent people breathing directly at each other.
How can operators consider the flow of traffic effectively?
Layout the equipment to create borders and walkways. This is especially important for gyms who do not have natural walkways through the facility. You can then create stylish branding like arrows and signs to manage the flow of traffic. These can include messages in line with the brands voice, rather than generic arrows. There are several options for transfers that sit on laminate or carpet that look quite stylish. There are always natural ins and outs in a gym, so pay attention to natural openings and exits. Then, make sure you educate your members through communications and social media. That way, they are prepared for the changes before they arrive.
What potential pitfalls can you foresee that operators should look to avoid when it comes to gym design?
The biggest mistake operators can make is crowding the gym with too much equipment. Make sure you have the right mix of equipment and that you cater to the percentage of the members that you’re currently allowing in. Make sure you monitor the usage of the products. If you are minimising the products you have, you need to make sure it’s not the most popular equipment that gets the highest usage.
While this is certainly a challenging time for operators, it’s also a great opportunity for gyms to work with suppliers to redesign the gym, reinvest and create the right mix of equipment. If you invest in the right product from the start, you save money in the long run.
Also, communicating with your members is important. Make sure you tell them what you are doing and why. The message you give is important so it is an opportunity to emphasize the benefits of exercise and how it can help in the fight against COVID.
For more information about Pulse Fitness, go to https://pulsefitness.com/