One of the major themes of the “going green” environmental movement is the concept of bringing the outdoors indoors. It's as if the high-tech revolution has people craving for nature to rejuvenate their stressed-out human psyche.
This movement offers a wonderful opportunity for health club owners to create environments that use different aspects of nature in their clubs. A club should be one of the few places where people can escape into a world that can be quite different from their day-to-day experience. And, just as the right outdoor environment can help motivate people to be more active, a natural-looking health club environment can do the same.
Of course, this objective requires balance. Most people think that health and fitness are about the latest state-of-the-art technology with advanced equipment and programs, so this needs to be combined with the green theme. In other words, when joining a club, people are not looking to use an old manual treadmill in a tent. It is more about adding certain features that help achieve a natural effect that balances with technology.
One of the key aspects in bringing the outdoors indoors is increasing the use of windows. Natural light puts off an energy that pulses harmoniously with the human vibration level. With new clubs, the workout areas (especially the cardio area) should be placed where they can take maximum advantage of the best possible outdoor views.
But what if the view is of a parking lot or an ugly building? If possible, you can place plants or trees directly outside a window, providing a natural green effect and helping block the undesirable view. If that option isn't possible, then windows can be installed higher off the floor so the view is not directly visible, but the natural light is visible and felt. Clubs that add more windows when renovating can create a surprisingly profound effect — a club seems larger.
Another feature that people love in clubs is the use of water, such as a water wall or fountain. This can be the single-most talked about design feature in a club. Ideally, water should be located where members see it when they first walk in and when they are exercising. Water wall units have gotten more efficient and easier to maintain in recent years, making them more attractive to club owners.
Natural-looking materials and finishes can also help clubs bring the outdoor world indoors. This would include earth tones for floor and wall tiles (giving a natural stone effect), bamboo and other types of wood flooring (real wood or vinyl), and laminates that give all kinds of natural effects. These materials should produce a natural, clean look with minimal edges and should not be too rustic. They work better as features than as the dominant décor. The goal is to have a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility, not a hunting lodge.
One last concept to consider is the creative use of plants. Naturally, plants give off carbon dioxide, a positive effect on any environment. After checking with a plant professional about which plants will thrive in your space, you should hire a professional to regularly maintain the plants rather than leaving that task to your staff. A beautiful, healthy plant has a positive effect, and a dying plant has the opposite effect.
Combining a number of green elements can prove a welcome surprise to people visiting your club. This natural experience can make a clear difference in how your club is judged. Just like the beautiful outdoors, your club can be a place people can't wait to get to — and don't want to leave.
Bruce Carter is the president of Optimal Fitness Design Systems International, a club design firm that has created about $420 million worth of clubs in 45 states and 26 countries.