John Grossi likes his view. Not only is his new 60,000-square-foot club located near a treed conservation area that can been seen through many of the 12,000 square feet of windows that surround his club, but Grossi can also see the stream of people — 5,500 so far — that are lining up to join the Gold's Gym Methuen, which is in Methuen, MA.
Part of the reason new members are streaming in is because of the cardiovascular areas set up throughout the club, all of which Grossi also has a clear view. Totaling about 5,000 square feet, the cardiovascular areas include a women's only area, an area on the first floor between the pool and basketball court, an area on the second floor that overlooks the whole site and another area on the second floor that wraps around the mezzanine and overlooks the entry area.
A lot of time and effort went into developing the cardio areas to give members, most of whom are baby boomers, a variety of views, equipment and intensity levels in their workouts. Having an effective cardio area or areas can be a major draw for the deconditioned baby boomers and other markets that are heeding the advice to get healthy through cardio workouts.
One of the elements new — and current — members want is variety; variety in views, equipment and location. Rudy Fabiano, owner of Fabiano Designs and architect for the Methuen club, says that one major way to offer variety is to establish several cardio areas. Larger clubs should consider setting up two to three cardio areas, each with a different feel to cut down on the boredom factor for long-time members, he says. Fabiano suggests a hard cardio area where the users can see all the machines and then an area that's softer in intensity in a plaza type setting. He's seen some successful enclosed cardio rooms including a few that are large, darkened rooms resembling theaters with large audiovisual setups.
“There's more anonymity, and you can zone into your own groove,” Fabiano says about the darkened theater environment.
The 2,700-member, 25,000-square-foot Gold's Gym in Smithtown, NY, also has two cardio areas: an 1,800 square foot area on the first floor and a 1,000 square foot area on the second floor. The second floor cardio area is a loft-style setup overlooking an unusual stairwell and part of the first floor to the front door, says Susan D'Amodio, director of operations at the club.
The Smithtown facility has 65 pieces of equipment in the two cardio areas, including treadmills, ellipticals, upright and recumbent bikes, steppers and StairMaster StepMills. Grossi's club has about 120 pieces of cardio equipment, 30 of which are treadmills. He also has steppers, climbers and ellipticals.
To have an effective cardiovascular area, clubs must have treadmills, ellipticals, upright and recumbent bikes, stair climbers and rowing machines, according to manufacturers. Treadmills are still the most used product in clubs because users are the most familiar with them, says Mike Peszynski, facility layout support specialist at Life Fitness.
When it comes to determining how many pieces of equipment a club should have, it all depends on the type of club involved and the membership demographics as much as the number of members. Grossi, with 20 years of experience in clubs, uses his past experience to determine the quantity for each type of equipment in his club. D'Amodio also relies upon her experience in the business. However, she does say that it's a good idea to leave extra room in a cardio area for additional pieces of equipment if needed. Club owners and managers must continually monitor the cardio area to determine which pieces are the most popular and where lines form.
Grossi isn't afraid to change out his equipment, constantly searching for the latest release. However, he understands that members often have their favorite types of equipment, which means changing out equipment too often can be detrimental unless it involves newer models of the same equipment.
The general practice for most clubs has been to locate the cardio at the front of the club hoping it would attract new members. Peszynski says that the cardio area is less intimidating to new members than the strength training area, particularly since most people are familiar with cardio machines.
However, Fabiano disagrees.
“Although cardio is considered a user-friendly exercise that everyone outside the industry can relate to, cardio areas in general are pretty intense,” he says, “meaning that when you first walk into the club, if you have cardio at the front, you are going to be confronted with an intense environment.”
Walking into a club, a new member will see 40 to 50 people working on rows and rows of equipment that's making a lot of noise and that's focused in one direction. Fabiano says that could be a barrier and could intimidate new members.
Of course, the location of the cardio area may depend on the goal of a club. The biggest reason people use a facility is for cardio, Terry Woods, senior product manager at Star Trac Fitness says, so if the goal is to attract people from the street, then the club wants to put cardio first in the club, maybe even display the cardio area in a window to the outside. However, other clubs use the supermarket approach of getting members into the club and getting them to the back of the club to use the cardio, hoping that on the way in or out they will use the other equipment they see along the way.
“So, it depends on your goal,” Woods says. “You want to keep them in the club as long as you can, so putting the most used part of the club in the back will help.”
Both Grossi and D'Amodio's clubs keep the cardio areas toward the front and the free weight area in the back. Both facilities have an open design that allows an individual to see from one area of the gym to another without many barriers.
“When they walk into the club, it's all glass,” Grossi says about his club. “They see the cardio. They feel the energy.”
D'Amodio's club has a weight room in the same area as the downstairs cardio area, but the area is set on a deck two feet off the floor. Despite its higher initial expense, cardio decks offer advantages in terms of wiring, the flexibility of the equipment, and the ability of users to look over other equipment. However, decks put cardio users on display for the rest of the club, something not everyone enjoys.
Good equipment lay out is essential in an effective cardio area. If the club has TV monitors at the front of the cardio area, the equipment should be set up so that the taller machines are in the back and the shorter machines are in the front, allowing for TV viewing by all.
However, when it comes to whether equipment should be grouped by type or mixed up, the experts disagree. Equipment manufacturers often suggest that equipment be grouped by type because it makes for a more impressive statement to new members. New members who walk into a facility and see just two or three bikes together may think that's all the bikes a club has, not realizing that the bikes are dispersed throughout the cardio area.
“Keeping equipment together is helpful,” says Woods. “People like to know where something is when they come in. If they have to go look for something, they look dumb.”
Grossi keeps the cardio equipment grouped by product and manufacturer so that all of his Nordic Trac treadmills are together in one area while his Life Fitness treadmills are in another. Grossi groups the equipment like this to make it more impressive and to show new and current members the activity and excitement levels in the club.
“It's a great selling point,” Grossi says. “It looks nicer, more uniform.”
Besides, it's less expensive to group the treadmills together to take advantage of one height level for TV viewing and the need for outlets in certain areas.
Fabiano, however, prefers to mix and match equipment.
“I know that owners are product oriented and spend a lot of money on the equipment, but we have to resist the temptation to show what we've got and instead create a good atmosphere for the user,” Fabiano says. “The hardest thing is to be the third treadmill in a row of eight treadmills,” which he says can make members feel like sardines.
To reduce claustrophobic feelings and to improve safety, enough space must be allotted between machines and rows. Woods says that Star Trac recommends a minimum of 20 inches between products although the American with Disabilities Act recommends three feet between equipment. Peszynski suggests at least 18 inches between bikes and eight inches between treadmills, cross trainers and stair climbers.
However, the most important spacing is the space behind treadmills. Star Trac suggests two feet behind each treadmill to prevent people who fall off from hitting the wall or another person or piece of equipment. Peszynski suggests six feet from the back of the treadmill to the start of a new row. He also suggests 42 inches behind bikes, ellipticals and stair climbers (for wheelchair clearance).
Cardio area design not only should offer a safe and effective workout but also should provide a pleasant visual experience and a comfortable atmosphere. Because of the tendency for cardio equipment to face forward only and for users to look at a defined spot only, building up that area architecturally to distinguish it will make the gym more appealing, Fabiano says.
“The cardio area is an opportunity to do something nice architecturally,” Fabiano says. “I think it's a mistake not to take advantage of the inherent different feeling that cardio gives you as opposed to free weights.”
Windows to a great outdoor view can provide a greater visual element than any architectural design.
D'Amodio's cardio area does not include any window-facing machines, but Grossi's does, taking advantage of the view of the treed conservation area around the club. If they tire of the great outdoors, members can watch the televisions installed above the windows.
Lighting is a more important element in clubs than some owners may think. Fabiano suggests lowering the lighting level 20 percent to 30 percent in the cardio area.
“It helps bring the largeness of a cardio area down,” Fabiano says. He also suggests uplighting rather than blaring overhead light, which can create glare on TV screens.
Fabiano suggests that the décor remain simple in the cardio area because of the large number and pieces of equipment in that area.
“You should think of cardio as sort of movie theater looking,” Fabiano says. “You are a viewer in a cardio environment.”
Flooring in the cardio area can be carpet, rolled free weight rubber or bamboo in higher-end clubs. Carpet reduces noise more than the other materials, but some owners say carpet is more difficult to clean the sweat and lint, and it must be replaced about every four years. The rubber flooring is easier to clean, but it doesn't reduce sound as well. Bamboo is a grass so the bamboo floor is ecologically sound. It is 30 percent to 50 percent more dense than wood and is easier to clean, but its ability to absorb sound is not as great as carpet.
Grossi had carpet installed in his cardio area because he says it looks nicer than rubber, which he says is too intimidating.
“Rubber belongs in the free weight area,” Grossi says.
However, the Smithtown gym stays away from carpet in the cardio area because it causes friction with the machines, gathers dust, is hard to maintain, and oil from machines can stain the carpet. Instead, the facility uses rolled rubber flooring, which D'Amodio says is easier to clean and move equipment around on.
Both Grossi and D'Amodio say they wouldn't change anything about the design of their cardiovascular areas. They feel the setup works for their members and gives them room for additional equipment. They recommend that club owners who are building clubs or redesigning clubs think about future needs, including additional equipment. And, don't be afraid to go big with the cardio area.
That advice is even more valuable as baby boomers begin joining health clubs in growing numbers. They'll be making a beeline to the cardio area, says Grossi, because that is what they are familiar with. Having an effective cardio area now with room for expansion, ensures a club owner will be able to accommodate the crowd as it grows.