New technology is often synonymous with advances in science—more specifically, computer science. This is a logical assumption given that we live in a digital era. However, technology has a scope that extends beyond the constraints of the computer. Within general definitions, technology encompasses the practical application of knowledge to design and implement systems that help solve human problems. These systems, as they relate to the fitness center, are far reaching and affect all aspects of gym design and operations, including equipment design, training aids, member experience and operational efficiency.

As fitness professionals, we must provide our members with the best tools to achieve their health goals. This partnership begins with the new technology provided by equipment manufacturers. Strength equipment design has seen little change other than modifications in the biomechanics of machines. In fact, weight training is one area that in some ways has regressed away from technology, instead increasingly incorporating routines that use old-school equipment, such as kettlebells and medicine balls. This is an example of a trend taking over technology to keep workout routines new and interesting—and to keep members motivated. Cardiovascular equipment also has changed little in the way of function, other than the introduction of a new specialty piece every so often. In either case, it is important to keep current with new equipment, to forecast trends and to allot floor space in the design process that accommodates new equipment.

Perhaps one of the most beneficial recent technological advances for gym members has been in the area of training aids, such as heart rate monitors/controls, MP3 players and downloadable workout routines, equipment with personalized web-based workout monitoring/tracking and virtual reality cardio programs. These tools monitor progress and keep workout routines interesting. Although some of these tools are self-contained devices provided by the member, many of them are Internet based. New facility designs and renovations must take this into account and include public computer kiosks and wireless Internet access throughout the facility. Of course, this also means making sure you have the correct electrical configuration in place to meet demand for bandwidth.

Creating the optimal member experience is another major factor to consider when designing a fitness center, both in terms of providing personal comfort and a safe workout environment. The industry has seen a shift towards individual experiences. Drop-down TVs and streaming music are being replaced by such things as personal screens and iPod docking stations on cardiovascular equipment. Considerations to both electrical and cable configurations during the design stage will save a great deal of time and money, rather than trying to retrofit your facility. Creating a safe workout environment for your members goes hand-in-hand with personal comfort. Advances in green, environmentally friendly products, such as low-VOC paints and high-efficiency HVAC systems, have allowed gym owners to incorporate these into their design while enhancing their members’ experiences. Research on the feasibility in terms of design capacity and cost-effectiveness of these systems is the first step in the implementation process.

Streamlining efficiency is an important factor from an operational standpoint. Advances in such things as web- and software-based entry systems/membership programs and the popularity of the Internet have led to a new digital era that uses less paper. Now, virtually every form within the fitness center can be offered digitally. Other factors affecting the front desk/check-in process include such things as the rise in popularity of digital locker locks. Nowadays, the large amount of space dedicated to key cards and member files has been replaced by a single computer terminal.

Another example of technology streamlining efficiency is the rise of asset management software built into some of the new cardiovascular equipment. This software “flags” equipment malfunctions by sending a service-needed message to the appropriate party via the Internet. With this system in place, club owners can cut down on the time it takes for equipment repair. With both of these examples, as stated above, planning for the correct Internet configuration and choosing to purchase the correct software/equipment with these features is an important design consideration.

The above-mentioned categories are just a few examples of the technology affecting gym design. One important point to remember is that, regardless of whether or not you are dealing with new technology or a new trend, it is important to stay informed. Keeping up to date on new technology as it relates to the fitness center will help you keep a competitive edge over those stuck in the Dark Ages.

Kurt Broadhag, MS, CSCS, LEED AP, 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. Broadhag can be reached at (310) 601-7768 or by e-mail at kbroadhag@kallanconsulting.com.