In a recent survey about health clubs in Consumer Reports, the magazine indicates that for many people, the idea of a health club is “totally unappealing” citing “overcrowded facilities, sweaty equipment and grunting weight room fanatics.” Of course, the product our health clubs are selling is exercise, which is itself unappealing to most people.

Therefore, the challenge is clear. Many people don't like the message or the messenger, yet these people are constantly looking for a solution to their weight gain, low energy levels and overall poor health.

It may seem unlikely, but the proper interior design and décor can help club owners solve this dilemma. How a club looks and how it makes a person feel play a powerful role in making a club more appealing to people for whom exercise and clubs are so unappealing. It's almost as if a club has to not look and feel like a club. A club that has a beautiful and inspiring presence will make the deciding difference for many people who are considering joining that club. A pleasing design can overwhelm the negative attitudes and perceptions people have about most fitness facilities today.

One of the most important design factors for any size of club is the proper use of space. How should club owners use the space in their clubs to make sure that the facilities and programs they offer will maximize sales and retention?

More large clubs exist than ever before, and they are able to offer a wider range of programming and equipment options than smaller clubs can. To compete with this, smaller clubs often end up dividing their already limited space into even smaller areas, which generally results in relatively small workout areas for cardio and strength equipment. Because 80 percent of members spend all of their time in these two areas, that change can mean overcrowding in those areas.

A cramped area with a lot of sweaty people is a turn-off. Space — even if it's just the appearance of space — is good marketing. Design variables such as higher ceilings and more windows can make areas of any size feel more spacious. Therefore, the main exercise areas should be kept as large as possible, even if it requires sacrificing an auxiliary area, such as a second group exercise room.

However, these areas do not have to be wide open, especially because many deconditioned people are uncomfortable being exposed to so many people. Space dividers such as Plexiglas, frosted glass sections, water walls or partial walls can help separate people without closing in a space.

However, do not separate strength equipment areas in a club (machines in one area, free weights in another). Most strength workouts involve using both areas, thereby requiring members to uncomfortably move back and forth from one area to the other. Cardio can be separated, but it is best to keep free weights adjacent to the strength machines.

Some space trends appear to be here to stay. Open any fitness magazine, and you will see some type of core or functional exercise being performed on a mat or with a stability or medicine ball. All club owners should devote space — and not just token space — in their clubs for functional training. With the use of personal training growing and personal trainers increasingly relying on functional training, these spaces can be some of the most financially profitable.

Many aspects are needed for a successful club design, but the proper use of space is a starting point. Prioritizing what a club will specialize in will help determine what a club should and should not offer and how to use the space. Clubs of all sizes have the potential to be successful if club owners remember to use their space wisely.

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.