Sal Gaglio's club, Fitness for Health in Briarcliff Manor, NY, isn't a large one — just 4,000 square feet. He keeps the member numbers low — just 100. However, those members are served with 60 pieces of strength equipment and 10 pieces of cardio equipment that have been put in place as carefully as a jigsaw puzzle.

Selecting the right equipment and putting it in place can be daunting to some club owners as the selection for strength, cardio and Pilates equipment grows every year. However, with research and planning, a club owner can ensure that he or she has selected the right equipment from the right vendor and knows where to put it.

First and foremost, the right equipment is the highest-quality equipment a club can afford. Leslee Bender, owner of The Pilates Coach and former owner of Millennium Fitness in Reno, NV, found that out first hand when she bought a cheap piece of equipment and had a multitude of problems with it.

“You are better off biting the bullet and investing in really good equipment because in the long haul it will be cheaper,” Bender says.

Frank Bentkowski, a consultant who works with gyms to select and set up equipment in their facilities, says that a club must look at their needs, budget and their required turnaround time. Those fundamentals will determine what equipment a club should get.

A club operator needs to know the equipment that he or she has and the condition of that equipment. That includes keeping records of maintenance on each piece to see how well it is maintained and how much the club has spent to maintain it. If maintenance on a certain piece of equipment has cost too much, the club owner may need to replace it.

For Gaglio, it all came down to selecting the equipment that would give him the right bang for his buck and his members the right workout at his club.

“I have a lot of members who didn't work out at a gym because they were intimidated,” says Gaglio. “My gym is not intimidating. The equipment is not huge and overbearing.”

Users of strength equipment want variety and the ability to progress in their strength training. For that reason, club owners today can't just purchase all one line of strength products. Instead, club owners must offer three levels of strength equipment that allow members to progress.

For members who are just beginning a strength training program, selectorized equipment often works best because it offers better support and path of motion. In addition, selectorized equipment is often easy to use, especially since many of the machines come posted with directions about how to use the equipment.

Eventually, members will want to progress to more difficult machines, which may be selectorized or plate-loaded. Often, these more advanced machines allow independent motion of limbs, which adds to the variety of the workout routine.

The most advanced strength trainers will opt for free weight and cable motion selectorized units, which allow users the most freedom in their routine. They offer independent movement and paths of motion defined by the user.

When it comes to selecting Pilates equipment, a club owner must first determine whether the club will provide group programming, studio classes (which are more one-on-one) or rehabilitation. If a club wants to go with group programming, then the club operator may want to invest in some Allegros, possibly about five to six pieces to begin with. A studio set up, on the other hand, might just require two Reformers, a Cadillac and a chair. A rehab setup would require Pilates equipment conducive to deal with rehabilitation issues.

The safety and functionality of the Pilates equipment must also be considered. Equipment should be easy for the member to make adjustments on their own and for members to readily understand how to use them. For safety, look at whether the machines have rounded corners, nonskid surface and protrusions.

The club owner must consider how the equipment will fit with the ambiance of the club. Some Pilates equipment comes in warm tones of wood while other equipment comes in the high-tech look of aluminum.

A club owner that wants to do a group Pilates program but doesn't want to dedicate space for it will want to purchase portable equipment.

Cardio equipment is perhaps the most used equipment at most clubs, which means plenty of cardio should be on hand to avoid annoying lines. No easy formula exists for determining how much of each piece of equipment a club owner will need. A club owner just starting out should check around at other clubs to see how much cardio they have, how many members they have and whether lines develop to use the equipment. Plenty of room should be left for additional equipment as membership grows.

Of course, which equipment a club owner chooses will depend on the club's demographics. A women's only club may want to go with a line designed for women's bodies. A club for seniors may want to select recumbent bikes rather than upright bikes and may go with equipment that is easy to get on and off. If the club has a robust personal training program, the operator needs to understand the kind of structured activity that the personal trainers want to offer so he or she knows what equipment will enable that. In addition, a club operator would need to consider equipment quantities carefully if several personal trainers are training at one time and wanting to use the same equipment.

Most equipment comes with a two-year parts, one-year labor warranty, Bentkowski says. Pilates equipment often comes with a five-year warranty. Club owners should have the manufacturer take care of the equipment as long as they will, he says. A club owner can go through the warranty cycle every three years if they buy new equipment every three years.

“From day one with brand new equipment, buy a great warranty,” Bentkowski urges. “Whatever warranty you buy, it will always be worth it. So even when you are trying to penny pinch, agree to buy the extra warranty.”

To find the right vendor, shop around and ask other club owners their satisfaction with their manufacturers.

“I find it important to have someone who is going to be good on follow up and that is dedicated to getting back to you if you have a problem,” says Bender.

Bender also suggests asking about the service guarantee and whether a representative who can fix the problem lives in your area.

“The worst thing for a club is to have equipment down,” Bender says. “Members will leave then.”

She also suggests going to major industry trade shows and trying out equipment before purchasing.

“Go test it, feel it,” says Bender. “Would you go out and buy a brand new car unseen? Probably not.”

SPACING OUT

The fine line between offering enough equipment for variety and not cramming too much into a small space is sometimes crossed at gyms, but good equipment layout not only improves aesthetics and comfort but it also decreases liability. Club members must be able to walk between equipment without getting injured.

The Americans with Disabilities Act recommends three feet between equipment to accommodate wheelchairs, but many equipment manufacturers recommend the following:

  • 6 feet behind treadmills

  • 18 inches or more between stationary bikes

  • 8 inches or more between treadmills, elliptical trainers and stair climbers

  • 4 feet behind bikes, ellipticals and stair climbers

When spacing strength equipment, make sure to allow room for moving appendages and for walking space while those appendages are moving.

General rules for Pilates equipment placement, according to one manufacturer, is 60 to 80 square feet per Reformer. The machines themselves only take up about 20 square feet but there needs to be plenty of access area and room for the various moving parts of the Reformer. A club with just two Reformers can position them so they just need four feet between them.

The manufacturer can offer help with equipment layout, particularly in preventing Reformers from being placed in front of doorways or windows or in a location where people walking into the room will be confronted with users' back ends. In addition, the room needs to be set up so that the instructor can see all the users.

In addition to horizontal space, club owners need to remember vertical space for all equipment. When people step onto a treadmill, they are lifted off the ground, but a good design will keep them from feeling like their head may hit the ceiling. Ellipticals raise a person 18 inches off the ground. In addition, a chin dip assist machine can be 95 inches high — and the user's head has to go above that.

“So the recommendation is to know and understand the utilization of your space,” says Bentkowski. “Don't guess. Measure it out.”

In the cardio and strength areas, manufacturers generally recommend grouping like equipment together with taller equipment in the back.

Once Gaglio decided on the equipment he wanted, arranging it required the help of a software program that allowed him to see how the equipment would fit best. Some of the equipment was placed back to back with the weight stacks next to each other. Still, plenty of room exists between equipment, Gaglio says.

Gaglio has set up his cardio equipment near the many windows in his gym. The arrangement not only allows members a view outside but also allows outsiders a view inside.

How a club looks to outsiders and members is vital to attracting and keeping members. For that reason, club owners must know their members and do their research before selecting the right kind and the right amount of equipment. In addition, they must design an equipment layout that is pleasing to the eye and makes the member feel comfortable.