The Fitness Facility of the Future

There is a varied and impressive array of facility types on the horizon. What is your vision?

But now erase all that you know from your mind about how your club looks and what it offers. Replace the blank space that’s left with your new vision; that of the facility of the future. How far into the future you go depends on you and your imagination. Now that you’ve started to create, what is the physical structure of this new place? How does it feel when you enter? What sounds come to your ears? What type of lighting and colors do you notice? What services are offered? Who is coming to this facility? What products are on sale? How large or small a place is it?

While you are contemplating the need to view the movie Blade Runner, we thought it might be interesting to pose those same questions to some of the visionaries who are already dreaming, planning, designing and building their “facility of the future.” Who knows? In a few years you might just walk into someone’s dream. Maybe even yours!

The Family Club Manager

“Our market is and will continue to be family-focused. That is our niche. I think for us and any club, we have to know our vision and niche and then try to do it well.” So states Greg Lappin, general manager at The Rochester Athletic Club (RAC) in Rochester, Minnesota.

In line with that mission, the RAC recently completed a $5 million renovation that includes the family-oriented Neighborhood center. Now, when families come to the RAC, the children can enjoy indoor miniature golf, a playground, trampoline basketball (sounds intriguing), artificial ice for practicing hockey skills, a high-school-size gym with a wall that has active electronic games (very futuristic), street games, automated tee-up golf cages and a practice putting green, batting cages, video games, a café and party area (Dance Dance Revolution) and a whole slew of other activities geared toward youth of all ages and interests.

It’s typical for the RAC, which boasts 260,000 square feet of space, to be a few years ahead of the pack when it comes to planning for the future. With The Neighborhood now in full swing, Lappin is already looking toward the next few years. “After our recent remodel, there will be no major physical changes in the near future. We are, however, looking very hard at our Deli—in terms of design, concept and layout. Within the next 2–3 years, we’ll probably look at a whole new offering [for the Deli]. And I would love to add a third indoor pool or an indoor water park [to complement the outdoor seasonal water park].”

Lappin is focused not only on physical changes but also on programs that will draw people in and make them part of the “RAC family.” “We are always analyzing services, programs and classes,” he says. “For example, we now do a ‘Date Night’ twice per month that has grown to an average of 75 children in attendance. And, like any club, the group exercise area changes the quickest. We built a new mind-body studio as well as a Pilates studio. Classes like these, plus yoga, are appealing to more and more people, so we will be constantly looking at ways to improve and update our programming.

“I also believe we are in the lifestyle change business, not the athletic club business, so I am spending time and financial resources to continually analyze ways to help people see results and make changes,” he shares. “With that in mind, we are now working with an exercise scientist, dietitians and a behavior change specialist on a program that shows great promise for the future. This program to improve behavior and put people on a pathway to success and meaningful lifestyle change is in its second generation [and the RAC wants to lead the way to the third].”

As he organizes and plans for the next generation, Lappin reflects on his vision. “The biggest thing owners and managers have to know is that the business is going to get tougher and tougher. There will be more clubs and a greater variety of services and programs offered; all to a finite number of customers. The facilities left standing in a few years will be those that offer (and anticipate) the product and results that customers want. We have to continually challenge ourselves to improve. Innovate or evaporate. That is our business value.”

The Wellness Coach

With a background in healthcare and biotechnology, Margaret Moore, MBA, of Wellesley, Massachusetts, founded Wellcoaches® 7 years ago as a way to “deliver high-quality, standardized wellness coaching services, supported by the Web, to help people master wellness on a large scale.” She saw the need for professional coaches who could guide others along the path toward lifelong wellness. So the future was already in her mind back in 2000, as she anticipated the demand for a proven and effective way of helping “people change their ingrained bad habits and maintain better habits.”

Moore’s current predictions for the relationship between wellness coaching and fitness facilities address two compatible needs: body-mind-spirit wellness and exercise adherence. As the definition of fitness evolves from a focus on physical health to one more based on the interweaving of the physical and mental, wellness coaches help clients set realistic, achievable wellness goals. “While getting fit, losing weight, eating well and managing stress are among today’s breakthrough medicines,” says Moore, “adopting these behaviors continues to elude most of us.”

She expects cutting-edge facilities to include access to wellness coaching in the same way that most facilities now offer personal training. She envisions wellness assessments for new members instead of fitness assessments, as part of a well-rounded program. When people become members at a facility, they will be offered wellness coaching packages as part of their orientation. These packages could stand alone or be sold in conjunction with personal training sessions. Moore sees opportunities for “mature, skilled personal trainers to master wellness coaching,” which could mean clients would get their wellness and personal training from the same professional. She also believes there will be a “stable” of local wellness coaches who will provide coaching services alone, and who will cross-refer with trainers in order to provide a balanced, consistent program for each client.

Some of Moore’s ideas are very specific: “Members will meet with a wellness coach once per year for a 90-minute planning session, and then for a 40-minute session each quarter in order to update their plans.”

In her mind, the facility of the future won’t be limited to what can be seen and heard inside the club; she sees wellness coaching as an aspect of fitness that could occur “outside the box.” In the facility of the future, “a new coaching category will be created for members who use the club infrequently (once per month, for example) and who meet a wellness coach for a session, by phone or in person, once or twice per month.” (So it seems phones will remain part of the future!)

As another feature of the future facility, Moore sees a new type of group class. Just as the industry evolved from dance exercise and aerobics to include group strength training and small-group personal training, she expects it to continue expanding to include “group wellness coaching classes for members and the community.”

As evidence of the strengthening link between the wellness and medical fields, Moore is involved with Harvard Medical School’s plan to build an institute of lifestyle medicine, where physicians will teach and model the benefits of lifestyle change. As the future becomes the present, Moore is looking forward to the “cross-referencing” that will help people take control and credit for improving their health. “Health clubs are well-placed to build relationships with local physicians, to facilitate the education that these physicians will need regarding coaching for change, and then to refer clients to wellness coaches. [These relationships will particularly benefit people who are] unfit or who come into the club infrequently, yet use it as a resource.”

The Interior Designer

Over the past 34 years, Cindy Maxion, owner and founder of Maxion Design of La Mesa, California, has designed more than 350 sports and athletic clubs.

In her work, Maxion emphasizes the details of color, smell, sound, fabric, lighting, technology, art and risk-taking, and she believes strongly that the facility of the future will look, feel and be very different from the clubs of today. “We now have a heightened awareness of the necessity to treat our world in a more environmentally responsible way. Green architecture is on the lips of every club designer. At present, the air inside our facilities is 2–5 times more polluted than the air outside. Every 2,000 square feet we build results in 25,000 pounds of construction waste. Luckily, lighting, heating and cooling systems are now available that can cut our bills in half. In addition to this, we are combining natural and man-made materials, blending old and new architecture and celebrating light and transparency. The old approach of blasting every room with light is archaic, and a more sophisticated layering approach in lighting is evolving. Contrast is key in finishes: shiny red next to earthy matte brown, high gloss next to rough texture, modern next to old. These contrasts represent our desire to respect the past while being cutting-edge and looking toward new beginnings.”

Beyond looking at how design impacts the environment, Maxion considers how the environment affects the human body: “Our environment can help or hinder our immune system. Forward-thinking club owners are recognizing the need to refine design details, as it’s now known that curves and soft lighting, harmony in a sophisticated color palette, sound played at particular decibels, balance in architectural forms, and repetition of design are all elements that make the human body feel better.”

Maxion also has a vision for the role of technology. “Networked environments are the wave of the future. We’ll see computer stations in the childcare areas, locker rooms, and smoothie and coffee stations. New and better programming will show in climbing walls, running tracks, spa rooms and system controls. Technology will have a huge impact on club operation controls, sound systems, information storage, cardio theater and communication systems. Equipment will be individualized, adapting to each person’s physical form and abilities. Fitness clothing will light up, and furniture will mold to our bodies. Fabric architecture will evolve to the point where it will be feasible to change the look of the club as the seasons and activities change.”

Essentially, all aspects of the club experience will be designed to cater to the individual.

In a final comment on the new wave in facility design, Maxion offers some thoughts from the female perspective: “Women are rightfully taking their place as leaders and decision makers while simultaneously respecting their feminine differences, both cultural and physiological. Women can pay for, and expect, more individualized treatment, information, beauty and pampering in clubs. Women are demanding more services, privacy and value for their money. The growing influence of women is changing the face of the club industry to one that will include more luxury and amenities.”

The Renaissance Man

At the root of Jim Root is a strong belief in customer service and how we are all part of a community. As the general manager of spa operations at the Sea Island Resorts in Georgia, Root sees a renaissance, or rebirth, as part of the future of what he calls “well-being.” The Sea Island Resorts are steeped in tradition, history, service and luxury, and the plan is to reach toward the future while respecting the past.

This is happening in a number of ways. The flagship classic hotel, The Cloister, was razed and completely rebuilt, reopening in April 2006. Across the green, a brand-new spa and fitness complex opened this past November. In the next few months, a lifestyle kitchen will open, while a fully equipped Pilates studio is set for spring. Also planned for 2007 is an upgraded optimal-performance training center, which will focus on running, swimming, golf and sport psychology. And there’s more. Just around the corner is the opening of the Beach Club, which will have residences, a movie theater, beachside dining, three pools with private cabanas, a 5-mile private beach, access to the kids’ club and a retail beach shop. Since Sea Island is private property, resort guests and residents will all be part of the same community.

“We’re building (both literally and figuratively) on our message of well-being. We have over 100 classes per week, yet the focus isn’t on programming; it’s on the three R’s: rest, restore and reunite. In 1930 our founder spoke of community, and even though the words he used have changed, the meaning is still the same. The pace of life today needs to slow down in order to bring balance. The currency of today is time; that’s the luxury of today and the future. People want to reclaim their time. With that in mind, our programs and services aren’t the focus; they’re the vehicle. Our future isn’t to bring life to our classes—that’s a given. It’s to bring our classes to life. We are very philosophically based.”

But in a resort that has played host to presidents and other world leaders, how does Root marry tradition and generations-old expectations with the desire to establish a footprint for the future? Easy, he says. “The key is in our setting. We’re on an island. To get here, you have to physically slow down as you cross the bridge and drive over cobblestones. Once here, one-speed bikes are the main method of transportation. Our oak trees were planted during the time of Woodrow Wilson. It’s very quiet here, and there are very few lights from the surrounding area, as it hasn’t been built up.” From there it’s an easy transition to the future, where a two-story atrium, contemplative garden and waterfall lead you into the new spa.

“Our past, present and future are based on timelessness. We have all the latest technology, but it’s behind the scenes and appropriate, and never replaces the one-on-one connection. It’s what I refer to as a ‘high-touch–low-tech’ approach. I want to leverage our history in a way to help our guests feel that they are contributing to it, while simultaneously creating a bridge for the next generations.” For a place that has been run by the same family for over 79 years and has attracted generations of the same families for all that time, it seems that the future will be very relaxing!

The Doctor of R&D

Kevin Steele, PhD, must be a guy who wears shades, as he believes the “future’s so bright.” As the vice president of research and business development for the Eden Prairie, Minnesota–based Lifetime Fitness chain, Steele has to think big as he is planning ahead for growth: the chain already has more than 64 clubs in 16 states. “Lifetime has committed to between 10% and 15% year-over-year growth, with an average size facility of approximately 125,000 square feet on 13 acres, based on availability of land in our target markets.”

As part of this big-picture plan, Steele’s vision is broad. “Our model will constantly be refined based upon four elements: our members’ needs; space efficiency; cutting-edge programming; and creating a nice environment for members and employees.”

Taking the long view of demographics, Steele offers some thoughts on the needs of tomorrow’s youth. “I believe the facilities of the future will dedicate roughly 40% of their space, programming and services to the health and well-being of youth 3–13.” [Moving away from a ‘baby-sitting’ model], we are beginning to see progressive operators dedicating large amounts of square footage to a comprehensive delivery of kid fitness. Since schools can no longer afford to provide traditional physical education, our industry has a huge opportunity to fill this void and assume this incredibly important responsibility.” Specifically, the programming will be geared toward “movement to develop/enhance kinesthetic ability, proprioception, team sports, sports performance and other fundamentals that are important for skill development and physical conditioning.”

Speaking as the scientist, exercise physiologist and nutrition expert that he is, Steele also has his eye on the state of our weight! “As a whole, our industry hasn’t figured out the correct sustainable delivery system to provide a long-term solution for the yo-yo weight loss cycle that the majority of people have been in for years. I believe we will ultimately crack the code that will help us deliver the winning combination of regular, consistent exercise with a healthy eating strategy.”

Just as school chefs must multiply the numbers in recipes to provide for the multitudes, so Steele must think in big numbers for the Lifetime chain, and the issue of hiring qualified staff will continue to have its frustrations. “I expect significant momentum and interest in an integration with the healthcare industry, plus the blending of the mind-body space with our more traditional Western operating models, but in order for these segments to grow, our industry will need to recognize the importance of legitimate and credible education and certification for our fitness professionals. This is a topic that our industry has wrestled with for years, and I believe we’ll continue to look for the appropriate solution.”

As Lifetime—with its three cornerstones of exercise, nutrition and education—positions itself to lead the way to a lifetime of fitness via trained exercise professionals, organic cafés and integrative programming, Steele has his sunglasses ready!

The Spa Presidents

As the leisure and fitness industries have changed and overlapped over time, it’s probably safe to say that now the two are symbiotic and both can address the overall issue of wellness. As Lynne Walker McNees, of Lexington, Kentucky, president of the International SPA Association (ISPA) puts it, “With nearly 14,000 spas generating $9.7 billion in annual revenue, (one can say) spas are for everyone. Just like the modern fitness center, they are part of the modern healthy lifestyle. The partnership between spas and fitness centers underscores this development and strengthens the relationship between the mind and body.”

But what does this modern healthy lifestyle mean for the future? According to Annbeth Eschbach, president and chief executive officer of Exhale Enterprises of New York, “there is a large and growing consumer appetite for living the spa life, which has dramatically impacted the growth of services in residential, resort, hotel and living spaces. As a result, the experience of the future will offer more and more satellite fitness environments.”

Eschbach’s faith in the future of the “spa life” as part of a community environment is captured in her use of descriptors. “The use of the word facility to describe the place to be active or get fit will decline. [Rather, we will refer to] environments that deliver programs. These environments will be in homes, offices, spas, hotels, hotel rooms, retail stores, department stores, condos, resorts, airplanes; anywhere consumers can access movement and well-being easily and on a daily basis.”

Walker McNees sees opportunities and growth within the fitness center walls, as well. “Offering spa services in a fitness center gives guests the opportunity to focus on complete health, wellness and stress reduction under one roof. As issues such as obesity and stress have become of serious concern, spas are poised to make a difference by incorporating fitness, diet and overall health into their offerings. Specific examples include healthy-cooking classes, seminars on achieving balance and managing stress, daily exercise techniques and treatments.”

So, according to these two presidents, the environment of the future could be anywhere and everywhere, as long as it’s a place where guests (they don’t call them “members”) can find energy, motivation, relief, vibrancy, balance and stress reduction.

Setting Your Sights

Well, what is your vision? Do any of these ideas resonate with you? Do you feel your inner maverick coming out as you mentally map the blueprint of tomorrow? Given the numerous ways to become fit and well, and the many ideas people have about where and how this will occur, the future is sure to bring an impressive array of choices. Whether they will be found in buildings or states of mind, time will tell.

What is the physical structure of this new place?

How does it feel when you enter the facility?

What type of lighting and colors do you notice?

What services are offered?

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Alexandra Williams, MA

IDEA Author/Presenter
Alexandra Williams, MA, is a contributing editor for IDEA Fitness Journal and co-owner of the Fun & ... more less
April 2007

© 2007 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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