Forget the extra amenities! Do you have enough of the "required" elements in your locker rooms? ACSM provides basic standards and guidelines, and other fitness facility operators share what they use to gauge their locker room needs.

The first thing most of your members do when they enter your fitness center is go to the locker room. Maybe they change, store their belongs in a locker, use the bathroom, wash their hands. Already, they have an impression of your facility - and it isn't if you have fancy soap or a modern color scheme (although those things can be important). They've noticed whether they had enough space to get changed, had a bench to sit on, had a locker that was big enough for all of their things (and to hang a jacket or suit), and whether they had to wait to use the toilet or wash their hands. In other words, the basics. While a luxury locker room is nice, all of the extra amenities in the world won't please your members if they have to crawl over other members just to get to a locker.

So, how do you figure out how many benches, lockers, electrical sockets, shelves, hooks, toilets, showers and sinks you need? While most of those decisions are made by your architect or building codes, you do have a choice to provide more than is required, and many fitness centers regret not having enough of something.

What is required

ACSM's Health/Fitness Facility Standards and Guidelines, Third Edition, offers both standards and guidelines for fitness centers for construction and renovations. In addition to this book, federal laws, plus state, county and city regulations/codes will dictate what you must offer in your locker rooms. In fact, Standard No. 11 in the ACSM book states, "Facilities, to the extent required by law, must adhere to the building design standards that relate to the designing, building, expanding or renovating of space as presented by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)." And, Standard No. 12 states, "Facilities must be in compliance with all federal, state and local building codes."

Your architect and/or contractor should know your local building codes, and you should be aware of them also. These codes specify how many toilets, sinks, electrical outlets, etc., you need to have for your type of business, the number of occupants and the amount of square footage.

When building or renovating a locker room, rules set by the American with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) must be followed. These guidelines say, "When provided, dressing, fitting or locker rooms must be accessible, and comply with all ADAAG provisions. If [lockers] are in a cluster, 5 percent, or at least one, must be accessible. There must be an accessible route through the door, and to all elements required to be accessible in the room. Operating mechanisms provided on accessible lockers must also meet ADAAG provisions for their operation and height."

Accessible benches are also required in locker rooms. According to the ADAAG, "Benches must have a clear floor space positioned to allow persons using wheelchairs or other mobility devices to approach parallel to the short end of a bench seat. ... Benches must have seats that are a minimum of 20 inches to a maximum of 24 inches in depth, and 42 inches minimum in length. The seat height should be a minimum of 17 inches to a maximum on 19 inches above the finished floor. ... Benches must be strong enough to withstand a vertical or horizontal force of 250 pounds."

Square footage

In addition to standards, codes and laws, there are also "guidelines" that help determine what to offer in your locker room. ACSM's Guideline No. 20 says, "Facilities should design both physical activity spaces and nonactivity spaces so as to provide sufficient space to accommodate the expected user demand placed on each space within the facility." In the locker room, the amount of square footage is determined by the total square footage of your facility. However, these determinations aren't set in stone. Says John Comereski, general manager of Island Health & Fitness, Ithaca, N.Y., "[Our designer] mistakenly made the locker rooms too small. I argued that each locker room should be at least 10 percent of the square footage of our facility."

Suzette Jones, CEO, Evolution Health & Fitness in Sarasota, Fla., determined how much square footage to give her locker rooms by figuring in "the required elements from zoning, and by estimating approximately how many members would be using the club at any given time."

Essential elements

While your architect may determine how many lockers, benches and other essentials you have, don't blindly follow their recommendations. Many fitness centers now wish that they had more of one thing or another, and are now faced with a renovation or add-on.

Toilets. Sherry Gideons, owner/president of Simple Fitness Concepts, Yuba City, Calif., says, "If I were to do it over, I would bring in two more toilets, for a total of four." Jones agrees that a facility could always use more toilets: "[Our facility] does not have enough toilets. ... We meet the required number for zoning, but [our members] work hard - when they 'gotta go' they really 'gotta go'!" Island Health & Fitness could also use more toilets. Says Comereski, "We could use two to three more of each of our toilets, showers and sinks, for a total of seven to eight in each locker room."

Lockers. Lockers are another common item of which fitness centers could use more. Comereski says, "We have way too few lockers. We could easily rent an additional 300 to 400 in each locker room." Jones says that Evolution currently has just the right number of lockers, but there is no room for expansion. "[If we get] more members, then we will need more lockers. We are expanding, so, in [our] new locations, they'll have more toilets and lockers," she says.

There are also those who have enough lockers, but wish they better stood the test of time. Says Sara Moore, manager at Cranmore Family Fitness Center in North Conway, N.H., "We have enough lockers, but the bases are rusted from wet, salty boots and bathing suits." Beth Freeman, Healthy Lifestyles Director at the Weingart-Lakewood Family YMCA, Lakewood, Calif., agrees that locker disrepair is a problem: "There are enough lockers, but they are old, and some need repair."

Shelves and hooks. While often overlooked, shelves and hooks are essential for your members when they shower and change, or use the sauna, pool or hot tub. Says Jones, "I'm always looking for storage, even if it's storage for members' clothes and towels while they shower or use the sauna." Freeman says you "can never have enough hooks," and Comereski says, "More hooks would be helpful."

Outlets and hair dryers. Most fitness facilities are pleased with the number of electrical outlets and hair dryers they have in their locker rooms. However, some are not. Says Freeman, "We are in an older building, and need more electrical outlets." Hair dryers are a problem in some facilities. Comereski says that Island Health & Fitness could use one or two more in each locker room, for total of four to five each. Moore says that Cranmore Family Fitness Center has enough hair dryers, but "we can't keep them very long. Even locked up, they tend to disappear."

Benches. Benches are another item of which most fitness facilities have enough, although Comereski says he could use one more in each locker room. "[They are] always handy to have, if space is available," he says. Freeman says that the Weingart-Lakewood Family YMCA has enough benches, but "I brought in a few chairs for those who can't sit low, such as seniors."

Looking ahead. Many facilities seem to be doing fine with what they have, but are keeping an eye on things. Says Carrie Meng, general manager at Fitness One in Palm Coast, Fla., "For the size of our facility, we feel we have a sufficient amount of all of the essential items. [However,] our membership numbers continue to grow, so we know that, in the near future, we may need to update our locker rooms to meet the needs of our members."

Personal touches

Meeting members' needs is what is on the minds of most facility operators. One way to do this is to make your locker rooms stand out. "It was essential to me to create an atmosphere that was comfortable, clean and welcoming," says Jones. "We have original art hanging in the locker rooms, our vanities and built-ins were custom-made with 100-year-old cypress, the showers are slate and there's lots of light. The design of the locker rooms ... kept close to our philosophy for health and fitness: We are cutting-edge without straying too far from the natural."

Meng says that, in the future, she "would love to offer a more personalized locker room for our members. Adding personal vanities, VIP services (dry cleaning, towel service, etc.) and other personal touches would add an element of class that I believe many people would appreciate."

Keeping your membership in mind when creating a locker room atmosphere is important. Gideons of Simple Fitness Concepts says that, since hers is a women-only facility, she considered the needs of women. "The locker room is a large area that has a sitting area with couches, a full vanity, a large full-length three-sided mirror, a preparation area with plenty of electrical outlets and large mirrors," she says. In addition, there are three dressing rooms.

Don't overlook the basics

When it comes to your locker rooms, you can never plan enough. Your members spend lots of time in there, and will notice things like missing hooks or broken lockers. Comereski says that the most important element is "to have large [enough] locker rooms. This alone would allow for additional amenities." Moore says that the importance of your locker rooms can't be overlooked: "Locker rooms are so important, and can turn someone off from joining. We recently made some upgrades to our women's locker room, and have gained members as a result."

Jones tried to get it right from the start: "I went into the design process from the perspective of a member, not a fitness professional. I wanted to build a place that I would want to shower in, get dressed in and do my make-up in. Our locker rooms are more like those at a spa or in a great custom home. I want our members to feel spoiled."

Although spoiling your members is a great goal, sometimes you simply need to get the basics down first. Listen to your members, and spend some time in your locker rooms. You may find that a bench here or some hooks there will make a big difference.