What makes a good group fitness workspace? Which qualities not only advance the work being done, but also make staff happy to be there? These are questions I asked myself while helping design the University of Colorado Denver's new 85,000-square-foot wellness center in the heart of the Mile High City. As a fitness professional and personal trainer, I believe that the human connection is the most important aspect of client success and member retention.
In the design process, I was sensitive to the needs of personal and group fitness trainers because I believe they personally connect people to the wellness journey through their use of our facility. Here are a few suggestions I can offer those wishing to develop a place where personal trainers thrive and do their best work.
Trainers who stay on top of industry trends will want a space that can shift as the market evolves. Fresh programming increases excitement and maximizes participation revenue. Open floor plans that allow for flexible use of space should take precedent over the purchase of large, single-function equipment. Likewise, equipment with multiple functions — those employing cables, combo racks or multi-station fitness jungles — should be favored over equipment that serves only one purpose. Utilize popular and effective functional training pieces like medicine balls, battle ropes, tires, TRX systems or heavy bags.
The benefits of this seemingly simplistic strategy are numerous. First and foremost, it allows your personal trainers to create a training experience focused on movement rather than machines. Second, minimal equipment reduces initial costs.
The goal in facility design is to make human connection easy. When clients talk about why they love a facility it is generally because staff members make them feel good, not because the equipment is great.
Of course, safe, clean, modern and efficient equipment is important, but equipment is just a tool for trainers to create the positive experience that will keep the client coming back. You might be nervous about reducing the number of large-footprint selectorized machines in the facility, but if your trainers use other equipment with clients and in their own workouts, the general membership population will, too.
While open space is king, it is also important to consider smaller, private spaces for use with smaller groups and individual training. Personal training is a relationship, which sometimes requires privacy. In our facility, we created four private consultation rooms for huddles, client meetings or phone calls. These spaces are also flexible for future needs such as nutrition consultation, health coaching or financial wellness planning.
Finally, trainers should have amenities available that they can use to help attract new clients. The fitness industry as a whole is shifting toward wellness. Meditation, massage therapy, nutrition and health coaching are increasingly popular. These services fit in a clients' overall plan for mental and physical wellness. If effectively integrated, wellness services and related amenities can create additional revenue streams.
The technology used in any facility is also important. Personal trainers can do more with less time if they have the right tools. For example, mobile payroll, sub boards, client tracking and program design platforms are all available to streamline day-to-day processes.
At CU Denver, we utilize SubItUp for all our staff scheduling. This program allows us to put scheduling in the hands of staff members. They can edit as needed, increasing or decreasing availability. This program helps us stay organized with staffing and streamlines management efforts on payday.
We are also looking into a platform for program design such as Trainerize or Train Heroic to meet the needs of our trainers and our clientele. Personal training clients want to be able to access a personal, video-guided workout routine if they cannot make it to the gym.
At first, some of these tools might seem like a luxury. However, these technologies can help your staff become more productive and in touch with the members they serve, enhancing retention and revenue.
Group training also requires thoughtful use of technology. Members expect an experience that provides education, entertainment and exercise. This means trainers have to think about presentation. If music is part of the planned experience, wireless connectivity is important in order to stream audio content. Bluetooth capabilities simplify the process of accommodating various devices trainers might utilize.
In a high-energy group training environment, it might also be pertinent to invest in wireless microphones. Nothing says "burnt out" like trying to yell out commands in a crowded space. Wall- or ceiling-mounted timers are a low-cost upgrade that help trainers remain hands free, enhancing coaching skills.
These simple technological advances allow the trainer to focus on delivery in order to enhance the user experience. Investing in smart technology creates a smart facility that maximizes trainer effectiveness.
Always remember the end-user in facility design or enhancements. If personal training is not your area of expertise, enlist the help of others who know this corner of the industry. If possible, involve personal trainers in decision-making as you choose equipment and consider the function of the spaces they will use.
Trainers want to feel like a valued part of the team instead of a siloed department. They can also provide real-time feedback about the front lines of your facility. What's working? What's not? What do clients want?
Your facility is only as strong as your personnel. Be sure to couple investments in technology with investments in staff. For example, you might want to create an annual staff education budget, or host onsite workshops with discounted registration for your employees.
At CU Denver, our personal trainers and group fitness instructors are mostly students. The majority of them come to us through the American Council on Exercise (ACE) University Partnership program, which we offer in-house each semester. They are learning on the job, and we have found that continual staff development means ongoing staff engagement. When staff members are involved, they take ownership. And when staff members take ownership, their place of work becomes a place they love.
This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Create a facility personal trainers will love." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.