As a fitness trainer, I see gyms a bit differently than most. I see safety hazards, bottlenecks, dead space and things that just won’t be used. If you’re trying to redesign a gym or build one from the ground up, these are the most important things to keep in mind.

Who Is Your Target Demographic?

Are you training old people from a retirement community? Young athletes in high school and college? Professionals making over $100,000 a year? Children? A mix of them all?

Understanding who you are training helps determine what kind of equipment you will need. For example, older people from a retirement community may not need a rope hanging from the ceiling. You might have some strong senior citizens, but your trainers will probably be the only ones using it.

Work It Backwards

Find out what kind of people you are going to be training and then work everything back from there. Get a fitness trainer and get him to take you through some example workouts based on the demographics of your target market.

Fitness trainers train people based a lot on demographics such as: “An overweight, desk worker who has high blood pressure and is in his 40’s.” I can tell you that I’m not going to need a rope hanging from the ceiling for this guy. But I would want to have a rowing machine and recumbent bike because the treadmill may not be the best option if he is too heavy.

So you brainstorm with the trainer going over various demographics and make a list of items (and spaces without items) in which to train these individuals.

Pay Attention To Open Space

It is easy to get caught up in the lists of items, but a lot of gyms these days have more open space than equipment. It is a major shift in the industry over to functional training without a “machine for every muscle group.”

Open spaces allow you to:

  • Move equipment in and run a class.
  • Perform Olympic weightlifting
  • Set up a whiteboard and deliver a nutrition seminar
  • Lay down some mats and do ab exercises or stretching
  • Do exercises such as walking lunges or any others that require you travel across a distance

Open spaces also don’t clutter up the gym. These can add to the aesthetic of the facility.

Once again, make a list of different activities that you may need an open space for. You would be surprised at how quickly they fill up.

Showers and Amenities

Based on your demographic, you may need to provide showers. You could survey the fitness trainers and see what they know. Look at your competition and copy them.

This varies from city to city as well. In some cities everyone uses the showers and they have saunas. Do your research and if you want to go that extra mile – have hand towels rolled up at the front desk so people can come in and grab one. I used to have them rolled up in a neat pyramid. I have even worked at gyms with free mints in little glass jars in various places.

These little things make people feel like they are paying for the best.

This is all in addition to very clean equipment, floors, walls and bathrooms.


While I’m talking about cleanliness, we can’t skip over the subject of disinfection.

You’ll have to work this out for yourself and consider what will happen if the world goes into a big scare again.

Nonetheless, it will give your members a sense of security knowing that the place is regularly disinfected.

And please don’t mix up the two:

Cleaning is removing the dirt and debris. It is something you can see. Disinfection is getting the microscopic stuff to die and not be transmittable.

Partner Up With Another Business – Or Incorporate Your Own

I’ve seen the following businesses connected to gyms:

  • Smoothie bar
  • Actual bar
  • Chiropractic
  • Massage
  • Coffee shop
  • Daycare (almost a necessity)

There are more, but these are the main ones. You could do salons, barber shops and all sorts of other places. It could be the “One-Stop Body Shop.” I don’t know if that name is taken, but you get the concept.

Supplementary Spaces

Some of these are vital.

You can’t do without a sign-up space to sit down with a person and sign them up.

You can’t do without any office space in which to handle the accounting, website, marketing, legal, etc.

Your trainers will need to have a consultation room or other private space in which to take before and after photos and take measurements. Usually when you’re doing these consultations, the member is new and shy and doesn’t want anyone listening or watching.

My current gym has a “Trainer Lounge.” It sucks as far as any amenities or being a cool space, but it is a place where I can dump my stuff and know it isn’t going to be messed with. Or if I want to go crash for 30 minutes in between clients, I’ve got a spot that I know I won’t be bothered.

Janitor closet. You’ll need a full setup. I’ve been a janitor in a gym (that’s how I started out in the business) and I had a full closet. You need a space where the mop bucket gets filled up and dumped and it is preferably not in the main bathrooms. It is good to have a full set of tools to adjust equipment and keep them in this closet.

Stretching area/yoga room. Sometimes the music and craziness of the main gym are too much. This is the quiet room where you can go to foam roll or someone could lead a quiet yoga class. The key difference in this space is volume and they are usually painted more soothing colors.

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Noise and Acoustics

So, on the subject of noise, you’ve got break up the sound reverberation.

Smooth walls will create an echo. If you play music in the gym, it can quickly turn into a space that is intolerable. Standing three feet away from someone and having to scream at them is not a pleasant environment.

There are sound-dampening panels you can put on your ceiling and walls. There are also acoustic hanging panels that break up the echo. You have plenty of options and you may want to play with a few before you decide on one.

Pay Attention to and Plan Out the Details

As covered above, you’ll need to control the sound of the room.

You’ll also need to think about the smell. Gyms with rubber flooring often have a strong smell of rubber. This isn’t a bad smell and is almost expected of any gym space. It is strong at first, though. The smell will evolve as the people make their way through.

Colors. I have hired an interior designer to help with the colors of my gym and it worked out great. I was very different from what I originally had in mind and I’m glad I didn’t go with what I wanted. She directed us to do some earth tones and soothing colors and it actually worked out for that specific gym and clientele. That style wouldn’t work everywhere, though.

Safety Hazards

There are hazards that you should be aware of when designing a gym.

For example, you shouldn’t have a treadmill with a wall directly behind it. You won’t have to search long on YouTube to find a reel of people slipping on treadmills and getting thrown backwards. It is best if a wall isn’t right there behind them.

Don’t have mirrors that go all the way down to the floor. If you have a dumbbell or barbell that is rolling freely, it could bump into the mirror and cause it to break.

Don’t put the bench press right next to the mirror. A kid will always try to unload one side first and leave too much weight on the other side. The bar goes flying. I’ve seen it over and over. One time it hit the mirror and shattered it, which really stopped things and made it that much more unsafe.

If you live in an area that is constantly wet, you have to have something at the door to dry people’s feet. A wet floor is a super hazard.

This is not, by far, a complete list of gym safety hazards. But they are here just to get your mind started.


Gym design is a subject in and of itself.

Get in touch with a fitness trainer and ask “What would you change about this gym?” You will often get a whirlwind of an answer. As a fitness trainer, I’ve always had strong opinions about what needs to change. This is your best source of data, even after you set everything up, keep surveying your trainers.

You could look around the world at gyms until you find the one you’re trying to create – and then just copy them. Take a virtual tour of the gym, go take a trip, get in touch with the owner, etc.

You are not the only person to have to work this problem out, so search around and reach out to people. If they are like me, they’re willing to help you.

Good luck.

Go build something new and innovative.

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