Firm Up Fitness Programs

Having roamed the fitness and exercise field for the past seven years, I have served in every capacity from a certified personal trainer to my current position as a recreation manager.

Although I never worked in a “super gym,” I have discovered that there are certain issues unique to smaller facilities, such as tight spaces and people who really want to be healthy and work out, but lack the knowledge how to get started.

For anyone looking to organize a weight room, there are usually two questions:

• How can I fit the most equipment into the provided space, and make it look like a cohesive design?

• How do I know what equipment to purchase?

The size of the facility and the clientele determine the answer to both questions.

Organize By Muscle Group

As a manager of a smaller weight room, I try to get the gym to look aesthetically pleasing while maximizing space. To get started, put together a basic workout for each muscle group; make sure that the workout is not too intense or complicated.

Chances are the facility will not be hosting competitive body builders or pro athletes, so using complex workouts that require elaborate pieces of equipment is unnecessary.

Instead, organize a weight room for the masses, the stay-at-home moms, or the after-work, power-hour exercisers. Assess the needs of the weight room by doing a workout, and if you have to search for the next machine, or walk clear across the gym to get to it, the design has a flaw.

The ability to cater to the people who need help--but are too proud to ask for it--is paramount. Let’s face it--not everyone who goes into a weight room knows which machines work out which parts of the body, or which machines or exercises go together for the best results.

Although it would be great to have a weight room large enough with a piece of machinery for each muscle group, purchasing multi-functional pieces of equipment is a must if the facility is small. Organizing pieces of equipment also helps squeeze more into the allotted space without it looking like a garage sale.

First, look at how each machine is used. For example, the treadmill is a “rear-loading machine,” meaning participants have to enter and exit from the back; this allows employees to squeeze as many of these machines as possible into a small space. On the other hand, the recumbent bike is a “side-loading machine,” which requires more space between machines.

Depending on the size of the space, a comfortable ratio is 2:1 treadmills and ellipticals to bikes and-stair steppers. As for weight equipment, focus on the large muscle groups--back, legs, and chest--and have two to three machines for each. By working out the large muscle groups, the secondary muscle groups also get a workout, even if that is not the intent.

Selecting Equipment

So which machines should be purchased? This is a more complicated question to answer because you must figure out who uses the gym.

There is always the standard set of dumbbells, treadmills, Smith machines, and various cable weight machines. Once the basic equipment is selected, contact a vendor for advice on which machines will meet the patrons’ needs. I have been fortunate to find a vendor who allows me to sample the machines before I purchase them. After all, fitness equipment is expensive, so it’s important to make sure whatever is purchased will be used.

While the equipment is on loan, be sure to survey patrons about how easy it is to use and whether they would use it again. If possible, throw in questions about their age and gender to determine the type of people attending the facility.

In addition to compiling a survey, keep an eye on the weight room throughout the day to see who’s using the equipment.. Sometimes it’s easier to glean this information merely by watching.

Another item to consider is whether or not a weight room is to be supervised. This will have an impact on the purchase of free weights or other similar equipment since there will be a potential for injury, and the facility could be held liable.

Instead, consider guided equipment that does not require a spotter, even though one is still recommended. Also, think about staying away from the standard squat or bench press, and go with a Smith machine instead that can provide both exercises and still be safe without a spotter.

All in all, patrons and available space will dictate a lot within a gym. Be sure to consider both to ensure the success of the facility, as well as the satisfaction of your visitors.

Dan Massey is the recreation manager for the Club at New Territory in Sugar Land, Texas. He can be reached via email at

Bryan BuchkoComment