“The pandemic pushed millions to workout from home.  Many will return and experience a different fitness facility.”

When you return to your favorite fitness hangout after the novel coronavirus pandemic, you will most likely notice some changes. Prior to this life-changing event, fitness facilities were a place for community and connections. They were often the place we would socialize with friends, push our limits in group workouts, easily share cardio and weight equipment with others, and high-five after a pick-up game of basketball.

We all need to be prepared for this to look different in the future.

Every fitness center will need to be assessed to accommodate new social distancing and safety measures. Things like automatic doors, infrared temperature checks, hands-free transactions, and one-way traffic patterns throughout the building will likely be commonplace.

Once you arrive at your targeted workout zone within the facility a few changes for each space could include:

  1. Automatic sanitizing in common areas. Automatic door handle sanitizers (which are a real thing) will be installed on locker room doors, throughout kid zones, restrooms, community rooms, and administrative offices.
  2. Touchless technology. Touchless technology has been around for years, but we will see a new focus on how this technology can and should be used. Be ready for touchless sink faucets, soap dispensers, hand dryers, water fountains, and on toilet and urinal fixtures.
  3. Fewer soft seating options. In common areas, gathering spaces and workout areas you will start to see fewer chairs to discourage groups from gathering. Posted cleaning schedules will also appear.
  4. Smaller group fitness classes. Group fitness classes will be smaller to allow for distance between students and instructor.
  5. Stricter guidelines for pool use. Swimming pools will have a limited number of swimmers per lane and family pools will have controlled numbers of users at any one time.
  6. Limited sports that support social distancing. Gymnasiums will be limited to activities and classes that support social distancing guidelines. These could include sports such as badminton or pickleball, versus basketball which requires close contact with other players.
  7. Changes to the weight area. Free weight areas will have additional hand sanitizing stations and we will start to see more space between equipment along with protocols for cleaning items when finished.
  8. Changes to cardio equipment. Like the changes we will see with free weights, cardio equipment areas will have more hand sanitation stations. Equipment may be temporarily removed to meet social distancing guidelines. I also expect to see one-way traffic patterns to further avoid close contact with others.
  9. More space in locker rooms. Members will only be allowed to use certain lockers to ensure distancing while changing. Express lockers, distributed throughout the facility, can also be an effective strategy to reduce member concentration. Also, locker hardware may be updated so that it can be opened with a closed fist or elbow. Organizations may also eliminate towel service asking for members to bring their own. Any remaining group showers will be replaced with individual showers separated by tiled walls.
  10. Changes to admin areas. Administrative areas will accommodate less open office stations and start to create a more private office environment and more physical separations.

The importance of fresh air.

A trend that will likely hold true for most buildings, but especially for fitness facilities where people are working hard, will be an increase in fresh air and exhaust. We foresee more spaces having negative air pressure, which helps prevent cross-contamination from room to room, as is the case with aquatic environments, locker rooms, and restrooms. Currently, in cardio environments, the practice is to help mix the air in the space using fans with some fresh air being added. Over time, designers will develop holistic, innovative concepts that look at space through a new lens where safety is inherently integrated into the design.

The future will be different, but doable.

Ultimately, facilities will need to employ several strategies to ensure members feel comfortable returning and engaging in their favorite workout routines. Facility managers will be challenged to apply even better, and more frequent, cleaning practices to everything that is regularly touched and that is a possible source of contamination.

So, for those who are preparing to return to your favorite fitness hangout following the coronavirus, be prepared for a space that will initially look and feel different. However, these differences are there to ensure the facility will be functional and safe for everyone.