JUNE 15, 2020

Embracing the Disruption

Functional Occupancy is at the core of finding the formula for ‘the gym of the future’ and of Aktiv Solutions’ design-first philosophy.


Challenging times in the fitness industry have brought a disruption never felt before by health club owners and fitness amenity operators, many of whom are struggling with balancing the safety of their guests while still valiantly providing quite possibly the most essential of well-being resources in a post-COVID-19 era. These same daunting challenges may very well bring unique opportunities to define the future of a new fitness experience while attracting far more happy customers than simply those who operators stand to lose in the midst of the current environment.

One of those such optimists is Bryan Green, founder and CEO of Aktiv Solutions, the provider of gym concepts and design, who is actively pushing the health club and fitness industry to abandon the ways of the past in favor or taking this opportunity to not just safely, but successfully – and profitably – embrace the future.

And in this moment of social distancing and safety-first, Green shares that fundamentally it all starts with new thinking around the design of all types of commercial exercise space.

“Operators are looking today at what equipment they have and doing their very best to space it out and manage hygiene and member distancing for reopening. The problem is that under the current constraints that they neither asked for or anticipated, the great majority are subjecting their model at best to a diluted version of its previous offering,” Green explains, pointing out that this is essentially protecting a gym of the past, not a focus on developing the advancement of a gym of the future.

“Customer expectations have changed, the entire landscape has changed,” he adds. “Unfortunately, facilities that don’t anticipate the long term and wait until things return to how they were prior to COVID may never find their way back..

“We’re all being disrupted and we should expect to continue to be disrupted, whether by another wave of pandemic or the competition,” he continues. “But the goal is to disrupt yourself first before someone or something else does it to you.”

Green realizes that there is an understandable but disproportionate focus on mitigating the short-term condition (just reopening somehow) and shares that looking further into the future is always difficult. But secular trends dictate that it is unlikely that a strong percentage of prior members will simply rejoin without not just new conditions, but additional value. Perhaps of even greater importance is that those coveted non-health clubs members (still approximately 80 percent of the population) will seek commercial health club solutions only to find that there may be little to be gained than working out from home.

This leads to what Green describes as three critical areas of gym design that Aktiv’s process uniquely solves for well before layering in equipment recommendations and brand experience attributes on top.

1. Spacing. Referring to the concept as “distancing” is a “fear-based label.” Green prefers the term “spacing.” In many facilities, the best practice of keeping six feet or more space is already largely in place as a requirement for free and unrestricted human movement during exercise.

“Most people would prefer not to share the sweat of another during an aggressive training session at the gym if it can be avoided,” he points out. Put another way, humans still want a communal training experience, but not that communal.

To support the now greater awareness around spacing concerns, facilities are turning to floor decals and guidance to visually cue these delineations — floor-based graphics can help guide members into the right spaces for safety and traffic flow during exercise to maximize functional occupancy, but clubs need to do more than place signage.

Bottom line: Establishing distancing while optimizing space to achieve ROI and deliver an exceptional workout experience for members comes with many challenges. The solution is a design-driven one.

2. Hygiene Integration. Developing a Hygiene Protocol that is sustainable, efficient and visible to members has suddenly become a priority. However, most strong operators already have been thoughtful in varying degrees. While this does require an investment in planning, supply and member culture, the benefits are immense.

There are several facets naturally to consider, the cleaning of surfaces and equipment pre- and post-workout sessions is fundamental. Another critical component is air sanitization. Members can participate in surface hygiene via well-placed gym wipes, but effective air hygiene is the sole responsibility of the operator. There are proven ways to effect strong filtration and achieve safe air balance, most of which are relatively low in cost including medical grade HEPA filtration.

3. Equipment Sharing. This is the key component of designing towards the club of the future, because while controlling traffic flow with floor markings and signage and spacing equipment is one step, it still leaves the issue of communal use of product to be addressed. In order to adapt, operators must reimagine and redesign floorplans to essentially eliminate or significantly reduce the use of shared equipment during workout sessions.

“This is by far the most challenging of aspect of the process as today most clubs are designed for the communal use of equipment within the confines of a training session, such as single station strength units and free weights,” Green points out. “There are several smart ways to gain new floor planning efficiencies while eliminating the shared use of equipment during a given interval. Reserving space and predetermining its captive use are the starting point.”

The million-dollar question for operators in the current environment is how to achieve the highest functional occupancy while fostering an energetic and communal space and ensuring the workout experience is not compromised.

Achieving Functional Occupancy

One such solution being implemented by Aktiv Solutions’ for select clients are designated functional training pods. — Members can be purposefully and safely positioned for efficient individual workout sessions within a given space and with captive access to all the training equipment needed.

“This design directive essentially dictates foot traffic flow and distancing controls while accommodating the optimization of occupancy levels” Green explains. The pod design does not required enclosure with walls or plexiglass; rather these systems when spatially planned well demonstrate visual structure and personalization.

“Members can feel safe within these training spaces and not concerned that they might have to share equipment mid-session with others,” says Green, who stresses that Pods must be properly cleaned and offer the ability for individuals to also disinfect surfaces themselves to ensure peace of mind. Pods must contain all the right equipment to support multiple modalities and be positioned within proximity to instruction — digital or live.

“If smartly designed, this solution will actually offer more focused and robust mind/body workout experiences for members than ever before,” he says, while addressing distancing, hygiene and isolated equipment use at the same time.

Designing the Future

Rebalancing the future floorplan of a gym requires a design-first approach, not simply an equipment modification, and that is the approach taken by Aktiv Solutions.

“We have been building designs specific to personal spaces within larger spaces since our inception,” Green says. “To us, this is the true definition of member experience.  We partner with operators to implement design-forward planning not simply to mitigate challenges, but to strengthen their competitive advantages.”

To help club owners understand the concept, Green asks them to visualize the typical restaurant experience and how it can be copied by the gym experience.

“The goal of a restaurant is to put customers in a space and keep them there, where they feel safe, give them a great dining experience just like the people at the next table and then get them out so you can bring in the next customer. There’s a lot to be learned from that in the gym business.

“Apply that concept to training in a club — welcome people in, give them a great and focused training experience, and rotate them out as the next member arrives,” Green says.

Approaching this as an opportunity to design and build for the future is key, Green says. “If you just open up space with fewer pieces of equipment and fewer people, then you are just a lesser version of what you were. Clubs that reimagine and rebalance their space with a more holistic approach will win.”