Fitness Centers and the Amenities Mix

What residents want in today’s facilities and how multifamily owners can meet those expectations.

Fitness facilities are a key amenity at The Atlantic, an historic high-rise on Philadelphia’s Avenue of the Arts. Image courtesy of Precor

Developers and operators of apartment communities are understandably reluctant to dedicate square footage to anything that doesn’t translate into resident recruitment, retention and satisfaction. With that in mind, they typically take what might be described as a concierge approach to crafting amenities menus that feature everything from smart-home technology to swimming pools and dog runs. Fitness centers have long been a favored item on that list, as well. Over time, those facilities have evolved from an afterthought—a few treadmills and weights squeezed into a nondescript room—into a key feature. Precor, which designs and manufactures premium fitness experiences for residential and commercial properties, is a leader in crafting the ever-evolving amenities mix at multifamily properties.

Headquartered in Woodinville, Wash., Precor has been developing personalized health and fitness packages, including branded fitness equipment for more than four decades. The company’s mission is to help clients keep pace with the fitness center’s increasingly important role in the multifamily arena.

“We talk a lot about movement, connection and meaning, and there’s no better amenity that we can think of in a residential community than a fitness center to bring people together in a really positive way to connect and meet others and develop relationships,” noted Steve Menzel, multi-family market manager at Precor. “And fitness amenities really are critical components in helping operators build resident engagement and satisfaction.”

Giving Residents What They Want

Steve Menzel, multi-family market manager at Precor

“Apartment communities offer a variety of amenities to remain competitive and appeal to residents, and the fitness center is no exception,” observed Nicole Ryan, government affairs communications manager with the National Apartment Association. Those offerings may include 24-hour secure access, brand-name equipment, on-demand classes and elements like cycle, yoga or meditation studios.

A telling 2000 study by J. Turner Research found that 54 percent of renters cite a fully equipped gym as their fundamental health and fitness expectation; 46 percent point to exercise and wellness—from Zumba and kickboxing to meditation and dietary classes—as requisite offerings.

Today, residents are looking for ways that their apartment community can integrate into their world with platforms that make their lives easier and connect to their favorite things. It’s personalization that the resident wants, and providers like Precor are challenged to accommodate that desire for simplicity, integration, connection and meaning.

Crafting the type of facility that addresses residents’ needs varies according to the property classification. Residents of Class A communities typically have high expectations. At these properties, operators will want to take a page from the fitness evolution, which produced such innovations as boutique yoga studios, recovery studios and cryotherapy.

“You want to borrow elements of those things and bring them into these Class A portfolios so that people don’t feel like they have to go off property,” Menzel asserted. “What I’ve explained to operators in that realm is you literally have to view yourself as needing to compete with the local health club.” Live instruction and high-intensity workout programming should also be part of the fitness package.

In creating the proper space for high-intensity training, it’s vital to optimize “zoning,” the practice of putting together areas of cardiovascular, strength, core, stretch and functional training, contends Derek Strader, co-founder of Out-Fit and an authorized Precor distributor. “How Precor is integral in that process in that they have the best-of-class products that leverage technology where you can track all  your workouts and have the best-of-class visualization on those cardio pieces, from an ergonomic standpoint as well as a functionality standpoint,” he explained.

One of Precor’s functional training products is Queenax, a rigged station allowing as many as two dozen users to engage in a variety of training modalities utilizing body weight, such as a battle rope, punching bag and torso trainer. “You can integrate things with balls and bands and kettle bells and dumbbells and not have your traditional equipment per se, but a whole host of accessories are integrated into this rig in order to get a whole-body workout at a high-intensity level without overburdening your body,” Strader added.

Elbow Room

Studios, live instruction and high-impact workouts require a common component: flexible programming space, and plenty of it. The facility must be designed to accommodate fitness demands across the spectrum, from Pilates to CrossFit. “There’s the amenities arms race and it’s about displacing traditional gym memberships inside of apartment communities so you can keep your residents engaged, happy and onsite so they never have to go outside to use any other external facilities,” said Strader.

Most fitness centers he works on are part of ground-up projects and average in the 1,800-square-foot range—nearly four times as large as the typical facility only a decade ago. He attributes the upsizing trend to “the arms race of amenities” that provide a competitive edge for an upscale community.

At Class B and Class C properties, fitness facilities are no less important; the offerings are adjusted to match more modest budgets. Self-service takes on a more significant role, with streaming fitness videos and on-demand services taking the place of standalone studios and live instruction. In this age of the omnichannel consumer, operators of communities that cater to a younger demographic are well advised to focus on the integration of technology so that residents can use their devices to incorporate additional support services into their fitness routines.

Filling the Gap

The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing closures of non-essential retail have hobbled the fitness center industry. Precor’s research has found that only about 54 percent of health club members plan to return to the gym immediately post-pandemic. People who regularly engage in fitness regimens have moved much of that activity to living rooms and basements. However, the home gym has limitations; there might be dumbbells in the closet, a tension band draped over a doorknob and a new Peloton—but not enough space or gear or space to experience the highly diverse programming offered by a state-of-the-art, on-site facility.

“There’s this huge opportunity for communities to become so much more important in people’s lives and serving them in ways where they have historically gone off property,” Menzel noted. “The multifamily operator has to think, first of all, there’s been this huge void that’s been created by COVID-19 in people not wanting to go back to the gym or not being able to go back.” That, in turn, raises a central question: Who’s going to fill the void?  

“Multifamily fitness centers have become a really, really important amenity for all those people who’ve been uprooted from their traditional habits in this space,” he said. “What a huge opportunity for operators to build value.”

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