Fitness Center Amenities FAQ During COVID-19

FitnessDesignGroup Founder Bryan Green answers questions about managing fitness spaces during a pandemic and beyond.
Bryan Green, Founder and CEO, FitnessDesignGroup

Multi-Housing News hosted a 30-minute “Snap Session” webinar this week with FitnessDesignGroup Founder & CEO Bryan Green, who answered questions about the impact of COVID-19 on gym amenities. From hygiene and floor planning to outdoor spaces and supplemental equipment, the gym design and wellness specialist offered best practices for multifamily property managers across the U.S.

“Multifamily has such a unique opportunity because they really care for the general wellness of residents on properties,” said Green. The demand for exercise is only going to increase. It is the easiest and lowest-cost way to boost someone’s immune system.”

What is the impact of this global pandemic on people’s general interest in exercising?

Prior to this event, demand for exercise was already soaring. With all these commercial health clubs and studios closed, and everybody looking for ways to improve their health and boost their immune system, people are desperate to get back out and find ways to exercise communally when possible. It seems like the only thing that is more difficult to buy than toilet paper these days is dumbbells.

How might this new normal change fitness centers and health clubs long-term?

In the short term, health clubs will open at a measured pace. Not everyone is going to immediately rejoin their gym right away. Many people will have hygiene-related concerns in all public spaces. It’s certainly going to be a process for multifamily operators to reopen their fitness centers.

How do you think fitness centers within multifamily communities specifically will change after all of this?

The work-at-home movement is going to create an incredible demand on these spaces. People are going to be on property like never before. We’re looking at ways to improve design through the traffic flow and setting up the way that people exercise. A lot of equipment has a single purpose, so we’re trying to create spaces where people can use multiple pieces of equipment within one session without necessarily having to transfer that equipment among other exercises or residents.


LISTEN TO THE WEBINAR: Snap Sessions: Navigating Gym Amenities During COVID-19


Beyond that, we’re going to have to look at many other spaces on the property. I think demand is going to supersede any real investment that most developers have made in their fitness amenities. A lot of time and energy is going to be spent on looking at identifying adjunct spaces, such as old racquetball courts that can be converted. Other amenitized spaces for lounging or leisure might be repurposed into things like no-sweat zones for stretching or recovery.

I think we’ll look at outdoor spaces more than ever. Right now, residents are getting extremely creative in the areas in which they’re working out. It’s not well controlled by property management.

What do you think will be the first or most immediate change in fitness spaces as a result of COVID-19?

I think a resident is going to want to be welcomed back into the space and feel as though something has changed. It’s going to be a little bit of spacing, but it’s going to be more about repositioning of equipment. It’s not about adding new products but about possibly adding handheld accessories and creating stations where people can occupy a particular area, and that would be their zone for the training experience. Cardiovascular equipment has a very similar footprint. We are applying that thought process to the floor planning for the other important areas, including strength training, stretching and any type of free weight use.

What should property managers be mindful of now as they prepare for the future?

We’re going to need to create a bit more space for hygiene-related concerns. Rebalancing the floor is low cost and does not require new equipment. Air quality is important. There are some really smart and low-cost air ionization methods that can grab pathogens and bring them toward the ground. We need to put cleaning wipes out in lots of strategically located areas so residents can participate in hygiene care themselves.

Do you anticipate these to be short-term modifications or long-term adaptations?

Multifamily will need to look at continuing to grow the fitness centers, looking for outdoor spaces, creating spaces on different floors or buildings if possible. With so many residents working out in their units right now, you have noise concerns, and in many of these units there just isn’t sufficient space. Developers may make some unit footprints more generous to support someone’s small home gym training space.

What sort of outdoor spaces would property managers need?

Exercising outside is weather dependent, so that’s going to vary regionally and seasonally. Property managers can encourage residents to bring their own equipment. There’s small handheld equipment for many of the popular training methodologies today. Equipment or gear may be rented out or brought out during community events or sessions hosted by third-party instructors.

It’s vital to create space that’s safe, which is typically an open field area, or it can be a hardscape area. We even see developers and property managers making certain rooftop decks available. It has to be planned a bit and maintained, and residents need to be directed toward these spaces.

With fitness centers closed, how can property managers best support their residents now?

Several property development groups are trying to embrace the situation by creating comfort and care for residents where they can. Several have considered gifting and rentals of wellness kits that can be used in-unit by residents and don’t make a lot of noise. The one thing we’re constantly hearing is that people want to know when the fitness center is going to reopen. There’s pent-up demand.

What can property managers do to make sure their equipment is hygienic?

Most multifamily properties don’t have a full-time attendant that can wipe down the equipment between each use. You need to have obvious areas where people can grab cleaning wipes. There are many antibacterial gym-focused wipes that will not hurt the equipment but need to be found easily by members. There should be wayfinding signage and a new code of conduct that is published prior to reopening fitness centers.

Do you have a recommendation around filtration in indoor fitness centers?

The most natural way to circulate air is cross flow. Using automated airflow systems can be critical. Air ionization is very low-cost technology that will allow for positive and negative ions to be put into the air. They basically cling to pathogens and work to pull them down onto the floor just like any other dust molecules. There are a lot of suppliers that provide that. On average, that investment is probably a $1,000 to $2,000 integration, including the labor required to retrofit for these types of amenity spaces.

Would you recommend using a video or some sort of training in terms of usage of the facilities?

We have been experiencing for some time a massive digitalization of spaces. That’s an incredibly important tool, not just in terms of exercise guidance in general but also to guide people through a specific space in which to do that workout. There’s a lot of technology to support those zones, those 4-by-8 pods, for people to train in and also provide guidance that would be specific to the type of workout they would do in that space.

Do you have any recommendations on surface cleaning—for example, ozone versus electrostatic or hypochlorous acid, and risk of corrosion?

All of those methods seem to be effective. The vast majority of commercial operators have begun to adopt an electrostatic spray. It’s an incredible technology because it’s designed to bind to the entire surface area, so it’s a lot easier to get a thorough coating. The costs are pretty minimal. You can purchase the solution, dilute it, and pretty easily put it in the electrostatic sprayers. There isn’t much of a training curve for that, so property management can move pretty quickly in adopting that technology.

If the property uses a cleaning crew, how often would you recommend cleaning the facilities?

I think the facilities have to be professionally attended to on a daily basis. If you’re going to have a third-party crew coming in, I would highly recommend looking at the adoption of electrostatic sprayers and being able to mix the solution with on-site building maintenance. It’s going to be important to do a handful of walk-throughs during the day to make sure the hygiene standards and the conduct of residents are being enforced.

Do you have any recommendations on floor surfaces and are there some that are more hygienic than others?

It’s important to look at the flooring for the functional concerns, too. In general, rubber flooring would be sort of the absolute standard and the easiest to clean and wet mop on a daily basis.

How do you best identify outdoor spaces that would be suitable for allowing residents to exercise safely?

You’re identifying space not only for residents but also for others that might come and join. Typically, a space allocation of about 45 square feet per user is important. You also have to take into account the type of training that you’re going to permit out there and work on guidelines. We have some folks showing up with big battle ropes. If you’re not careful someone, can get whacked with one.


Register for the next Snap Session in our series:

Snap Sessions: Managing Rents and Expenses During COVID-19