10 Design Tips for Creating a Dynamic Fitness Studio

How you go about conceptualizing, designing and constructing your studio can have a material impact on the future success of your business. Like many other aspects of the studio business, design and construction are not an exact science. Nonetheless, if studio owners approach the process well informed and well prepared, they can eliminate many if not all of the barriers that derail many studio entrepreneurs.

Following are 10 design tips to consider:

1. Define the program for your studio space. It all begins with understanding how you will use the studio space to fulfill your brand promise. This requires knowing exactly what amenities, programs and services you want to provide. Knowing exactly how you will use the space will establish what has to happen with the design. Whether you will have yoga, Pilates or small group training, it is important to understand the needs of your audience and what activities will be offered in the studio.

2. Make them sweat for the right reasons. We all know that clients mistakenly believe that the more they sweat, the better their workout was. Well, you want clients to perspire when they work out, but it should be a consequence of a properly prescribed exercise regime, not a physical environment that is improperly ventilated. One of the most critical elements of design is having good ventilation that allows the studio space to be maintained at the proper temperature and humidity while also providing sufficient cross ventilation. In most instances, you want to maintain your studio space between 68 degrees and 72 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity levels under 50 percent. A group cycling room with 40 cyclists generates a much higher heat load than an open training space serving a dozen training clients.

3. Allow for enough space. Overcrowding is the most frequently heard complaint among members and former members of health and fitness clubs. Clients want some personal space when they exercise; they don’t want to be rubbing shoulders or other body parts with strangers. Although your goal as a studio operator is to get as many clients as possible into your space, you also want to accommodate people’s need for personal space. Beyond the issue of personal space, safety is also an issue. When space is limited, it increases the likelihood that an accident could occur. In general, you want to allocate between 10 and 20 square feet for each member you expect to have, or you should allocate at least 40 square feet for each client you expect in your studio at any given time.

4. Remember lighting. One of the more critical elements for creating the right environment for your studio involves lighting design. Lighting is more than just providing a sufficient level of lighting; it’s about creating a mood, generating energy and fulfilling the promise of the experience you are trying to create. If your studio will be dedicated to delivering a great yoga experience, using light fixtures made from natural elements can help to create a peaceful environment. If your fitness studio is going to focus on the delivery of small group training classes that depend on a dynamic environment, then you might want spot lights or colored LED lights that add drama.

5. Select the right colors to bolster the experience. Colors are essential to establishing the proper mood. Color, along with lighting, has a material impact on the mood that is created within your space. If your studio is focused on delivering high-energy small group training, then vivid color combinations can denote high-energy and provide an inspirational setting. If your studio is positioning itself as a mind/body retreat, then you want to incorporate calming earth tones that create a natural and tranquil feel.

6. The right flooring can enhance performance and protect clients. Flooring is more than decorative; it is instrumental in enhancing the functionality and safety of the space. The best choice of flooring for most studios, especially for those offering sports performance and functional training activities (e.g., tires, ropes, kettle bells, free weights and resistance machines) are high-density synthetic sports floors. These floors are made of high-density foams and rubbers, coming in a variety of colors and thicknesses. They also come with a moisture barrier backing, so if your slab is in a high humidity area, you do not have to provide an additional vapor barrier. If your studio will be focused on group exercise activities such as barre, mat Pilates or yoga, then an all-purpose wood athletic floor is the best choice.

7. Incorporate space to gather. If your fitness studio will target group exercise activities such as barre, group cycling or yoga, then it is beneficial to create a social gathering space or pre-assembly area adjacent to the group exercise spaces that allows clients to socialize prior to and after taking classes. If your studio will focus on personal training, then you want to have a location were clients can gather if they choose. The social element is important in helping clients establish relationships with other clients.

8. Leave space to store your accessories. There is nothing worse that entering a fitness studio and having to immediately engage in agility movements to avoid stumbling over accessories (e.g., hand weights, dumbbells, weight plates, medicine balls) that are scattered throughout the space. Creating sufficient storage space will ensure that your employees and clients don’t have to dodge items left on the floor, and also will ensure that your studio presents itself professionally to prospective clients. Having sufficient storage space can lessen the costs associated with liability claims resulting from clients and/or employees injuring themselves as the result of exposure to improperly stored equipment. Ideally you want to allocate about 5 percent to 10 percent of your entire space to storage.

9. Add an element of interest to your space with simple design features. Nothing is more boring or de-energizing than four blank walls and a vanilla ceiling. If you want your space to “pop” and inspire, then you want to incorporate small design features. For example, if your space has an open ceiling, you should consider incorporating hanging acoustical panels or elements. These small and relatively inexpensive features can really add energy and interest.

10. Mirror, mirror on the wall. Mirrors are a design feature that can convert a small boring space into a large dynamic space or one that is relaxing and intimate. Mirrors, if properly placed, can make a space appear much larger than it is, giving clients a sense of personal space. Mirrors can assist in creating the proper mood, such as giving an appearance of calm. Mirrors can assist trainers and clients in monitoring their exercise movements, ensuring proper alignment and posture. In group exercise spaces, mirrors are essential in helping instructors monitor the form of clients and for clients to monitor their own form.


Stephen Tharrett is a former president of IHRSA, member of AFS’s Advisory Board, AFS community expert, and member of the Club Industry advisory board. Tharrett, along with his business partner Mark Williamson, are co-founders of ClubIntel, a brand insight, market research and consulting firm serving the fitness and private club industries. He also has served on the education, certification and health/fitness facility standards committees for the American College of Sports Medicine and American Council on Exercise.