Design for Exercise Areas in the Home

With today's growing emphasis on health and wellness, the exercise or fitness area has become an important part of the home, providing an opportunity to flex our design muscles. It may be an integral or adjacent space to the master suite, or it may be located in a more public space. It may be intended strictly for the residents of the master suite or for use by the entire family.

Wherever it is, it frequently relates to a water space, from simple bath and shower to master bath or family spa. Following are suggestions for concepts and products that make up the exercise space.

Assess Needs
As with any project, you should first assess the clients' needs. What are the clients' fitness and exercise priorities? Do they spend 20 minutes on each exercise machine every day, or do they just need a space for a treadmill when rainy days disrupt their outdoor walking routine? Is new exercise equipment a priority, or will existing equipment be used? Should fold-up equipment be used that can be stored in a corner or closet?

Discussing the space available and the clients' exercise program is critical in determining if the space is adequate. Exercise equipment can consume a lot of space. The space may also need to be more flexible to meet a variety of needs and exercise programs, and to allow for more than one person at a station.

Some activities, such as aerobics, calisthenics, stretching and yoga, require nothing more than a mat and enough space to safely perform the exercise. Other activities can be supplemented with low-tech accessories, such as stability balls used during stretching. Sizes vary and depend on the size of the user, with common sizes being 45 cm, 55 cm and 65cm. Sliders can be used for side-to-side or lateral exercises; step benches for step-aerobics and a punching or heavy bag can be used for kickboxing, boxing aerobics or karate. Closets should be planned for mats and accessories if they need to be put away after each use or if the area is to be used for a separate function.

Aerobic exercise machines need to be flexible if multiple users of different heights, weights and fitness goals will use them. For multiple users, the equipment and finishes also need to be durable to accommodate usage throughout the day. Common exercise machines include treadmills, bikes, rowing machines, stair climbers, elliptical, ski machines and a multi-station gym.
Equipment for strength training includes free-weight sets including weights, bars, clips and storage, dumbbells and storage rack, elastic tubes or bands for resistance training, benches including slant boards for weight lifting or sit-ups and inversion tables for stretching and yoga, and a Pilates reformer.

Other components in the exercise room might include a locker area for storage of clothes, shoes, towels or water bottles; a bench; a clothes hamper for used clothes; and a storage area located near the machines for reading material. Stereo systems to provide music for aerobics or dancing and televisions with VCRs or DVD players for instructional videos or entertainment are popular. A large clock that counts seconds and is easy to read is also helpful, as are mirrors on multiple walls to ensure proper form. In some cases, space for a juice bar or beverage center is also desired.

Design options
You can use stature and body breadth dimensions to figure minimum floor space for exercises such as sit-ups and push ups. An excellent source of standard dimensions is Human Dimensions and Interior Space: A Source Book of Design Reference Standards by Zelnik and Panero. The client's side arm reach, forward thumb tip reach, vertical grip reach and buttocks-leg length should also be considered when planning for stretching or calisthenics. Although you can measure your client, when possible, use standard human body measurements from the largest percentile to make a more flexible space.

If more than one person is using the space, you should plan for clearance between people. (HDIS) recommends 3" to 6" between two persons' arms extended to the side.

To develop the space plan and to determine if the space is adequate, measure the existing equipment or obtain manufacturer's specs on new equipment, just as you would for fixtures in a bathroom. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) has determined guidelines that can quickly help in determining the space needed for common exercise equipment.

  • Treadmills: 30 sq. ft.
  • Free weights: 20-50 sq. ft.
  • Bikes, recumbent and upright: 10 sq. ft.
  • Rowing Machines: 20 sq. ft.
  • Stair Climbers: 10 to 20 sq. ft.
  • Ski Machines: 25 sq. ft.
  • Single-station gym: 35 sq. ft.
  • Multi-station gym: 50 to 200 sq. ft.

In addition to the dimension of the equipment you must also provide a clear path of travel, with a minimum of 30" clearance to each piece of equipment. Also consider how much space is needed for the exercising human body.

In no other space in the home is ceiling height as critical as it is in the exercise area. This is especially true when an exercise program includes vertical jumping such as jumping jacks, jump roping or plyometrics, which may include jumping up and down on boxes or platforms. For example, dancing that includes lifts of another person requires a recommended ceiling height of 12'.

Use indirect lighting to avoid glare. Fluorescent lamps are also a good choice, as they don't put off as much heat as halogen or xenon lamps. Avoid ceiling mounted or hanging light fixtures or pendants that could be accidentally damaged during exercise. Plan for proper ventilation that will remove moisture and odor released into the air by exercising bodies and discarded exercise clothes.

In addition to exercise mats, the entire floor should be cushioned with a dense floor mat to protect the floor and to help prevent sound transmission. Likewise, treatment to and the construction of the walls should limit transmission of sound to adjacent rooms.