By Joe Kenn, MA CSCS RSCC*E SCCC MSCC
Good news! Administration has received funding for a new performance facility. You are tasked with taking the lead in facility design and development. Architects have given you facility dimensions and design discussions begin. Are you ready? Are you prepared to intelligently discuss design needs and desires that will successfully prepare athletes for achieving defined goals?
I have been fortunate to design two facilities in my career. The first was a new build for Arizona State University as the head football strength and conditioning coach in 2001. The facility design was a new build and highlighted in Sports Illustrated (August 12, 2002). It was deemed state-of-the-art and a “gleaming new temple of strength.” The second was for a renovation of an existing space at the NFL Carolina Panthers as strength and conditioning coach in 2011. Design elements were limited by stadium/architectural dimensions. Both designs required a thorough consideration of budget, dimensions/size, equipment wish lists, internal politics, team access, and consideration of new build or renovation.
New builds require early involvement to “politic” for the largest amount of space. Whether new build or renovation, dimensions have usually been finalized by administration, coaches, and—to some degree—boosters prior to your involvement. New builds are a strength coach’s dream. Renovations require more finesse and may include use of spaces that were previously designated as multipurpose/recreation rooms, previous team courts, or other reimagined spaces. There will be administrative decisions over which you have little control, but here are specific elements of facility design that need to be considered.
When I designed my first weight room, I thought it was all about the equipment and aesthetics. Boy, was I wrong. After thirty-one years in sports performance, I have learned many things. Much comes from personal experience, but an equal amount comes from dialoguing with colleagues and professionals. Seek out experts and coaches who have expertise in the process. Below are general touch points that can be used regardless of your budget.
Practical Decision Making
Structural Room Decisions and Layout
Space is premium and usually discussed as total square feet. Factors to consider include location. Is it on the ground floor or an elevated floor. If elevated, what is the load-bearing capacity. Will it need reinforcement? Are there limitations?
Structure of the space is another factor. Is it a rectangular space (my preference), or is it square, oval, triangular, or oddly-shaped? What elements in the space may reduce active usable work spaces such as pillars, archways, windows, doors and other features? You’ll also want to consider insulation properties regarding sound and motion.
What is the current division of space? Is there a main performance floor? Are there offices? Restrooms? Nutrition stations? Storage?
There are a seemingly endless number of options for how to configure your room. Some basic areas to consider would be your cardio area, multi-purpose stations with platform, dumbbell area, auxiliary area and prep/warm up area. Then there is the traditional room section featuring platform, squat area and bench press area.
Electrical, Lighting, Audio/Visual, Monitors
These go hand-in-hand with your room layout, but are decided after you have a finalized plan. You’ll need to think about outlet placement and be aware of where you will need special voltage outlets based on equipment.
Lighting is an often under-appreciated aspect of facility planning but is a key element to a tremendous facility. The right lighting can enhance mood and be put to specialized use. Extremely bright room/mood lighting will enhance energy levels. Another critical point to consider, however, is your floor layout. Make sure platforms and benches do not line up directly above a light. Lights directly in the eyes of someone who is benching could hinder their activity.
Installing TVs or video monitors in your facility offers ways to support and enhance your program or the lifters’ routines. Use video monitors to post programs, teach techniques, play specialized content, or just play motivational content. Visual enhancements like these aren’t only functional, but add a cool factor to your location.
As much or more influential to a weight room is the audio system. This is a key focal and motivational point of emphasis for your athletes. A good sound system will bring the “JUICE!!!” Based on the room, acoustics and what your source for media will be, you will want to consider surround sound, wireless speakers and Wi-Fi capabilities. You’ll want to be sure to stay abreast of new developing technologies.
Practical Coaching Decisions
(The Fun Stuff…in order of importance)
Everything starts from the ground up. Flooring is your first important decision. A strong, durable, and resilient floor is an important investment in facility design. Major touch points to decide on are type of Flooring Material, the thickness of floor (single versus multi-layered), tile or rolled, a field/artificial turf area, and either inlaid platform areas or above-ground traditional platforms.
When determining platforms, there are three important things to consider. First, how much useable floor space will be needed for movement activity? Second, will there be a time when you will renovate and redesign the room? Inlaid platforms will lock you in to a specific floor layout in the long term. Third, if choosing inlaid platforms, make sure to allow proper spacing between drop zone areas for safety.
Barbells and specialty bars are the first tools to discuss. These are the backbone of your equipment list. Considerations should be based on your exercise pool and teaching capabilities. With power bars, knurling is a consideration. If using Olympic bars, you’ll want to consider needle bearing versus ball bearing. Will you need light training bars for youth and female athletes? There are also many specialty bars to consider: fat bars, trap bars and safety squat bars, to name a few. And, finally, when talking bars, collars are the obvious endpoint of discussion and offer a variety of styles.
Bumper plates are the most popular choice for training efficiency in high school, college and university settings. They come in a variety of styles that will range in cost. Materials include solid rubber and urethane. You will also want to ask if calibrated plates are important for your facility or program.
If including steel plates in your inventory, considerations include deep dish or machine-milled plates. Again, these can be calibrated or uncalibrated.
Keep in mind, when adding dumbbell sets to your area, they will require both storage areas and workspace. Choices of dumbbells include traditional standardized plate-based, rubber coated and urethane.
An alternative to full dumbbell sets is PowerBlocks, which save space and can provide training efficiency. Depending on the power PowerBlocks you choose—and on the popularity of multi-purpose stations—you could have the equivalent of 35 pairs of dumbbells at one station.
Choices and options of racks are highly dependent on the size of your room and the style of training. Facility favorites are the half rack, double half rack, double full rack and combo half rack/full rack.
Beyond offering a range of routines themselves, rack attachments add functionality to the rack station while saving space. Just a few of the many attachments to consider include chin up attachments with various grips, jammer attachments, single leg squat pad, and connectors (arches or bridges). Storage solutions include bar holders, plate storage and dumbbell/kettlebell storage.
Auxiliary equipment includes cardio, selectorized (pin select), plate-loaded, accessory equipment and storage options. When deciding on all the auxiliary pieces that you will need to complete the facility of your dreams, your choices should be based on what you deem important in an athletic development program, as well as how much space is available after you have chosen the number of multi-purpose stations you will have in your facility.
Here is a basic list, but many more options exist: treadmill, step mill, bike, air bike, elliptical, glute ham raise, 45-degree back extension, reverse hyper, inverse leg curl, leg extension, leg curl, functional trainer/dual action pulley, lat pulldown, seated row, neck machine, kettlebells, stability balls, medicine balls, slam balls, independent storage units, and storage units attached to racks.
Beginning this process is an exciting time for a facility developer. This can seem like an overwhelming process, but I promise by creating a check list, including questions to ask professionals, developing your equipment wish list, and preparing and gathering as much needed facility design information, you will be more than ready to represent your athletes and the program in a successful manner.
This article should help you start your journey. I am sure other questions, concerns, and equipment thoughts will come to mind as you are reading this. I believe this outline is a great starting point to send you on a successful path to a tremendous facility.
Facility design and expertise are available at every level. Consider this is an open invitation to call me at Dynamic Fitness and Strength if you want to chat about any facility design or any other elements of equipment needs. I, combined with our qualified sale representatives, have over 130 years’ combined experience in this industry. We offer extensive help and will answer any questions along the way.
About The Author
Joe Kenn is the Vice President of Performance Education for Dynamic Fitness & Strength. Coach Kenn has over three decades of experience as a as a strength and conditioning coach at the high school, college and professional level, including stops at Pine Crest Prep, Boise State, Utah, Arizona State, Louisville and the Carolina Panthers. For more info about Coach Kenn, or to talk more with the experts at Dynamic Fitness and Strength, please visit mydynamicfitness.com.