Tips to Keep Saunas and Steam Rooms Appealing to Users
by March 2015
It’s a story all too familiar to many fitness facility operators: a new facility or renovation opens, boasting a new sauna or steam room that will be the facility’s crowning jewel and attract myriad new members. Months later, though, it’s fallen into disuse (or worse yet, a failure of the steam room enclosure renders it useless) and sits as an empty waste of space.
Guarding Locker Rooms Against MRSA
by Super User November 2014
While there have been reports of outbreaks of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) in hospitals and medical facilities for decades, those who contracted the disease were often older people or people with significantly weakened immune systems, leaving many athletic facility operators with their own false sense of immunity. However, the affliction of three otherwise healthy players for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year, as well as five cases, including two student-athletes, reported in the Northville (Mich.) Public School District have shaken that mindset and have many athletic facility operators reevaluating their cleaning procedures.
Investing In Free Weights
by Guy Brown October 2014
All free weights are not created equal, and it pays to make sure you invest wisely in this core piece of equipment.
Free weights are an economical way to provide a wide variety of exercise options. Unlike machine-based resistance training, affording an almost limitless number of exercises for a modest amount of space. Free weight training is also popular across a broad swathe of members, including segments traditionally disassociated with this kind of resistance training, such as older adults and women.
While free weights are essentially basic pieces of equipment compared to the complexities of cardiovascular and resistance machines, free weight designs have evolved to the point where the products are vastly different than their forerunners. User-friendly materials and bright coloring have helped to break the "pumping iron" reputation that, for a long time, dominated free weight training and intimidated many people from using this equipment. Personal training has also helped to make more people comfortable training with free weights. Group exercise classes that involve free weights have had a similar impact. T
The decision to invest in free weights is a no-brainer - according to IHRSA, 97 percent of fitness centers offer free weights. But, there are several other decisions to be made about material, shape, storage and quantity.
Free weights can be finished in chrome, black oxide, powdercoated steel, stainless steel, rubber or urethane. Will Geddis, design assistant for WTS International, Rockville, Md., says, in most cases, steel dumbbells and plates are powdercoated, which makes them more susceptible to wear and tear. They will also generate more noise than urethane and rubber. He says the best material for dumbbells and plates depends on the application and frequency of usage. "Urethane dumbbells and plates are a wise option for clubs that generate over 700 uses per day," says Geddis. He adds that the advanced bonding of urethane provides the edge over rubber. The bonding means there is less chance of splitting and tearing, and it won't leave black scuff marks. "Having said that, urethane weights come with a hefty price tag," Geddis says. "Rubber is the more economical option, while still very durable and soft on impact."
For many years, chrome was the preferred choice because of its shining, aesthetic appearance. "The advantage of chrome would be appearance, but it is slippery when wet," says Brian Samuel, director of operations for L&T Health and Fitness, Falls Church, Va. And, there are question marks over the long-term durability of chrome. Chip- and flake-resistant chrome Olympic bars and dumbbells are available, but sharp edges can still be a risk over time. "Chrome chips, and the chipped areas can be quite sharp," says Samuel. "I've had shards of chrome in my hand from chrome dumbbells." Similarly, pitting and blemishes can appear, and it shows fingerprints.
Fitness facilities often steer clear of rubber dumbbells and plates because they give off strong odors; however, the odor is not inherent to all rubber -it depends on the manufacturing process. Rubber also tends to be viewed as less durable, but good quality rubber can last. These days, rubber can also be made in different colors. And urethane is a form of rubber itself.
Jim Thomas of Fitness Management Consulting, Flower Mound, Texas, says urethane is by far the best material for dumbbells and plates. "It not only looks great, but is very durable," says Thomas. "There are no chipped painted plates or dumbbells, and no noise from plates clanging together." It will also not damage floors, although there is some evidence that urethane can chip powdercoated surfaces.
Free Weights Selection
Brian Samuel, director of operations for L&T Health and Fitness, Falls Church, Va., lists the equipment suitable for a free weights area:
Plates: Work with your vendor to determine what you need based on how many barbells and plateloaded pieces of equipment you have in your facility.
Dumbbells: Most facilities need a complete set up to 120 pounds. To be well-equipped, the set should be in 2.5-pound increments up to 40 pounds, with duplicates up to 50 pounds.
Equipment: Facilities should have Olympic flat, incline and decline benches; a shoulder press station; a power rack/squat rack; a deadlift station; multi-angle incline and flat, and multi-angle decline utility benches; a short-back seat; and Preacher curls (standing and seated).
A higher-quality free weight will not be plagued by problems, such as a rubber odor or chipping. In determining the quality of free weight, Samuel says that the old adage applies: You get what you pay for. "Less expensive plates tend to show wear quicker and are less accurate when compared to their stated weight." The manufacturer, in keeping costs low, may opt to use a lower grade of metal. By investing in more expensive free weight equipment, fitness centers can expect longer lasting, more accurate weights and better aesthetics.
The quality of urethane free weight products can vary. Some urethane coatings are thicker than others, and the formula itself can vary, leaving some prone to splitting and not providing good cushioning on impact. The reason urethane thickness varies is cost - urethane is more expensive than iron or steel, so some suppliers provide a thinner coating.
Thomas says that cheaper equipment will chip paint easily, and have a rough feel and look to the surface. He says facility owners should ask about the grade of the steel and how it compares to others, but "be sure you're comparing apples to apples." He says that there is not a great deal of difference between the more high-quality brands, and most manufacturers use a decent grade of steel. Geddis says that steel dumbbells and plates are more likely to damage flooring and other equipment when compared to urethane and rubber.
Country of manufacturing origin is another issue to consider. While some countries may supply a cheaper product, the quality of metal and design may be lower, leading to worse performance and a shorter lifespan. "U.S. or imported, the cheaper the cost, the cheaper the quality," says Samuel. "You may get a better high-quality U.S. product for a lower cost, since shipping tends to be a killer when it comes to plates." Geddis says that most free weights are manufactured overseas now, and high quality products are available.
"Free weights, in general, are the most maintenance-free items when compared to [other] equipment," says Geddis. But, lower-quality equipment exacts a heavier maintenance toll.
Maintenance and Installation
Here are some common maintenance issues with plates and dumbbells:
Plates. There is no general cost associated with the maintenance of plates - just clean them occasionally.
Dumbbells. With dumbbells, head-bolted bells tend to need more attention. The cost would be whatever you would pay your maintenance contractor or employee to tighten them on a regular basis. The method of fixing weights to bars needs scrutinizing. "Bolted head weights are more prone to failure," says Geddis. "In most equipment failure cases, the dumbbell handle will loosen from the weight plate, allowing the plate to spin or detach. This is an issue that clubs don't have to worry about when they go with welded-head weights."
Says Samuel, "Solid steel would be the best - the bar is attached inside the bell. If you are choosing a plate-style dumbbell, consider that, if a bolt shears, it may be able to be replaced. [However,] if a weld breaks, a welder would need to repair it, and it will change the weight of the bell. But, welded [bells] tend to have less wobble in the plates."
There are additional quality considerations regarding particular pieces of equipment. Olympic bars can bend, and have even been known to snap. It is a matter of the manufacturing quality. A well-made Olympic bar will be straighter to start with, and stay straight even when used with heavy plate loads. Bars with low tensile strength and low yield strength can bend more easily. According to Ivanko, any Olympic bar with a tensile strength rating of less than 190,000 PSI will bend over time. So, ask suppliers how their bars are made. Even with the highest manufacturing standards, some bars will have flaws. Bar strength can also be compromised by grooves, which, despite their aesthetic appeal, lessen the diameter of the bar at those points, making them weaker.
To help ensure a safe investment, find other fitness centers that have installed the same equipment, and ask them how the equipment has performed so far. Thomas advises buyers to actually exercise with the product under consideration.
Function and Style
With the evolution of free weight design and materials, functionality and ergonomics have improved. Many plates these days come with grip slots for ease of handling, which improves safety. With both dumbbells and plates, there is a choice between round headed and multi-sided equipment. Multi-sided weights with up to 12 sides were developed with the goal of preventing rolling, which is considered by some as a safety risk. Samuel says that multi-sided or round dumbbells and plates is a matter of preference: "Round dumbbell advocates will say they are easier to move around and better balanced. Multi-sided advocates will say they are safer and easier to handle."
Storage options also need to be carefully evaluated. Investing in a quality rack for your dumbbells and plates will help extend the life of the equipment, and make it more user friendly. For instance, a dumbbell rack should be angled to allow for easy removal and replacement of weights. This also improves the tidiness and safety of the weight area.
Geddis says a good rack will soften the impact of putting weights back with some sort of cushioning. "Racks are often the main cause of dumbbell deterioration," he explains. "Any time metal collides with metal, there is the potential for wear." He adds that, unfortunately, this is hard to control with weight plates, because they are stored side by side.
Attention to flooring can further help to eliminate damage to the facility when weights are dropped, as they frequently are. Thomas says the minimum thickness of flooring should be 1/2-inch rubber, with 3/4 inches working best.
How Many Weights?
How much free weight equipment you need depends on standard criteria of membership numbers and facility size. "Most clubs can feel safe if they purchase pairs from 5 to 100 pounds, with some duplicates in the smaller increments from 20 to 45 pounds," says Thomas. "Being well-equipped depends on the size of the facility."
Geddis says that WTS generally recommends a set of beauty bells and 5- to 55-pound dumbbells, with duplicate dumbbells for 15, 20, 25, 30 and 35 pounds (for a 1,500-square-foot fitness center). The quantity of weight plates solely depends on the number of plateloaded machines and equipment. This works out as a plate package for every two compound-movement stations (e.g., the Smith press, incline press, supine press, squat rack, etc.). A plate package consists of eight 45s, four 35s, eight 25s, eight 10s, eight 5s and four 2.5-pound plates.
Budget and Warranties
If you are on a tight budget, you may wish to consider the used market. Thomas says that you can get good prices on some decent equipment, but "watch out for painted-over, rusty plates." Samuel advises fitness centers to find out where the equipment is coming from and how it has been treated. "If the weights are old and in an environment where members have a tendency to throw the weights around and drop them all over the place, they will be worse for the wear," he says.
Guarantees are another thing to consider. "Free weights should come with a replacement warranty; if they break under normal use, they should be replaced with an equal piece," says Thomas. Samuel says that free weights should come with a lifetime guarantee if the company really stands behind its product, but three to five years is reasonable.
An advantage of urethane over rubber is that it can be engraved. So, customizing the equipment with your facility's name or logo is an option, but not without expense. "Branding your equipment provides a unique upgrade to equipment that is otherwise generic," says Geddis. Generally, the artist setup fee starts around $200 for branding dumbbells and plates. The price per dumbbell/plate starts around $25 per plate/pair of dumbbells, and increases rapidly depending on the complexity of the design. Thomas says that branding free weights can provide a personalized touch and help counter theft. But, he adds, there are other ways to brand your business.
A further consideration is, once emblazoned with your name and/or logo, you are stuck with it. Your facility may change owners or affiliation, or simply want a fresh look. Branded equipment is also going to be harder to trade in or sell.
Consider the Long Term
By choosing the right material for your needs, and being a stickler for quality, fitness centers can ensure that their free weight investment delivers long-term performance.
Proper Management of Saunas and Steam Rooms
by Emily Attwood October 2014
In Europe, saunas and steam rooms are commonplace. In Finland especially, where the traditional sauna has its roots, saunas are simply a part of life. Most Finns grow up with a sauna in their home, and using it becomes a weekly (if not more frequent) ritual from childhood on.
Though not as ingrained into the American culture, saunas and steam rooms are a major draw in the United States for people looking to soothe muscles after a workout, lose weight, heal the body, remove toxins or simply relax after a long day. As the cost and time needed to maintain saunas and steam rooms decreases and energy efficiency increases, more health club owners are looking to add these amenities to their facilities.
Despite the benefits, the addition of a sauna or steam room should not be undertaken without a fair amount of consideration. Unlike in Finland, where users know how to work a sauna as though it were any other household appliance, the typical U.S. club member is often unfamiliar with how to use a sauna properly - and the typical club owner may not know how to best take care of either a sauna or steam room. For the uninitiated, the nature of the steam room and sauna - a harsh environment set off from supervision - lends itself to risks.
As with any product, there are discrepancies between the way these amenities are intended to be used and how they are actually used. As Tom Frisbie, manager of Teton Sports Club in Jackson Hole, Wyo., says, "Whatever people can do, they will do. You have to expect anything."
Vandalism is one of the more common types of misuse, especially in recreational clubs and resorts, where the user demographic includes not only people interested in these spaces' health benefits but those attracted by the social draw or entertainment value. Club owners have experienced users defiling signs, tampering with seating or other infrastructure and leaving behind garbage or other messes. The Teton Sports Club has a membership of about 750, but Frisbie believes that most of the problems are caused by vacationers passing through.
To curb vandalism or misuse perpetrated by teens, Frisbie, like many other facility owners, has created rules restricting sauna and steam room usage based on age. For example, YMCA regulations vary by facility, with some prohibiting users under the age of 18 and others allowing visitors as young as 13. Still others require adult supervision.
One of the worst and potentially most dangerous problems involves users interfering with a sauna's heating element. There is no shortage of club owners or managers who can share their experience of a user urinating on the heating element or pouring something other than water onto it. At best, the substances do no harm, but they necessitate a thorough cleaning of the heating element. Sometimes the heating element will sustain damage and require replacement. In the worst-case scenario, substances such as oils can start a fire and endanger users.
The rocks in a sauna are meant to have some water added, so giving users access to the proper tools to do so reduces the likelihood of users seeking out their own methods of increasing the room's humidity. This can still lead to problems, though, when users disregard guidelines, so many club owners prefer to discourage water usage altogether.
"We supply bucket and dipper," says Reino Tarkiainen, president of Portland, Ore.-based Finlandia Sauna, "but the club owners usually don't put them in. It's okay to use clean water if you know how to do it."
The design of sauna heating elements has remained the same since 1962, according to Jon Vanderpool, commercial sales manager at Am-Finn Sauna and Steam in Eagle, Idaho, though added safety features have reduced many of the risks associated with them. Am-Finn offers a special heating-element model that separates the heating element from the rocks using a stainless steel tray. Thus, water (or other substances) added to the rocks does not come into contact with the heating element, lowering the risk of harm. Sauna and steam manufacturers have also added other features to combat users' attempts to tamper with the controls.
"No matter how hot you run the room," says Vanderpool, "You're always going to have someone who wants it hotter. If they have a way to manipulate the sauna heater, they'll do it; they'll figure it out."
Users of steam rooms often try to increase the steam output by manipulating the temperature gauge or steam element. Increased steam can make the environment uncomfortable as well as dangerous, raising temperatures to unsafe levels or causing skin to feel like it is burning. To circumvent this problem, rooms can be designed with the temperature sensor inside the shell of the heater, where users can't access it.
"Another thing facility operators like to do is go with a 24-hour timer," says Vanderpool. "They can preprogram the hours of operation for the room so that it turns on automatically in the morning and turns off at night. Members don't have access; it's all run off controls in a self-contained unit."
In the event that a user is able to manipulate the controls or some other problem occurs, sauna heaters come with high-limit switches, which shut down the heating element when a preset temperature is reached or surpassed. Also available are alarms that clubs can install in the rooms - either audible alarms or mechanisms that disconnect the power to the heating element.
Such safety features reduce a lot of the risk associated with users tampering with the environment, but not with some of the inappropriate behaviors endemic to saunas and steam rooms. For example, users who want to take advantage of the benefits of steam to their skin sometimes do their shaving in the steam room. Shaving cream and razors can leave behind messes or lead to damage, and the hair and potential for cuts and blood create hygiene issues.
More problematic than shaving is the possibility of sexual activity (consensual or otherwise). The behind-closed-doors nature of these building spaces creates a temptation and opportunity for steamy (or dry-heat) encounters. This is one of the reasons that more facility operators and architects are moving steam rooms or saunas out of locker rooms and onto pool decks or into other more visible areas.
"The more private or gender-specific rooms are usually at the private clubs or hospital-based wellness centers," says Robert McDonald, senior principal at Denver-based Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative. "Public recreation centers and YMCAs are increasingly leaning toward the other model. We try to address all of the issues upfront in the pre-design phase, talk about the type of clientele they want to attract and what kind of amenities they want to see in the locker room versus out on the pool deck."
The most obvious advantage of having one larger unisex sauna or steam room instead of two smaller spaces is the reduction in maintenance costs. The major complaint among owners of steam rooms has always been the upkeep - the environment of a steam room makes it a prime breeding ground for mold and bacteria, necessitating thorough daily cleanings.
The advent of fiberglass steam rooms has done away with many of these complaints. "Fiberglass steam rooms have been on the market for about 10 years," says Vanderpool, "They are becoming very popular now because they have lower maintenance requirements. Typically, they're 30 to 50 percent more efficient than tile, and the units we have are self-cleaning, using ozone."
Even with lower-maintenance models, saunas and steam rooms still require some daily cleaning and staff to ensure that everything is in proper condition. Not only does having one unisex steam room or sauna instead of separate amenities cut maintenance costs and reduce the amount of staff time required to supervise the areas, having the facilities on the pool deck gets them out in the open. In addition to watching over the pool, lifeguards are now finding care of the steam room or sauna added to their rotation schedule.
Despite the reduced element of privacy, some may argue that the potential for sexual behavior increases with a shared room. In reality, shared usage of a sauna or steam room usually means more traffic, facility operators say, leaving fewer opportunities for total privacy.
"We supply a glass door so you always have visibility. Management doesn't have to go through the door but can look in," says Finlandia's Tarkiainen. Simply having windows decreases the privacy factor and thus potential for vandalism or inappropriate behavior. Fiberglass steam rooms provide a similar benefit, as they can be built with a front wall made completely of glass, Vanderpool says.
These steps are not always enough to prevent uneducated users from behaving in ways they don't realize is harmful or inappropriate. "There are health risks to people staying in them too long, and you might actually see people exercising in them, as well," says McDonald. Prolonged exposure can lead to dehydration or heat exhaustion, especially after a hard workout (or combined with consumption of alcohol - a problem often seen in resort facilities). People with heart or respiratory conditions should take heed before entering a sauna or steam room, and despite studies indicating that the heat of these facilities can increase resistance to illness, it can be detrimental to those who are already ill or running a fever.
"Each sauna has a warning not to stay in for more than 30 minutes. We supply that with every heater," says Tarkiainen. Signage is the easiest way to educate readers on the dos and don'ts. Comprehensive rules should include not just how to use the room properly, but identify health risks and dictate proper dress, hygiene, behavior, and time and age restrictions.
But signs are easily ignored or overlooked, and should not be relied upon to enforce sauna or steam room rules. For membership facilities, education of proper practices and health risks should be addressed before initial use, and clauses addressing misuse included in the membership agreement.
In clubs like Frisbie's, however, where a large number of users are visitors, it's harder to ensure everyone is provided with that information. "We do give everybody a little speech every time they come in," he says. "But even still, we have to keep our eyes on them."
The best way to minimize the risks associated with saunas and steam rooms is not to rely on users to know and follow the rules of operation: Staff walk-throughs are the most common and effective means of preventing inappropriate behavior or misuse.
"Most clubs should have somebody who will check into the sauna at least every 15 to 30 minutes," says Tarkiainen. Scheduling walk-throughs at regular intervals during the day allows staff members to ensure that users are following posted rules, not exceeding time limits or suffering from any health issues. This also gives staff a chance to make sure all equipment is working properly and to catch and remedy any vandalism or other potential problems. Walk-throughs should be accompanied by a checklist documenting conditions.
When a club's staffing schedule makes it impractical to do regular walk-throughs, surveillance and monitoring equipment is recommended. A combination of visual and electronic surveillance is better still. Cameras placed outside of the rooms can be used to actively monitor usage or create a record that can be reviewed later.
Saunas and steam rooms don't have to be a headache for owners and managers. With proper planning, maintenance and staffing, as well as education on the part of the management team and users alike, the risks associated with these rooms can be minimized. Facility owners should not hesitate to take on the challenge associated with saunas and steam rooms in exchange for the many benefits they can bring to their business.
"There are a lot of people who will buy a membership simply because of the amenities a facility has," says Vanderpool. "If the rooms are down, we hear from those people; they're always the ones who complain the loudest."
Strength Equipment Requires Maintenance to Maximize Functionality
by September 2014
Built to last, commercial strength equipment still requires maintenance to maximize functionality.
AEDs Save Lives, But Only If You Maintain Them
by Andrew Cohen September 2014
Kathy Margiasso, fitness director at Mount Kisco (N.Y.) Athletic Club, joined a really special club last week when she saved a 64-year-old member's life with an automated external defibrillator. Told that the member (whose name was withheld) had fallen off a treadmill and was unconscious, she told the club manager to call 911, grabbed the AED, shocked the victim and, with the help of personal trainer Val Yasovic, performed CPR until EMTs arrived. According to First Aid Corps, the member was stabilized at a nearby hospital and underwent double bypass surgery the following day.
Tips for Maintaining and Replacing Weight Room Flooring
by Dennis Van Milligen September 2014
When the University of Oregon formally unveiled its new $68 million football performance center, the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex, last summer, it redefined athletic luxury on the collegiate level. Designed by Portland-based ZGF Architects LLP, amenities include a players lounge with Italian leather furniture, rugs hand-woven in Nepal and customized gaming systems; a space-age locker room that requires a biometric thumbprint to enter; and a 25,000-square-foot weight room fortified with Brazilian Ipe wood floors. Environmentally friendly, this type of flooring is mold-, fire-, weather- and pest-resistant, and its strength is comparable to that of steel.
The Damaging Effects of Sweat
by August 2014
"Okay, class, who's ready to sweat?"
Such a question might be greeted with enthusiasm - even cheers - from a room full of eager stationary cyclists. After all, that's why they're here. And in this setting, inspiration translates to perspiration. If it doesn't, something's wrong.
Fitness Pros Take a Closer Look at Locker Room Cleanliness
by Nicholas Brown August 2014
Virulent bacteria and a germ-sensitive public are forcing fitness pros to look more closely at locker room cleanliness.
3 Simple Things People Consider When Choosing a Club
by June 2014
A while ago I wrote about shopping for a new health club. I was able to look at clubs from the perspective of the average potential member when shopping around for a new gym, because I was in the market for a new gym membership. In the end, I joined the "best of the bunch," although the experience, and most of the clubs, were all pretty unmemorable.
So, what simple steps can you, as an independent health club, do to stand out from the competition? Getting that leg up may not be as tough or expensive as you would think.
Develop a brand personality.
Think of the most recognizable brands. They are recognizable, not only because of a great logo and advertising, but because they have figured out what they are and built a brand and a voice that mirrors that. Wal-mart? Low prices. Apple? Cool, cutting-edge tech. Virgin? Rebellious.
All of those brands know what they are; from the leadership on down. And that helps them stand apart from the competition. You should learn from them.
If you think fitness is hard-driving, sports performance, be that. Maybe it's something that should be fun and high-energy. If so, keep it fun in the club and in your marketing. Maybe you are a bit edgy or very corporate; tell that story so you attract the correct members that will keep your business growing.
Whatever your philosophy and outlook on fitness and business is, it should be reflected in your operations--remember, in the end you, as the owner of an independent health club, are the brand. By trying to be everything to everyone, you will never stand out from the crowd and you will be lost in the shuffle.
While buying new equipment may be a tempting way to help your gym stand out from the others in the neighborhood, it's likely not as important as keeping what you have clean and in working condition. While you don't want 10-year-old treadmills and bikes crowding your fitness floor, buying new equipment to keep up with the Jones' may not be as worthwhile as you may think. Most members and prospects don't know the difference between brands, a year-old or two-year-old model, or the latest deck technology. What they do know is that they want the equipment to be safe, clean, and working every time they come in to the health club. By setting up a maintenance and cleaning schedule--and sticking to it-- you will impress more prospects and members than the big chain down the street with new equipment that is dirty and covered with "under the weather" signs.
There is nothing more powerful than a smile. If every prospect or member is greeted by every employee --and not just those at the front desk, they will remember you. Think about the last restaurant you enjoyed. What was the first thing you thought of? There is a good chance that your first positive association with that experience didn't even involve the food. Maybe it was the decor, but it probably was that the maître d' that greeted you with a smile or your congenial waiter/waitress. It is probably that the server went above and beyond to make sure you had the best experience possible. And, if it is a restaurant you are a regular at, it was probably all done not only with a smile, but with your name as well. These factors of people and place are what equals the ambiance of the restaurant--or its brand personality. Make sure your staff is working that hard to make your members and guests feel that same way you did at that restaurant, when they are in your gym.
Sure, it isn't easy to stand out from the crowd. But by making sure your health club and its staff reflect a personality that is your brand you'll have a better shot than most.