New Functional Training Zones
Setting Up Functional Training Zones
What should be taken into consideration when setting up functional training zones at clubs or micro studios to make these training zones a success? What should be their minimum size? Which training equipment is a must-have and what headcount is required to run it?
Functional training requires neither special equipment nor a special training zone at a club because the exercises performed during this training are aimed at natural, every-day motion sequences that target several muscles at a time. This is possible any time anywhere because the person’s own body weight is used. So personal trainers can also start outdoors without any facilities – provided they have undergone the required quality training.
However, times have now moved on and there are a host of boutique clubs on the market specialising in functional training that boast hip design and well-thought-out training organisation. Even large fitness facilities face this new competition and have started incorporating functional training zones into their complexes to rise to this challenge.
New Furnishing Standards
Although a person’s own body weight is actually sufficient to sustain training, newly furnished, modern functional training zones now set certain minimum standards for amenities. After all, functional training has now become widely known due to widespread media exposure. Customer expectations are therefore also rising. Club operators can no longer rely on just exercising outdoors with no equipment at all or on a few yoga mats and dumbbells ready in the equipment zone.
“Given the developments at clubs, the zones initially started small in the early stages of the functional training era. Soon these special exercise zones took up a quarter or even a third of club floor space,” says Stefan Liebezeit, sports scientist and instructor at Transatlantic Fitness. Alongside small equipment such as kettlebells and medicine balls the spectrum today ranges from suspension training, racks and rowing gear to digital, interactive high-tech floors that connect functional training with gaming. The choice is growing by the day, which does not make it any easier to decide what is exactly right for any given set-up. Again, personal preferences, personal focal themes, existing premises and the financial framework play a role.
In addition to the selection of small equipment made available, every operator has to decide for themselves what they want to offer. The first basic criterion is the space available and how this area can best be utilised. Is this for a boutique studio opening or the redesign of an existing fitness club? Here, the owner’s preferences and goals, the fitness targets and customer wishes play a prominent role.
Concepts therefore count when it comes to a successful implementation. The “Athletik Docks” gym in the Schanzenviertel district of Hamburg specialises in personal and weight training for functional training. “We don’t offer TRX Suspension Training. Instead, there is some weight equipment for leg curls and leg extensions as well as a wide variety of barbells with different handles, weight plates and dumbbells,” explains Managing Director Nima Mashagh who goes on to say: “There are five personal trainers here working full-time. This means, when fully occupied there are five trainers and five participants. This is also why we have five racks and the corresponding number of bar and dumbbells.”
The bigger the space, the more spectacular the furnishing. But this does not necessarily make the zone successful. The example of “Athletik Docks” in Hamburg proves that success is determined by the concept rather than the size. Brothers Nima and Bijan Mashagh initially started on 200m². “We had the opportunity to expand the floor size to 350m²,” remarks Nima Mashagh – a size that offers more than enough room for the maximum 5 training subjects. At “Athletikhalle” in Norderstedt owner Thorben Schütt has also offered athletic and functional training on 380m² since January 2018. The hall is fitted with the latest equipment including two custom racks 6 metres in length as well as 30 x 3m artificial turf.
The larger the zone, the more important the question of financial resources, because more room also means you need more equipment and more staff available. So how big should a zone at least be? There is no one answer to this. For the “Athletik Docks” 350m² are more than sufficient. The “heldenhalle” in Stuttgart is one of the three clubs operated by Move Factory. The former factory hall with a room height of eleven metres provides equipment for functional training but also conventional strength and endurance training on 2,000m². Some operators like small footprints while others favour areas above 1,000m². “As a matter of principle, functional training can also be performed without equipment in the smallest of spaces,” says Christin Lüdemann, Deputy Managing Director at Meridian Spa & Fitness in Hamburg, and adds: “For more variety in training, however, sufficient space is required, 100 to 200m² – if only for the sprint running track. In our opinion 250m² to 400m² is ideal.” Marcel John is Managing Partner at Functional Training Company GmbH and an expert in the set-up of functional training zones. He deems a minimum size of 70m² to 100m² reasonable. “Basically, some 30m² of space are sufficient for a small group of three to five participants,” says the Life Fitness team confidently.
“The only must-have is the floor space – any other equipment is optional,” says Christin Lüdemann who goes on to explain: “To be able to train endurance and speed alongside strength you should offer – in addition to the classic equipment such as TRX, corebags, kettlebells, dumbbells, medicine balls – rowing ergometers, battle ropes, a weight stack and Plyo box jumps. The Deputy Managing Director of Meridian Spa & Fitness in Hamburg adds: “Equipment that offers many optional uses – towers – are advantageous for space reasons. Equipment for various niche applications such as crossfit/Olympic weightlifting are optional but not mandatory – barbells with mobile racks and rubberised plates as well as a rebound floor are a benefit. A tower or a bridge, in contrast to this, creates second-to-none prerequisites for a large number of different exercises.”
Again, the goal you wish to achieve by setting up the zone is key here. The team at Life Fitness also regards a tower in conjunction with a bridge as indispensable for training variety. This layout, they explain, makes everything possible from exercises with your own body weight through sets with fitness bands, sand bells and kettlebells to work-outs with dumbbells and barbells. “All these go with the matching cardio equipment. Furthermore, suitable flooring with markings and anti-slip features is important to ensure optimum support for training subjects in dynamic training,” says Life Fitness. To Marcel John of Functional Training Company GmbH such tools as TRX Suspension Trainers, kettlebells, battle ropes, Plyo platforms, turf, mini and super bands constitute the basic kit for functional training zones.
It has now become clear that, in particular, such tools as kettlebells, bar and dumbbells, sling trainers and/or TRX Suspension Trainers, medicine balls, battle ropes, tubes, mini bands and Plyo platforms offer a good basis for training. High push-up grips and a speed ladder are nice to have if there are no floor markings. Those taking the long view should also consider high-quality flooring. Turf, i.e. artificial lawn for sprints and towing weight stacks, make a lasting impression and ensure the zone is identified immediately. Most boutique clubs specialising in functional training these days feature floor markings as a visual support for side steps and a speed ladder. Christin Lüdemann also feels that “floor coverings need to be adapted to requirements: anti-slip, sprung and/or elastic and hard-wearing.” High ceilings, he feels, are also advantageous. “Functional training can be associated with high noise levels and vibrations which is why the zone should not be located above relaxation areas or similar amenities.”
Torsten Scheibel, Sales Director at Pavigym and Prama, knows about the pitfalls: “The flooring must feature various properties – thickness, resilience, rubber hardness, quality. After all, the floor covering forms the basis of each functional area although it often receives little attention,” regrets the professional adding that “We want to know from our customers which strains the floor really has to cope with – it definitely makes a big difference whether barbells are dumped from the shoulder or just floor exercises are performed. Next come questions relating to the underflooring and installations on the zone – towers, racks, tools – such as floor heating, fire proofing, or the characteristics of the screed, etc. “The floor should be very robust, absorb impact well and dampen noise and vibrations. Markings for free exercises also make sense. If the floor ensures proper guidance then up to 20 people can easily train on 60m².
Next to such providers as “Athletik Docks” that specialise in one-to-one training, the operators of major fitness amenities, owners of boutique clubs and providers for the industry are convinced that to be successful functional training zones also need to feature small group training. Torsten Scheibel recommends offering courses in these zones because only few people would “venture” into the new area on their own. Interaction on the functional training area is an effective means of communicating the concept to club members. To make sure everything runs smoothly instructors must be well trained and the quality of their support must be right.
This includes keeping small groups really small. If only one trainer is allocated to too many customers at a time, things quickly get unmanageable and the risk of injury rises. “The required headcount is determined by floor space, the number of users as well as the range of training options,” explains Christin Lüdemann. “On functional training areas training can be much more varied, and the potential for injuries rises as options increase. To counteract possible injuries, if possible, more trainers than usual should be used. “Opinions diverge on instructor-customer ratio. Marcel John recommends that one trainer should look after a maximum of 15 customers. Life Fitness recommends that one trainer should attend to a maximum of eight people.