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The Great Outdoors: Unique Ways to Utilize Outdoor Spaces

outdoor spaces

Could the great outdoors be the missing link to your members’ optimal mental and physical health?

According to REI, “Plenty of research has proven that time in nature can benefit health and well-being, especially stress reduction and mood enhancement.” 

So, how can you give members a taste of the outdoors at your health club? Here, we highlight how four clubs are utilizing outdoor spaces to engage members in unique ways.

Gainesville Health and Fitness — Outdoor CrossFit Gym 

The outdoor CrossFit space at GHF.

Gainesville Health and Fitness in Gainesville, Florida, has taken a unique spin on CrossFit through its outdoor space that includes a 4,200-square-foot blue branded turf area. This area is home to GHF CrossFit. 

Noah Hastay, the club’s operations manager, shares the value of this particular amenity, especially to the brand’s avid CrossFitters: 

CS: What value do you feel the outdoor CrossFit space brings to the facility? 

NH: It gives a sport component of fitness in natural elements. Our athletes train in all types of weather, which adds to the fun. It offers a space that allows them to do exercises they may be limited from doing in an indoor space.

CS: If a club is adding an outdoor amenity or space, is there anything they should keep in mind from an operations perspective? 

NH: It’s important to determine the appropriate flooring and substrate under the flooring based off the weather and environment you are installing it in. Being that it is an outdoor space, storage solutions for equipment must be thought out. We decided to build our own to house all of the equipment and save it from the elements. 

Depending on the type of space you are building, deciding on drop zones that can be designated for unloading heavy weights can be essential in preserving the integrity of your flooring. Depending on geographic regions, you may consider nice outdoor fans or space heater systems to keep the area usable in extreme conditions.

Chelsea Piers Fitness — Sundeck 

A fitness class on the outdoor sundeck at Chelsea Piers Fitness.

Chelsea Piers Fitness in New York City recently completed a remodel of its two sundecks, where the brand hosts both programming such as fitness classes, and member events. The spaces provide an opportunity for passive recreation and sunbathing for members, and boast lounge chairs, a turf area, bar, shaded and sunny areas, an outdoor shower and more. 

Here, Keeth Smart, the regional general manager for Chelsea Piers Fitness, shares why sundecks are a valued amenity. 

CS: What value do you feel the sundecks bring to the facility? 

KS: They offer a private, serene experience where members have the opportunity to sunbathe, do a fitness class, take a meeting or participate in events overlooking the Hudson River. We have truly spared no expense in renovating these sundecks so that both are second-to-none, in my opinion. 

CS: Do you think outdoor spaces in general add value to a health club? 

KS: Significantly. Being in New York City, we are all space-starved, you can never have enough space. For us to have a club with not one, but two, outdoor sundeck spaces really provides a unique differentiator compared to any other club or hotel. A member can now do anything they need to pursue their fitness goals, plus they can relax, read a book, take a phone call or just sunbathe on one of our two decks. 

CS: If a club is adding an outdoor amenity or space, is there anything they should keep in mind from an operations perspective? 

KS: The most important thing is having it properly staffed. It’s important members of the team clean up leftover towels, for example. You don’t want it to feel like someone is holding a chair for multiple hours, when in fact they just left a towel. The other thing operationally is to always have contingency plans in place for inclement weather. Whenever it’s about to rain or there are high winds, we immediately roll into our triage mode and pull all the chairs in and tie everything down to ensure none of our equipment is destroyed or lost. 

Outdoor spaces and sundecks are just a really nice piece to have for members. It gives them the opportunity to feel like they’re in a completely different experience, without actually leaving the fitness club. That’s what makes it really special and unique, because they can get a full workout in and then reset or recharge while still at the club, sitting on the sundeck and enjoying the beautiful weather. 

Stone Creek Club & Spa — Event Lawn 

Stone Creek’s event lawn is used for a variety of purposes.

Stone Creek Club & Spa in Covington, Louisiana, boasts a number of unique outdoor spaces and amenities, including a fitness trail, relaxation garden, aquatics complex and more. 

According to Marvin Gresse, the club’s assistant general manager, the event lawn has been a great outdoor amenity, allowing the brand to enhance its social activities and overall member enjoyment. Here, he shares additional insights on the event lawn’s functionality. 

CS: How does Stone Creek Club and Spa utilize the event lawn?  

MG: The event lawn is situated between the tennis courts and pools, as well as a full service bar. The space and atmosphere fosters connections and relationships among our members. We host many events and activities on the event lawn. Summer holidays have a BBQ buffet and children’s games; face painting and inflatables; movie nights; corn hole and ping pong for member socials; crawfish boil socials; charity fundraisers with bands and restaurants including live and silent auctions; and much more. In addition, trainers and yoga instructors take their classes or client sessions to the lawn and deck areas to enjoy good weather and get out of their normal indoor areas. We believe it helps to keep our retention rate strong as well. 

CS: What value do you feel outdoor spaces or amenities bring to a health club?

MG: I think our outdoor spaces and amenities truly differentiate us and drive home our promise to our members that we are “Your Everyday Getaway.” Members feel that they’re entering someplace special from the moment they park and walk through our landscaped gardens — the landscaping creates a warm, inviting experience that sets the tone for their entire club visit.

Stone Creek was designed to showcase the beauty of our outdoor environment, even inside the club, with two-story, floor-to-ceiling windows and natural light in every area. But our outdoor amenities add a tremendous amount of functional, multi-purpose space, which therefore adds tremendous value to the club. The benefits of outdoor exercise and the experience with nature are well documented. In today’s busy world, it is a welcome respite to be surrounded by nature and enjoy it, even if just for a few minutes during your visit to the club. In our climate you can be outdoors nearly all year long. It opens up so much more for our members to experience. 

CS: If a club is adding an outdoor amenity or space, is there anything they should keep in mind from an operations perspective? 

MG: Flexibility. Make sure the space is designed and planned for the programs you will hold on it today, and look toward opportunities that will emerge down the road. Have the flexibility to add them as member wants and needs ask for them. We also have a heavy focus on safety when planning any space or program. Make sure you look at how to safely add outdoor spaces and amenities to your club. What risks and issues do you need to be prepared for in your outdoor space? What equipment, policies and training may you need to ensure your outdoor space is safe and enjoyable for your members?  

AquaFit — Outdoor Turf Area 

The outdoor turf area at Aquafit.

In 2014, Australia’s Aquafit designed and built a turfed outdoor training area adjacent to the building. The space features outdoor timber bars as well as a cargo climbing net.

Here, Kristen Green, the executive general manager of Aquafit, describes how they program the space and tips for other operators. 

CS: What value do you feel the outdoor turf area brings to the facility? 

KG: In designing the outdoor area, we wanted to include some outdoor timber bars as well as a cargo climbing net. We also ensured that we had provision for anchoring points for battling ropes and storage of equipment. This space provides us with a competitive advantage, as no other similar facility in our local area offers this. These additional features allow us to run flexible and multiple class options in the space, including outdoor bootcamp style classes and kids fitness classes incorporating elements of agility, fitness and climbing.

CS: If a club is adding an outdoor amenity or space, is there anything they should keep in mind from an operations perspective? 

KG: In our case, given that the outdoor training area is unsupervised, operationally, it was important that we implemented procedures to minimize risk. This included ensuring it was a “members only” space only to be accessed during usual trading hours, and that staff are aware when members are independently using the area.

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko is the editor-in-chief of Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at rachel@peakemedia.com.

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