It’s a buzzword that populates nearly every web page or “about us” description for millions of businesses and organizations across the country. It is community. Beyond bedrooms and floor space, employee perks, specific amenities, and other attractions, it’s “community” that housing organizations, colleges, rec centers and country clubs, employers and businesses of all kinds are selling. Community is what loyalty programs are based on. It attracts high quality, long-term participants (tenants, students, employees, members, etc.). It’s more and more evident that, beyond amenities, it’s the “community spirit” that sets competitors apart. The one who builds and sells “community” the best, wins.
But what makes a community, really? What is the “secret sauce” that brings a community together and compels people to join? It’s not just about where you are physically, though that’s part of it. It’s about a sense of belonging. It can be made of people, places, experiences or less tangible bonds like ideas or theories. It’s where people are comfortable, safe and “at home”. Defined as “the bond that exists between groups and individuals engaged in a common experience (Lloyd – Jones, 1989)” or “characterized by a shared purpose, commitment, shared responsibility, relationships, and a sense of inclusion (McDonald & Associates, 2002),” a sense of community is considered vital for attracting people to any type of facility.
From universities hosting legions of young college students who are away from home for the first time, to values-driven employees seeking like-minded work environs, to anyone sharing living space in multi-family facilities, the physical gathering spaces that are vital to community-building are “designed to generate interaction, collaboration, physical movement and social engagement as primary elements.” That might sound like an elementary classroom, as “learning space research” has been focused on academic classrooms for many years, but now that learning is being applied to common areas and recreation spaces as well. Enter, the well-designed fitness space. Fitness facilities are more than just sought-after top amenities, they’re literally pillars of the community.
Fitness and recreation spaces are gathering places for activities, health improvement, stress-relief and all manner of shared-experiences. Some fitness facilities are training hubs for much more significant purposes, serving and building communities at the same time.
“Working with first responders to create a fitness facility that serves the officer corps, as they serve and protect larger communities of citizens, is a tremendous opportunity and responsibility,” said Bob Dicandia, the Advanced Exercise fitness consultant who worked with the Marana Police Department in Arizona. “We were able to work together to do so much more than design an advanced fitness facility and equip it with the right training equipment for police officers to maintain their physical performance and stamina. The next-level experience that brings officers in from all over the region to share training with their fellow community members, it just doesn’t get any better than that.”
“The vibe here is excellent,” commented Capt. Roberto Jimenez, leader of the Marana Police Department. “The impact is not only internal, as we allow all Town of Marana employees to utilize the facility. So our relationships, even with other departments within the town, is improving.” Everyone involved talks with enthusiasm about the cumulative effect of the component parts of the fitness facility coming together. “We have police squads who are getting off work now and, as a group, changing and coming in to do a full workout,” added Jimenez. “We have people talking to each other at lunch time, talking about the workout they are going to do right after work together. So it has improved everything: the morale, comradery, and most importantly the fitness levels of our employees.”
It’s well known that making fitness and recreation spaces available in any group environment provides both physical and mental health advantages for users of those amenities. At the Marana Police Department facility, the advantages extend even further, encompassing longer term, shared goals of the community. “What we try to promote here, especially with this facility, is improving not only our physical fitness levels and our physical health, but our overall mental awareness and mental health,” continued Jimenez. “All it does is help us out to have a great career. Our goal is to have a safe, happy, healthy police career and enjoy retirement afterwards.”
Supporting “community life satisfaction goals” by providing fitness and wellness options is a big commitment, but an increasingly necessary one to overcome competitive pressures in the market. Demographic and psychographic trends, especially among millennials, are defining new standards, as “active and healthy lifestyles are here to stay. Despite this trend, a typical day in the office still means sitting for hours and hours with little to no physical activity. This type of workday may actually be killing us. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” (okay, that’s a stretch, but you get the idea). Employers and landlords are moving quickly to move past just offering gyms in a building to help combat these health challenges. Many buildings now have staff onsite that assist employees in achieving health and wellness goals and bring in various fitness classes” and fitness programming that can accommodate groups.
To elevate a fitness facility to a community-building resource, consider motivational components and strategies that tie the equipment and design assets to larger, communal values. Combine innovative fitness programming options and technology connectivity into the unique fitness experience you’re creating for your community. Follow the same guidelines that notably enhance community spirit in other circumstances and environments: “Inspire your community by increasing their confidence, helping them connect to others, and pushing them to challenge themselves.” Allow fitness participants of all levels to be comfortable in your facility, fostering “an environment for everyone to just be himself or herself.” Demonstrate that fitness and wellness of community members is a priority, connecting your community members with resources (including each other) that can support that priority. “Make connections where both parties stand to benefit and you will be associated with any good that comes from the relationship in perpetuity.”
According to the National Apartment Association, “the bar just keeps getting higher” for apartment owners and operators who are trying to attract premium tenants with top amenities. “At the property level, half of the top 10 amenities added or upgraded since 2014 involve bringing people together — the community aspect of apartment living that is a draw to so many apartment residents.” With clubhouses and common areas for socializing making the top of the list, swimming pools, outdoor kitchens and play areas are also considered critical amenities to offer. For more than a decade, “fitness centers remain a must-have in any community” as amenities related to health and wellness are sought after by a wide spectrum of community members.
Just as a satisfying five-star dinner is more than just the individual foods on the plate, a fitness-inclusive community is much more than the equipment, design and programming elements that form its foundation. It’s all of those pieces together, plus characteristics and values that distinguish the community and set it apart from competitors.
The Advanced Exercise team stands at the ready to help identify and build your fitness-friendly community, no matter its size or challenges. With strong expertise in designing and equipping fitness spaces for any and all interests, Advanced Exercise consultants can help identify, clarify and create those exceptional community qualities that set your offerings apart from the crowd.
About Advanced Exercise
Founded in 1986, Advanced Exercise is a leading fitness equipment and facility design resource, combining more than 30 years of design expertise with access to top fitness, wellness and recreation equipment brands to help clients create fitness experiences specific to the needs of their distinct communities. Advanced Exercise fitness consultants work with clients to maximize the use of available space in any facility, sourcing the best new or used equipment solutions for diverse ranges of fitness amenity end users. For more information on fitness equipment and facility design services, visit www.advancedexercise.com or call 800-520-1112 to connect with one of Advanced Exercise’s experts.