Designing a Hotel Gym

Most hotels understand the importance of a comfortable bed; after all, a good night’s rest is essential.  They also invest in their food and beverage, seeing it as not only an important part of the experience but also a potential money maker.  Five star hotels will also invest heavily in their spa and in their common spaces and curb appeal. 

The area where so many hotels miss the mark is in their gym.  For most (but certainly not all) the gym is an afterthought.  Not only that, but most seem to be planned and designed by people who have possibly never set foot in a gym. The result is an uninspiring place with lots of missed potential, and sometimes not even practical.  As the demand for top-of-the-line gyms grows among international travelers, hotels have to make sure to provide facilities that meet their expectations. Below are a ten things that hoteliers should keep in mind to ensure their guests are able to stay fit and healthy while visiting their properties.

1.  Hire a fitness and gym expert to work side-by-side with your interior design team to create the right space that will truly cater to the fitness needs of your travelers.  All gym equipment is not created equal, and an expert can help you determine the biggest bang for your buck.

2.  Include plans for the hotel gym in the layout of the hotel, and don’t leave it for last. Make it easily accessible to your guests, as well as enticing.  Working out creates endorphins. Endorphins make people happy.  Happy people don’t complain about things.   They just don’t.

3. Think about who your travelers are who will be using the facility.  The younger your demographic, the more they will appreciate a gym, especially one with a good selection of weights. Also, consider the countries  from where your target demographic is coming, and determine if those countries have a large gym culture.

4.  Understand where you are, realizing that the fitness needs in one location may be quite different from those of another.  For instance, if your hotel is in a temperate area with wonderful weather and beautiful jogging or hiking trails nearby, then you can definitely lighten up on the cardio equipment and leg machines.

5. Avoid the cardio trap.  Continuing from number 4 above, the common mistake most hotels make is that they have far to much cardio equipment and not enough weights.  Especially in a location where it is common for people to do a lot of walking, you don’t need to have so much cardio, because people can burn so many calories simply exploring the city.  If you, like so many others, belong to a gym back home, you likely are using weights, and if you want to stay in shape and maintain your muscle tone and/or while traveling, weight machines are essential.

6.  The least important machines to acquire are abdominal or stretching machines. I always roll my eyes when I walk into a small hotel gym that has tons of cardio, hardly any weight machines, and then a couple of machines for abs, taking up valuable real estate. Plus, some of these ab machines are expensive.  Abs are one of the few muscles that you can work out quite effectively by floor routines.  Yes, their may be some people who cannot do floor-based ab exercises, but they are in a micro-minority.  Oh, and speaking as someone who explores a lot of hotel gyms, I can tell you that the ab machines are always empty.  And the stretching machines? These are just a waste of space.

7.  The second least are leg equipment. As mentioned above, one’s legs are constantly getting exercised and toned, just from exploring the city or location, or from the cardio equipment that is already in the gym. Virtually all cardio equipment works out one’s legs to some degree.  This is not the case for upper body.  Also, the last thing you want to do after a day of exploring a city by foot is to go work out your legs at a hotel gym.

8. Always have free, filtered water available. You always want to encourage your guests to stay hydrated, especially when sweating it out in the gym.

9.  Location, location, location.  Put some thought into it, and don’t just shove it in a windowless room in a basement.  Now, it doesn’t (and probably shouldn’t) need to occupy the best real estate in the property, but it shouldn’t occupy the worst either. And it CAN be beautiful. If you are creating a special property that is going to appeal to the widest audience, then no space at the property should be an afterthought, least not the gym.

10. If your liability insurance allows it, keep the gym open 24 hours! This is such a value-added proposition, and really caters to the needs and realities of guests, who may be traveling internationally, and suffering from jet lag. If you are traveling and unfortunately wake up early, as was the case for me in a recent trip to India, and the hotel’s gym is open 24 hours, you now have a productive way to spend your time.  I absolutely love this, and can’t tell you how many times I have used a hotel gym during odd hours, because I couldn’t sleep.

Now, the specifics.

My favorite hotel gyms are the ones that also offer memberships to local residents, and thus offer a larger space, ample equipment, and a better “vibe”.  They give you a chance to have the same type of workout you would have back home, plus the opportunity of interacting with locals.

Sometimes for insurance reasons, hotels cannot offer extensive free weights.  If you don’t have insurance limitations, your gym investment is best spent on providing a bench and a wide range of free weights, going all the way up to 100 pounds.  After this, if you still have the space for it, offer the following:

1. Lat pull-down machine

2. Butterfly macine

3. Smith machine with a bench with adjustable back

4. Cable fly machine, offering the ability to do bicep curls, tricep extensions, flies, dips, standing row, upright row, and more. A good cable fly machine can take up a bit of space, but offers a lot.


1. Recumbent bike, which is much better for your back than other stationary bikes.

2. Treadmills (I personally do not think these are the best, but it’s what people know, and therefor your guests will always ask for this).

3. Row machine, if you have the space for it.

I also suggest that hotels offer maps for safe walking/running trails, and if you have a pool, even better! I also love that more and more hotels are offering complimentary daily yoga sessions. What a great way to stay healthy and in shape while on vacation!

Always include matts and space for stretching and abdominal routines.  If you are limited in space, free weights and a universal machine are your best bets. Again, provide a universal machine that is geared towards upper-body rather than lower.

This may be one of the tiniest niche-focused blogs ever written, as how many hotel designers are there, and how many of them will stumble upon this article.  But if it saves just one person from wasting their money creating a hotel gym that doesn’t cater to the needs of their guests, then my work here is done.  These are just my suggestions, and I welcome any comments and additional suggestions or alternatives below!

Bryan Herb is a former personal trainer and fitness model who has exercised in virtually every hotel he has stayed, that has a gym.