5 Principles in Designing a High School Gym

Working within the high-school sector, you generally have four times throughout the year that you can update, adjust or rearrange your weights room setup.

This year I chose the Easter holidays (2weeks) to empty the gym, remove the flooring, prepare the concrete, lay the new flooring and then return all the equipment…. What a job!!

With all the equipment returning, this gave me a great opportunity to arrange the space as best as possible.

Below are my 5 principles when creating a quality facility.

1) Traffic flow

Working with large groups it is vital that clear and distinguishable traffic flow areas are available. My aim is for these flow spaces to be ~2.5 meters apart so student/clients can easily walk down. This could also be a multi-purpose area, for example this is where I have placed my sled track.

Allow traffic to flow

Secondly, as a rule of thumb, I try to avoid having walking spaces between my racks/platforms. However, working with kids can be like herding cats, so at times you have to make compromises.

Prior to this new revamp we only have 70cm between the ends of barbells within our racks plus a weight tree in the middle.

This meant kids where ducking, dodging and weaving barbells like something out of the matrix!!

So, this time around I pushed the racks apart creating a 1m walkway and removed the weight tree. This has created a safe thoroughfare where students don’t have to do their best Neo impressions.

At least 1m apart

2) Floor Space

An open area within any gym is crucial!!

This is a space where athlete and coaches alike can congregate to warm up, do conditioning, stretch/ mobilise, perform trunk work and address the squad – it becomes a multi-purpose space.

Prior to the renovation I had a large gymnastic mat placed on the ground, however, I decided to remove this as students decided to use this place as a second bed.

Since removing the “comfy” mat, the students have taken initiative in working on their weakness instead of falling back to sleep – especially on those early 5:30am starts in the middle of winter!!!

Open areas: Crucial!

3) Multi-Use Equipment

Like most schooling programs, we see around 35-40 students per session. This creates challenges when designing a program for each squad and individual.

One of my non-negotiables is to have multi-purpose pieces of equipment. For example, my gym is primarily full of rigs/racks, lifting platforms, Dumbbells. Unfortunately, this means out with the dreaded, single-use machines. This removes limitations with regards to your programming.

Multi-use equipment is a non-negotiable

4) Storage Must be Well Organised

When most of us think about designing a gym, we usually think about the cool things first – Squat racks, Chin up bars, lifting platforms etc.

What is regularly forgotten is the storage component.

Where do we put the plates, the not in use barbells, the foam rollers, triggers balls, ab rollers, mini hurdles, swiss balls and other pieces of equipment??

I’ve now changed my thought process to first think about storage then about the lifting equipment.

The last thing you want is a great lifting space that is messy & unsafe because storage hasn’t been considered.

As a rule of thumb, I store gear on walls first then on the ground where wall space is not an option. This removes trip hazards and increases line of sight for coaching easy.

An added benefit to a clear and organised storage system is the ability to easily track and maintain pieces of equipment. For example; how the collar rotates on the Barbell’s, foam rollers etc.                                          

5) Line of Sight

This brings me to my final principle – Line of sight.

An argument could be made that coaching intensity (or the ability to not miss anything!!) needs to be greater when coaching youth compared to professional athletes. 

Adolescents tend to lack maturity and training age meaning more errors and increased risk.

When it comes to designing your facility, an increased line of sight will allow a better coaching view of the gym.

As a consequence coaches should designed their facilities with minimal equipment blocking sight (bars, racks etc.) and certainly need to avoid things such as corners within the space.

Unfortunately, this is not always possible and has led me to storing “dummy proof” equipment and exercises in these lesser seen areas for safety reasons.

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