3 critical questions to ask when designing your training space

Whether it’s a designing a large team facility or your own basement setup, the goal is the same: get the most out of the space you have. On this week’s podcast we shared some tips on designing your training space with Patryk Bielawski of Bridge Built. Below are some of the our key takeaways after decades of experience.

Question 1: How do you train?

The first and most important question is how you train. This should be at the center of any training space.

On one level this is simple: if a certain type of equipment or training method is central to your training philosophy, make that the centerpoint of the space. The space will be more efficient, more fun, and your budget will be focused on what really matters.

On another level, it also helps you realize what you don’t need. If you don’t use dumbbells, then don’t spend the time and waste valuable space on a complete set of dumbbells. As Bielawski mentioned on the podcast: “Your most valuable piece of equipment in your gym is your floor space. The more floor space you have, the more versatility you have.”

Dumbbells are just anexample, but one I see all too often. I like dumbbells, but more often than not I see them gathering dust and taking up big space in a weight room. Really look at each aspect of the gym and see how much you use it. Maybe you don’t do much power lifting. Then save yourself time and space by choosing a sturdy portable squat stand over a massive power rack.

I also see a lot of coaches and athletes build aspirational facilities. They might purchase dumbbells, for example, because they feel like an essential part of a gym, they look impressive, or the salesman upsold them on a bigger package. Save your money. Save your space. Focus your budget on how you actually plan to train.

Question 2: What does time tell you?

Building a space isn’t done all at once. It ideally should be done step by step. Buying everything all at once it is not only costly, but it can be wasteful. To be honest, this is a lesson I learned from my wife while interior decorating at our cabin. After you live in a space for a while you better realize what is missing, or how other pieces could fit in. Looking at a design of a gym on a piece of paper doesn’t give you a real sense of how the space will feel, how the training flow will work, or how your needs might evolve with the space.

An added benefit of this approach is that it will force you to be more creative in the short term. This helps develop your coaching while you figure out what the final gym should look like. Coming back to the interior decorating example, we used a Dynamax med ball as a temporarily footstool in our living room. In the end that turned out to be the perfect combination of funcational (it’s soft yet sturdy) and a personal touch showing our passions. It’s still there four years later.

So start with the bare essentials. For Nick on our podcast, this is a barbell and rack. You can do a thousand things with just that. And add some other essentials as well. Then, start training. See how the space feels. If you find yourself constantly lackign a piece of equipment or space for a certain movement, adjust and invest in that.

And don’t forget this approach isn’t just about adding more stuff over time. It is also critical that you keep analyzing if you are actually using everything you have. Too often we hang on to things just because we have them, not because we use them. As Bielawski said on the podcast: if you aren’t using it, it’s just taking up valuable space. To take a page from Marie Kondo‘s playbook, if a piece of equipment isn’t getting use or sparking joy, don’t hesitate to get rid of it.

Question 3: Where else do you train?

The gym is not the only place we train. All athletes are doing work outside the gym, on the field, in public spaces, or even at another gym. Knowing where you will do what work will help you determine how to get the most out of your space.

This is again important whether it is a home gym or a larger training space. At my home gym in the mountains I don’t have any endurance equipment. This partially goes back to point 1 as I’m more of a power than endurance athlete. But it also goes to what other training spaces I have. In the mountains I am next to a great expanse of land. If I want to work on my fitness I don’t need a treadmill. I just need to lace up my boots and go on a hike or go skiing. That’s also the same reason my home gym in the city doesn’t have a barbell. If I want to lift a bar, I go to our club training facility down the road and save myself money.

For teams, this question also has big implications on the space. Do you do your sprint training out on the field during the team session? If so, you don’t need a sprinting space in the gym. Or maybe it is the opposite case: extreme winters mean that the gym is the only space you can sprint in and you’ll need to make a more open floor plan.

Making it your space

There are many more questions you can and should ask when setting up a facility. We covered many of them in the full episode. But if you start with these three questions you will be a long way towards putting together your ideal training space.