Some Thoughts on Designing A Gym

By Coach Hare,

I have designed numerous Rugby/ GAA gyms/ Sports club gyms in my career.

I personally have designed and implemented for my own company 4 “Functional Gyms” from attics in Ballymun to Georgian buildings in Fitzwilliam Square. I have been given budgets from 3k to 40k, each gym followed a basic template, I treat every gym as a factory for human performance.

Here are a few tips if you are thinking of starting a gym/weights room in your GAA or Rugby club etc.

1.      Space is the most important thing.

Space is crucial to any gym; if your club doesn’t have a fairly decent sized space to develop a gym forget any fancy equipment. While we are on the topic of space think heavy-duty walls, think high ceilings, strong floors, and good lighting. But don’t panic if you don’t have too much space, we can still work on a great program if we have the correct systems. For the home gym, we can box clever, there are several methods to save space such as PowerBlocks and wall-mounted gear.

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2.      Think Session flow.

Where do the players enter? What is the first thing they will do? Are the dumbbells in the right place? This is where we need to think about the session flow. You need everything in the right place so the gym session doesn’t have bottlenecks. A good gym designer (like us) will be able to help you with that. We also don’t leave the weights and run, we actually show you how to use the gym with sample sessions and systems, when you are training a team systems are of the utmost importance. For the home user, you’ll just need everything neat and tidy for safety.

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Mike Boyle’s Gym in Boston is like a factory, where you enter and leave is carefully choreographed. 

3.      You can’t have enough dumbbells; 

Ah, my beloved dumbbells, so useful, so compact and so many options. The thing is with dumbbells you can’t make them. So just bite the bullet and get them! I also get more 5kg, 7.5kg, 10kg, and 12.5kg than the big heavy ones. I usually stop at 40kg also. Get a rack as a tidy gym is a usable gym. Nowadays you can get really great low priced storage options like this.

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Multi Storage = Bang For Buck

4.      You can’t have enough chin bars.

With the advent of functional cages, wall bars, and just basically huge chin bars it’s now possible to have multiple players performing chins in a tightly compact area. We also can hang bands and TRXs in this area too. So now all our “pull” movements are catered for in a small space. Adding to all this is the advent of J-Hooks for squatting, spotting arms for deadlifting, split squat stands, dip station attachments, and landmine attachments to name but a few, with the added bonus of getting your rig in the club colours! Rigs are manna from heaven for the club gym.

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Look at how many exercises you can do with one purchase..

5.      You need 4 of everything.

Want to have something – you need 4. Basically, it’s the only way to avoid backlogs in the flow of a session. Imagine 15 athletes waiting for the one chin bar? We have seen clubs buy one massive power cage for big cash but it’s useless for a team session. Get Rigs, Bars, Benches, Plates, and Dumbbells – but get enough to run a decent program. If the budget is extremely tight it’s best to let me teach you how to run a progressive circuit training program after you purchase one of our packages. 

6.      Put your old Machine weights on done deal or

Some people still want your old pec dec and recumbent bike, sell them. This frees up space and gives you a bit more cash to buy proper functional gear. The amount of GAA clubs I have been to that have old commercial machine weights is amazing, One of the other great things we can do for you also is to help you monetise your gym by installing a “Coin Lock” this might make you €20+ a week.

7.      Start with a budget, and then always ask for more.

When you design a gym you get one chance to get the cash you need, if you are dealing with a committee and you ask for 10k you might get 8k. If you asked for 8k at the start you might have only got 6k, you will also need to tell anyone you are buying the equipment of what your basic budget is; in my case, I will have a list of the most bang for your buck items. A treadmill will not be on the list. For the home user – think along the same lines, cardio equipment will eat into your budget, but scrimping here will bite you in the bum long term; as cheap cardio equals headaches.

8.      Don’t scrimp on the quality of the gear.

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 Your Sports Club gym will be battered and misused, getting poor quality gear is dangerous and actually a false economy. You don’t need the best of the best and it doesn’t need to look pretty but the word “heavy-duty” should be applied. It is best to stay away from Argos if you are serious. Don’t mess with cheap this or cheap that – just buy good gear that will last. I of course can help you with that.

9.       Thinks AstroTurf and Proper Gym Flooring.

This one can really annoy people when you send them quotes for gym flooring as it’s deemed not necessary to many a sports club, but it really is. Without a proper turf area for example where will you do sled work or core work? Without a proper gym floor, how will you keep your facility clean? How will you ensure the weights will not damage the floor and vice versa? My advice is just to get some decent stuff. Some suppliers I work with supply great rubber matting and have great turf options (in several colours) that will suit most budgets. Forget cow mats too, they are smelly, slippy, and are not professional. Home gyms should get a good gym floor too for sheer noise reduction alone. Purchasing gym flooring is usually the last thing most clubs think about when kitting out a gym space, but it's vital, makes the space more usable, makes it look way better and it should be one of the first things considered, not the last.

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Proper gym flooring is the way to go, think about how many exercises you do on the floor anyway.

10.  Buy a lock, paint the walls and keep your gym tidy.

We call this gym “Feng shui”. If your gym looks like crap it will be treated like crap, theft will be up too. Respect for the facility is a must and will mean fewer injuries and accidents too. Why not let a local trainer use the gym off-peak hours in exchange for a bit of rent and cleaning? This way the gym will be kept neat, tidy, and safe. We have a wide network of fitness professionals that we can get you in touch with if you want some help with this.

You can check out one of the first-ever gyms I designed with an extremely tight budget. You’ll get a few great ideas on how we/I went about it.


If this is still all a bit too daunting I offer an affordable gym design consultancy package that can guide you through this often fiddly process.