How Technology Is Transforming the Health Club Locker Room

New digital tools are changing the look, feel, and cost of the usually more pragmatic club space.

When one thinks about the locker room, high-tech isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But creative thinking and innovation are taking place there as well. Befitting the subdued and modest nature of the setting, the changes are subtle, seamlessly integrated, and silently improving the member experience.

Bold graphics that provide ambience, energy, and/or branding. Smart LED lighting systems. Digitally controlled sinks, showers, and toilets. Lockers with built-in charging hubs, drink chillers, and the ability to “heal” nicks and scratches.

Technology has already made a significant impact in the locker room, but in a subdued and decorous way. And one can only wonder what it will deliver next.

Visual Appeal Is Turning Practical into Beautiful

Visual appeal matters and while in the past locker rooms have inclined toward the practical rather than toward haute design, paintings, fine-art photography, and other graphics are now being utilized to create a mood, engage and energize members, and even minimize maintenance requirements.

Digital printing technology—on a diverse range of surfaces—gets much of the credit.

“Over the decades, we’ve hand-painted at least 2,000 murals in fitness facilities, but, today, the trend is digital,” says Cindy Maxion, the principal at Maxion Design, in La Mesa, CA. “Digital images are less expensive, go up quickly, look much like fine art, and can be changed out easily.”

Her firm has printed on wall coverings, plastic, glass, tile, locker laminates, and acoustical materials for aquatic centers. Because the graphics are scored, or etched, they don’t degrade in areas affected by chlorine or high humidity.

For the Columbia Basin Racquet Club, in Richland, WA, Maxion and her team printed art on moisture-proof plastic for the facility’s four locker room entrances.

“If your goal is to make a big splash, digital printing makes that possible,” she says. “The sky’s the limit.”

The same technology also is being tasked to transform what’s underfoot.

Discussions about flooring technology have typically focused on such pragmatic matters as advances in durable, anti-microbial, and non-slip surfaces that comply with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) regulations. But, recently, its visual possibilities also have been considered and explored.

Print technologies now allow clubs to extend flooring motifs used elsewhere in the club to any space, including the locker room, or to provide a distinct look there, says Latasha Pittman, the director of marketing for Mondo USA, an Evanston, IL–based manufacturer. “We’ve been asked to introduce the marbleized or the plank-style appearance of our Ramflex weight room flooring into locker rooms,” she says. “Graphics technology now enables us to recreate these looks on the thinner-gauge rubber that we use in locker rooms.”

Using Smart Lighting

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Unlike other components of the facility, the locker room poses special challenges since there’s less window space to tap natural lighting. Modern technology, however, can maximize what’s available, increase energy efficiency, and at the same time, produce a more pleasant environment.

“LED systems are getting smarter,” say Bryan Dunkelberger, a principal at S3 Design Inc., in Braintree, MA. “If a locker room has natural light, either from clear or frosted windows, there are systems that can detect when the exterior light level rises, and in response, reduce the output from the light fixtures.”

Denise Jenkins, a LEED Green Associate at Western Lighting & Energy Control in San Diego, CA, notes that LED lights offer a range of other benefits as well, including a rather cool one called white-color tuning. “Essentially, white-color tuning lets you ‘tune’ the shade of white from warm, to neutral, to cool,” she says. “In addition to the fun, drama, and sense of movement that color-changing LEDs impart to a space, tunable LEDS also can track natural circadian rhythms.”

Within the larger lighting context, Jenkins adds, there are now scalable, wireless, dimming, and sensor-based systems that offer control over a single room or building, or over an entire campus of buildings.

Digital Tools Improve Water Efficiency

When it comes to using water efficiently, the technology has advanced well beyond the restricted-flow showerheads and low-flow toilets of yore.

“Digitally controlled showers, sinks, and toilets are the new ‘in’ in terms of locker room amenities. They allow you to accurately pinpoint the exact temperature and water pressure you desire,” says Rudy Fabiano, a principal at Fabiano Designs, in Montclair, NJ. “At the moment, you tend to find them in the upscale clubs, but, as the prices go down and the technology becomes more integrated, they’ll become more mainstream.”

“Given the new water heaters, water-monitoring systems, and heating systems, health clubs are becoming more sophisticated. Now, owners can track consumption from an app or a computer terminal,” Dunkelberger says. “It also requires them to be pretty sophisticated themselves, because, as things becomes more automated or digital, when a toilet isn’t working, who should they call—a plumber or their IT guy?”

Fabiano sees a certain convergence taking place among these technologies.

“At the high end of the club spectrum, water control, combined with tunable lighting, can provide a totally personalized user experience,” he says. “I can envision a member simply inputting their number in a keypad, to have a given setting automatically adjust the lighting and water temperature to their personal preference.”

A Game-changer for Security

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Protection—of one’s belongings, cash, credit cards, personal information, etc.—has always been a priority in locker rooms, where most such thefts occur.

Clubs require locking mechanisms that are secure, easy for members to use, and easy for staff to manage.

Locking system providers—such as Codelocks of Irvine; Digilock of Petaluma; and SAG North America Inc. of San Rafael; all in California—have responded, devising, and continuing to develop, increasingly effective solutions.

The advent of RFID (radio-frequency identification) and smart sensor technology expanded the security envelope, and new features are constantly emerging.

“Access technology that can be managed remotely and in real time has become paramount,” says Matt Welty, the general manager of Codelocks. “The ability to assign access rights without needing to go to the lock, to have standalone smart locks that permit remote management without having to run wires, and to eliminate the need to carry keys—all of these are becoming standard.”

The use of credentials such as wristbands or smartphones, or push-button codes that don’t require credentials, have replaced keys, cards, and even some biometrics, which may not function well following workouts or in certain environmental conditions.

Wi-Fi, which enables those wristbands, also is the foundation for “smart” lockers.

“Wi-Fi has become popular in our lockers because it allows operators to use dashboards to track locker usage and generate reports on how and when each locker is being used—down to how often each one is opened and closed,” says Sue Hwang, the executive vice president of Hollman Inc., an Irving, Texas-based locker manufacturer.

Digilock increases member and staff convenience with locks that feature a shared-use mode that allows different people, each with their own code, to use the same locker, one after another; as well as locks that can easily be programmed, and reprogrammed, with a single combination, using the firm’s patented electronic manager keys.

Digilock’s approach streamlines the locker assignment and management process, and reduces the cost of rekeying, says sales manager Daniel Johnson.

The Next Generation of Lockers

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Graphics, lighting, energy, security—every aspect of the locker room, including the lockers themselves, is being touched and enhanced by technology.

Hollman, for instance, has developed locker ventilation systems that facilitate the quick drying of clothing and uniforms—a feature that’s particularly popular with its sport team clients. It’s also come up with a near-magical innovation that makes scratches and scars on a locker’s surface disappear, maintaining a smooth-to-the-touch feel, and protecting the club’s design intentions.

“We make use of Nanolam, a ‘self-healing’ laminate that’s designed to provide greater durability, ease of maintenance, and a fresh appearance despite daily wear and tear,” says Hwang. “The super-opaque surface is velvety soft, and resists fingerprints, smudges, scratches, mold, and bacteria. It’s also 100% anti-microbial and hygienic, water- and mold-resistant, and easy to clean.”

The Nanolam material contains advanced acrylic resins and nanoparticles with an intrinsic thermal characteristic that makes it easy to remove small abrasions with a magic eraser or heated iron.

And more innovations are yet to come.

“Single USBs are now standard in many lockers,” says Hwang, “as well as charging hubs for six to 10 devices, and, even, wireless charging pads. We’ve also seen specialized lighting and in-locker drink chillers.”

“Members soon may be able to open and close their lockers with a smartphone via low-power BLE (Bluetooth) or near-field communication,” says Leo Krashanoff, the manager of North American sales for SAG. “It’s possible to do that now. While many clubs don’t allow cellphones in their locker rooms because of privacy concerns, this technology may well find its way in.”

Looking to the future, Johnson predicts that smart sensors and the Internet of Things will drive the next generation of innovations. “The IoT will lead to improvements to the locker room and the club, overall,” he says. “These technologies will help staff manage these spaces better, and increase the level of convenience, security, and privacy that members want and deserve.”

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Jon Feld

Jon Feld is a contributor to Club Business International.