Why are Rehab Gyms so Small?

Why are rehab gyms so small? Regular, open-to-the-public gyms are around 20K square feet. My guess is that a typical gym in sub-acute rehab (IPR, SNF, etc.) is a tenth of that size. In teaching and marketing, I've been blessed to visit a lot of rehab facilities. Time and again I've wondered (to myself), why is this gym so small?

The gym is often where the "magic" happens. It should be impressive. Too often my first impression of a facility is chaotic. Though it is often organized chaos, many rehab gyms have every possible spot filled with tables, bars, chairs, mats, or equipment. Many gyms look cramped and cluttered. Add in patients and staff - some waiting their turn for an area or piece of equipment that is already in use - and it gets even more overloaded.

What if we step back for a new perspective. Why can't rehab gyms be made bigger? Let's plan for more space from the beginning. Make gyms large enough to comfortably fit the equipment and people that need it. If general fitness gyms can be wide-open spaces with tall ceilings and wide isles, why can't rehab gyms? If fitness gyms can have courts and artificial turf areas, why can't rehab gyms have bigger, open areas for ramps, stairs, and dynamic balance exercises? 

I realize that most facilities are unable to move walls and expand the size of their gyms - even though they might want to. So what can you do, if you can't make your gym seem bigger? How can you make lemonade out of lemons? Below are 5 tips to making the most of the rehab gym space you have.

  1. Out with the old. Go through everything in the gym and decide what needs to stay and what needs be thrown away. If you can't remember the last time something was used, throw it away. Throw away or repair broken items. If you have too much of something, sell or store the extras. For infrequently used items, store them outside of the gym. Bring them into the gym only as needed.
  2. Organize what is left. Group and store items, giving them a set location. For example, store all your balance items (ADL Rumble Board, ADL Hip Stick, ADL Quadrant Hurdle, ADL Balance Mat, etc.) in the same area. Label where items go. This will make is easier for staff to find items and will cut down on wasted time walking around and looking for things.
  3. Find new storage spaces. Consider adding shelves, pegboards, and/or hooks to make better use of available wall space. Look for additional space under treatment tables, cabinets, drawers, etc. Don't forget to organize and label these new spaces! 
  4. Consolidate. Can you find equipment that does more than one thing? If you can find equipment that serves multiple functions, or can be used by different disciplines, you can save space by combining these functions into 1 piece of equipment. 
  5. Distribute frequently used items. Balance out the room by spacing out high use equipment. If the ADL Balance Trainer, parallel bars, and treatment tables are always in use, spread them to different areas in the gym. It will help distribute patients and staff more evenly throughout the gym - reducing crowding and feeling like everyone is bumping into each other.
BONUS: Though no space is gained, consider adding mirrors as a way to improve your gym. By giving the illusion of depth and reflecting light, mirrors can make rooms look larger and brighter - they are also useful for visual feedback during treatments!