Hotel workout rooms: A traveler's lament

Hotels starting saying years ago that they recognized travelers' needs and desires for an on-site workout room. That got those of us who travel and like to workout regularly pretty excited. But these rooms are in most cases pretty UNfit, offering only a shadow of the promise. Could suppliers and dealers offer more than just a sale?
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Hotels starting saying years ago that they recognized travelers' needs and desires for an on-site workout room. That got those of us who travel and like to workout regularly pretty excited. Hotels also said they were indeed putting in such workout rooms to satisfy their guests' desire for a good sweat and pump while visiting. Look at most any hotel website these days and you'll see the highly touted amenity "fitness room" or some similar name.

But these rooms are in most cases pretty UNfit, offering only a shadow of the promise -- dark holes with a couple of straggly pieces of equipment that half-function and have never been likely serviced, poolside areas with rusting pieces tainted by moist environments, and rooms that have nearly unusable equipment 10 to 20 years old from companies that don't exist anymore. More often than not, these fall into the "why bother" category.

One can never know what a hotel means when it says it has a fitness or workout room, even a four- or five-star hotel. We stayed recently at a top-rated, four-star facility in Salt Lake City and when we called to ask about the room's size and equipment (Does it have a treadmill?), the desk person responded (and we aren't making this up), "Treadmill??... Uhhhh… You mean that thing people walk on?" We've seen Tectrix steppers, non-motorized treadmills with hand-cranks, and dumbbell sets that start at about 30 pounds each and end at about 50. Worse, and perhaps the most egregious failing, is tucking whatever equipment the hotel can muster into a single common room – one so small with no windows in a back hallway where there's hardly room for one ancient Universal Gym and what looks like an original Lifecycle.

We can't blame hotels entirely. They aren't in the fitness business. But we can wonder why their dealer-reps or the equipment suppliers can't help them out a bit more. Why can't commercial dealers or a hotel's supplier check in on the account every couple of years to see how the equipment is faring and determine if upgrades are needed? Why can't they offer more than just a sale to help out an often clueless staff and management? Why can't they advise on where the room can go? It can't be good PR for a company to have its broken, ill-functioning and ancient equipment in a windowless hole of a hotel workout room.

Here are a few suggestions from the weary front:

  1. When the equipment is sold, offer a fill-in-the-blank list – with your brand and type of equipment already filled in – for the front desk to keep on hand. Other specs to have blanks for fill-in information: size of room, numbers of various pieces, whether there is key access to the room for security, hours of operation, and if there are windows, water, a TV, or towels. Then front desk staffers can pull the "cheat sheet" so they don't sound so uninformed.
  2. Supply a template for a short summary for the hotel guest guide that comes standard in all rooms so a guest can flip to it and find out details without guessing. Equipment company names and types are key since many of those seeking a workout may be familiar with a brand.
  3. Make sure upon sale the hotel is advised as to best location – a pool deck?? Com' on – as well as mandatory maintenance. (We know, you probably do this and it gets lost or ignored, but it never hurts to try.)
  4. Have reps, dealers or the supplier itself check back in on a hotel client after one to three years to see how the equipment is faring. We are shocked that 10- to 15-year-old, half-functional equipment from large, current and reputable suppliers is still in workout
    rooms.

Then of course we face the battle of definitions. What is a "fitness room" or "workout room?" Could the hotel industry – goaded on by the fitness industry or its commercial dealers – set some kind of standard as to size, equipment and mandatory upkeep?

And how about this: Could a supplier have a list of recommended hotels on its website, just as it has a store locator? Then all those customers and potential customers could find out which hotel in a city they are visiting has a decent workout room – one that meets standards set by that company. Perhaps that could sway hotels to put more effort into their fitness areas.

Please know we aren't talking about every hotel putting in a swanky, fully-equipped, club-like room. They of course can't afford that and that should not be the standard (although it is a pleasure when we find one). But having a couple of cardio pieces, a reasonable set of dumbbells that go down or up to appropriate weights, or a functioning multi-gym, enough room to move around, and a TV, water and towels can't be too difficult -- can it?

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