Getting Outside in the Box

By Robin Pecka, ALSC Architects

Anyone living in a place with four seasons is probably familiar with the hashtag #getoutside followed by a picture of someone doing something active outside. If you are a four-seasoner like me, you may feel guilt and shame if it’s a sunny day and you choose to go the gym instead of running, biking or hiking outside. But sometimes getting outside is not an option. So how can we create fitness centers that blur the line between indoors and outdoors; allowing users to benefit from those sunny days while coming to the gym?

Benefits of Working Out Outside

Before diving into how to blur the line between the indoor/outdoor environment, let’s state first that yes, there are benefits to working out in the outdoors – that is a given. Studies have shown that when people exercise outside they associate with greater feelings of revitalization, increased energy and positive engagement and have less tension, confusion, anger and depression compared to those exercising solely indoors. (Dentistry, Benefits of outdoor exercise confirmed, 2011)

Bottom line – we do benefit from getting outside and getting our Vitamin D, but sometimes it’s not always the most feasible, safe or effective option.

Young male athlete jogging at the promenade. Legs in motion. A quiet beach with sand dunes on the background

Operable Walls and Retractable Roofs

Operable exterior walls are a wonderful option when planning for a fitness center design because they allow natural elements like a breeze, sunlight and even the smell of the outdoors to make their way inside while still providing shelter. By opening up a portion of a wall to the outdoors, square footage and flexibility can be added to a space with little cost. Minor changes like this to a space can make activities that seem monotonous fun again because it’s a change in routine and scenery.

Retractable roofs or skylights that can be peeled back during warm days and allow the breeze and sunlight to filter directly onto users also enhance the workout experience. In addition to providing a dose of Vitamin D, which keeps bones healthy and can help protect against serious chronic diseases, sunlight also cheers people up – plain and simple! (, 2012)

Outdoor Activity Areas

Providing a fitness center with surrounding landscape that lends itself to hiking, biking, running or outdoor exercise equipment allows the fitness center to be a multi-functional hub and serve users through all seasons in a safe, controlled environment. There is great outdoor exercise equipment available (think adult jungle gyms) that can prompt users to workout outside without having to run, bike or hike if they aren’t able to or don’t enjoy that form of fitness.

Optimize Views

Wherever your fitness center is located – optimize views! This is especially important in spaces where people are focused in a specific direction for a longer period of time, such as at cardio areas or group fitness rooms. These spaces should have the best views of the natural world outside.

interior second level

 Green Up The Indoors

Adding indoor plants and foliage adds a fantastic feature and brings life to a space. Studies have also shown that indoor plants can boost moods, improve air quality and reduce anxiety and fatigue. (Kresser, 2012) This is especially important if your fitness center is located in an urban environment. It’s an easy, inexpensive way to bring nature into the space. Living wall systems can be used to add a unique and healthy benefit to the built environment. They are fairly straightforward and simple to install.


So yes, we can create fitness centers that blur the line between indoors and outdoors. Features such as operable walls, retractable roofs and skylights, and indoor plants and foliage can enhance the workout experience when being outside is not the most feasible, safe or effective option.



  • (Dentistry, Benefits of outdoor exercise confirmed, 2011)
  • (, 2012)


Robin Pecka is an Interior Designer with ALSC Architects.  She has a passion for people and what makes them tick. Her goal as a designer is to create spaces that emotionally and physically enhance the built environment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s