A few weeks ago we chatted with Benchmark Group’s Alwynn Taylor, who teaches yoga, pilates and spinning classes at Minto775. This week we’d like to introduce you to the genius behind the popular Benchmark Group, Mark Stables.
You may remember our recent interview with Mark Stables. He is a pioneer of sorts in the field of condominium exercise facilities. Once upon a time, the condo gym was a mere afterthought. Mark helped bring it to the forefront for design teams, sales teams and purchasers alike.
One of his latest projects is the gym for our 30 Roehampton community. Not only does it look energizing, but the results of our admittedly unscientific Twitter poll suggest people would actually exercise more if they had a gym in their building. Go figure.
Looks like you’re out of excuses. When it comes to condo amenities, the most highly sought after, receiving the highest usage by purchasers has become the gym. Enter Mark Stables. He’s designed many a condo gym, including the ones at minto775 King West, 88 and the new 30 Roehampton. His company, Benchmark, is an integrated health & fitness company that provides personal training, yoga, Pilates and massage therapy in homes or condos. He’s looking to add acupuncture and physiotherapy to the roster soon.
Benchmark’s offshoot, Movement Haus, began in 2010. Movement Haus looks at the architectural and interior design components of fitness amenity design for condominiums.
“We create a functional design for developers, we equip the space with state of the art equipment, then we provide all the services that Benchmark Group offers,”
We caught up with Mark earlier this week for a little Q&A.
How did you make the leap from working out in gyms to designing them?
MS: I was working as a fitness director and personal trainer. After a while it became apparent that some of the members would prefer the convenience of having a trainer come to their homes. That’s when I started my company training clients at home. I moved to Toronto shortly thereafter and started approaching developers about helping them equip their spaces and providing services like yoga, Pilates, massage therapy and nutrition. But in 2003 Toronto just wasn’t ready for it yet.
In 2010 I designed my first condo environment and discovered by passion for architecture & design. By then I had seen really poor example as well as really great examples of condo gyms. I started working with developers at the inception stages of design, working with their in-house architects & designers to design the space, equip it and then provide the services.
You’ve designed three gyms for Minto buildings. What are some of the key differences between them?
MS: Minto775 will have an industrial feel with unfinished concrete ceilings. 88 is a little more refined. It has high ceilings, lots of natural light and exposed glass facing north with direct access to the courtyard. Yoga, Pilates and TRX classes will share a dedicated private studio space. When Benchmark classes aren’t in session, the area can also be used for personal training and stretching. The main gym will house the latest in true-to-form functional strength and cardio equipment. Lastly, the spinning section will be equipped with Keiser M3 spin bikes.
The cardio equipment will have iPod docking stations with internet-ready screens. Whatever you download on your iPod can be played on your very own screen, or you can browse online during your workout. Classes on offer will include Yoga, Pilates and TRX, as well as spinning. All of these will be supported by personal training, nutrition coaching and massage therapy to further optimize the exercise facilities at 88, ensuring they are used to their best potential as opposed to providing spaces with no follow-through on intended usage.
30 Roe is currently at the design stage, so it’s too early to tell.
Developers have been using marketing jargon like “state of the art 5 star fitness amenities” for years, and benchmark is really about defining what that is.
Obviously you have to choose the equipment and decide where to put it, but what are some of the more subtle things that figure into the design?
MS: We want to create more of a studio environment. It’s been getting better over the last few years, but I’ve seen enough facilities that are just using leftover square footage and throwing in a multigym, a treadmill and a rowing machine and calling it a five star fitness amenity. We talk about the equipment placement from the beginning so you don’t have cords everywhere. We look at the architectural drawings to make sure the space works. Sometime columns have to be moved.
After looking at the physical space, we look at the lighting, flooring, window placement and wall treatments; anything to make the space more inviting. We want it to be comfortable, with wifi so people can come down and hang out. At 30 Roehampton they’ll have a chillout room where people can lounge and meet friends during and after a workout.
What are some of the stereotypes people have of personal trainers? Which ones are true?
MS: My favourite is that all personal trainers are health-obsessed and will accept nothing less than the pinnacle of health. Some might be like that, but we’re people, too. I baked cookies this morning. I go out to restaurants and eat pasta. I love wine. When I was cycling in Italy and France [for the better part of a month last summer] I was riding really hard, and then I would go to wineries afterwards and do some tasting.
How much does one really need to work out?
MS: I think 3 times per week for about 30-45 mins is a good answer. I always encourage people to walk. The key is to find something you love doing. The treadmill might burn more calories, but it doesn’t matter if you like the eliptical and are actually going to use it.
What’s the best way to start working out if you’ve never tried before?
MS: Again it’s going to be simply finding what you enjoy doing. Have a game plan and set some goals. This is where having a personal trainer really becomes effective. Start be examining what you’re currently doing. What’s been working for you and what hasn’t? Then set some goals for yourself and figure out what you need to do to get there.
What percentage of gym memberships do you estimate go unused?
MS: I would say 80%. It’s been a while since I checked the stats. But if you look at the [big chains], every January you’ve got this huge mass of people joining up, but after 4-6 weeks, I think about 80% have lost their gusto and motivation and stopped working out. It has to do with old behaviours and old habits. This is where condo-based amenities could add a lot of value for people.