Three ways to light a gym

Gyms should appear light and airy – and clean. You must speak to the architect or interior designer to ensure the room surfaces are fairly pale – a dark ceiling in a large gym can look oppressive. A light ceiling also reduces the contrast between the luminaire and its immediate surroundings, reducing glare.

A particular aspect of gyms that differentiates them from other interiors is that people often spend a considerable time on their backs looking at the ceiling. This means that your luminaires should have a low surface luminance. Remember that ‘low brightness’ luminaires such as the now obsolete Category I, II and III types were pretty glaring if you looked directly into them from underneath. Uplights or micro-prismatic diffusers are a better option.

Cross-trainers, treadmills and other equipment often have sloping control panels. Try to minimise bright reflections from the luminaires.

The excellent SLL sports lighting guide LG04 recommends illumination levels of 200 to 500 lx for gymnastics, depending on the standard of performance. British Gymnastics recommends 200 lx for non-competitive play and 500 lx for competitions. We have designed to a notional 300 lx at 1m above floor level.

One last point to consider is the mounting height of the luminaires. This may not be an issue if the gym is in an open sports hall, but can be if it is in a standard 2.4m floor/ceiling location. Our gym measures 12 x 10m with 3m to the lowest part of the ceiling.

There are still a large number of gyms lit by recessed 4 x 18W T8 fluorescent units. Nowadays, they are being superseded by the LED panel equivalent. These vary enormously in quality and performance – see our review of LED panels in the November 2013 issue.

The panel used here is from a major European manufacturer and has a microprism louvre and an opal diffuser. The result is that you get high light output with low glare – even when seen from directly underneath. 

What’s good about the scheme is the high uniformity and low glare. I have never been a fan of totally recessed luminaires because they tend to produce dark ceilings. This can be improved by having a pale coloured floor.  To be consistent, all three options have a floor reflectance of 17 per cent, which is fairly dark for a gym.

Tech spec

  • Luminaires Sixteen 600 x 600 LED panels
  • Optical control Microprism behind opal diffuser
  • Average horizontal illuminance 340 lx
  • Electrical load  785W
  • Pros Low capital cost
  • Cons Looks like a million other gyms





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When I researched lighting for gyms, I was surprised by the number that had direct/indirect systems. The luminaires must be high enough to be out of reach of anyone using the equipment in the gym. As long as your ceiling is higher than about 3.5m, you should be OK.

The big advantage of this scheme is that it puts a lot more light on the ceiling and makes the space look open and airy. A disadvantage is that the open louvres mean that you can get a direct view of the T5 lamps if you are lying directly underneath them. It would be worth considering moving the luminaires away from the mat and bench exercise areas.

Personally, in this location I would always use a direct/indirect luminaire with a diffuser top and bottom rather than a louvre. But so many gyms have louvred luminaires, I thought it was worth including them.

Tech spec

  • Luminaires Twenty suspended direct/indirect fittings with T5 fluorescent lamps
  • Optical control Specular louvres
  • Average horizontal illuminance 330 lx
  • Electrical load 760W
  • Pros Bright ceiling and low glare
  • Cons You need a fairly high ceiling

We often forget that we don’t have to use just one luminaire type per location. This option uses a combination of compact fluorescent uplights and continuous linear T5 fluorescent.

A better option might be to use LED equivalents, but you would have to check that they had sufficient light output. Narrow luminaires and uplights are never the most efficient in the simple terms of horizontal illuminance per watt consumed. However, they often produce the best looking and most effective functional spaces. Gyms have to look good to attract customers.

We have been able to use wall-mounted uplights in the higher central area to lighten the ceiling. These wouldn’t work so well in the lower, side areas because you would get hot spots on the ceiling. Instead we have used a continuous line of T5s.

Tech spec

  • Luminaires Eight 1 x 55W CFL uplights plus linear T5 system
  • Optical control Simple, high-reflectance aluminium
  • Average horizontal illuminance 280 lx
  • Electrical load 860W
  • Pros Best looking
  • Cons Heaviest electrical load