Sports & Fitness Surfacing
What Lies Beneath
Functional Training & Why the Surface Matters
By Garnet Sofillas
Today's health club looks drastically different from the traditional "gym" of 30 years ago. In the 1980s through the early 2000s, mainstream clubs had it all: selectorized machines, cardio equipment, aerobics, group X, massage, and tanning. Today, functional training is the focus, and gyms are eliminating equipment to create dedicated functional training space. So is this emphasis on functional training a new movement or a fad?
Spooky Nook Sports, the largest indoor sports complex in North America, believes it's the new trend. Although the facility opened to its members in 2012, this 700,000-square-foot facility, which is part of a 14-acre complex, noticed its members wanted more when it came to functional training.
"The focus is now on strength and conditioning—jumping, sprinting, throwing, crawling; things you would find in a collegiate or professional strength and conditioning program," said Jim Launer, M.S. and managing director of athletic operations at Spooky Nook Sports. "In the past, fitness facilities were focused on fitness alone, and the emphasis was on machines and how many they could cram into a space. There was also only a small focus on weights, and the floors were an afterthought. Typical fitness surfaces included carpet or really thin rubber surfacing over concrete with the main benefit being that they were easy to clean."
Fast forward to the 21st century, and today's fitness facilities are drastically different. Functional training seems to be the wave of the future. This includes body weight training—exercises where the individual's own body weight provides resistance, such as pushups, pull-ups and sit-ups—and high-intensity interval training. Functional strength tools common in health clubs today include suspension training rigs, racks for squats and pull-ups, battling ropes, kettlebells, medicine balls, sandbags, plyometric boxes and sleds.
With a new focus on members using their bodies, surfaces are now of paramount importance. More specifically, the surface should be: safe, providing cushion in the event someone falls; ergonomic, offering force reduction and energy restitution; and acoustic, insulating sound and vibration. All three of these criteria must be taken into consideration when selecting a floor, in order to protect members' bodies, to ensure they have an optimal experience, and to keep neighbors—in the class next door or tenants below—content, because they can't hear you.
In 2016, Spooky Nook responded to the functional training movement by removing six tennis courts to create a new functional training space that includes a functional weightlifting and training area, turf field, sled lane, running track, infinity spa, three pickleball courts, a basketball court, and, coming later this year, an American Ninja Warrior course. "We needed surfaces that were able to handle high traffic, cleaning on a daily basis, and true functional training," said Launer.
With safety, ergonomics, and acoustics at the forefront, there were three additional criteria Spooky Nook had, when selecting its surfacing. The first was cleanliness. "If you are truly going to train on a floor, that surface will need to be cleaned daily," said Launer. "I have seen floors that fall apart from being cleaned too often. In order to keep the customer satisfied and healthy, it's important to choose a floor that can handle daily cleaning." The performance rubber surfacing in the weightlifting areas and on the track only requires soap and water to be cleaned. The same is true for the vinyl basketball court. A vacuum can be used on the turf field and sled lane to remove debris.
The second criteria Spooky Nook had for its surfacing is durability. This consideration was of paramount importance, since the expansion area features many different types of weights and functional training tools. "The floor needs to be able to handle heavy weight drops, ropes, medicine ball slams and jumping," said Launer. "The right floor will be able to withstand all of these things, while providing a surface that is comfortable, ergonomically sound and quiet." The basketball court is more durable than a traditional wood court, because it's comprised of vinyl with a rubber backing, and the running track is robust, because it's fade-resistant and wears well.
Nook's third functional training floor selection criterion was appearance. "The right look and color help to motivate and train people," said Launer. "Our customers expect us to provide them with the best surfaces possible. It is our job to find that and to have surfaces that look a certain way that motivates them." This included installing surfaces with bold colors, such as the blue track and graphite-colored basketball court. Custom logos in the turf and custom-designed pictures in the lifting platforms also add interest.
Looking back at the fitness industry over the past 30 years, the only thing that's stayed the same is that clubs are still big. The surfacing is now one of the most important pieces of equipment. When selecting a floor for a functional training area, club owners should ensure it's safe, ergonomic, acoustic, easy-to-clean, durable and attractive. And if facilities, like Spooky Nook, can successfully bring flooring and functionality together, they will create an optimal fitness experience.