Options Abound for Indoor Sports Flooring & Fitness Surfaces
By Deborah L. Vence
Choosing the right indoor sports flooring and fitness surface for your facility requires knowing exactly what types of activities will be taking place.
"When it comes to sports and fitness surfacing, it's no longer one-type-fits-all. The surface should be specified based upon the activity being performed upon it, not just the basic sports flooring classification," said Bo Barber, vice president of marketing and business development for a Lancaster, Pa.-based company that specializes in recycled rubber flooring products.
In a fitness area, Barber said, in which there are cardio machines and light dumbbells, the surfacing will need to be very different from the surface in an area where heavy weights are being dropped. "While the fitness surface needs to be ergonomic and shock-absorbing," he said, "the demands of a traditional weight room require the floor to also be durable and to provide firm footing. By selecting the right surfacing for the right application, you are allowing the person using it to perform better and longer."
For example, Barber's company installed its flooring product at Spooky Nook Sports in Manheim, Pa., considered the largest indoor sports complex in North America. "The 700,000-square-foot facility serves as a fitness space for locals and a training center for student, collegiate and professional athletes." Having the right surfacing was critical and Barber's company's flooring was specified throughout most of the facility.
Spooky Nook converted six tennis courts into a fitness and training area for its members in December 2015. The space features a performance track, turf field, turf hill, basketball court, pickleball courts, weightlifting area, sled lane and Ninja Warrior course. Spooky Nook's functional training area features seamless surfaces with smooth transitions between spaces. Another feature is the performance track, which now is one of the most used pieces of equipment. In addition, Spooky Nook's inlaid lifting platforms are cutting-edge, featuring custom graphics on a durable, low-maintenance floor designed to withstand extreme wear and tear.
The fact is that many options exist for indoor sports flooring, with the most popular being modular athletic flooring, wood and rolled sheet goods, according to Jorgen Moller, CEO of a Salt Lake City-based company that engineers, manufactures and provides outdoor multi-courts, basketball courts and modular sport surfaces. "While wood flooring is noted as top-of-the-line, it does come with hefty installation, maintenance and [the need for] temperature-controlled facilities, not to mention the need to strip and restore annually," Moller said. "Modular flooring is a great, more economical option. Modular surfaces are durable, require very little maintenance, and do not require costly humidity/HVAC control systems.
"Technology in modular athletic flooring has also come a long way; most modular floors offer the look and feel of a real wood floor. Synthetic surfaces are also a less expensive alternative to wood, but do not typically offer the same durability as a wood or modular floor," Moller said.
Similarly, Susan Proud, vice president of sports installations for a Lancaster County, Pa.-based company that manufactures and installs sports surfaces, suggested that there are a variety of different floor types that can be used for sports flooring, with the most common type for indoor sport courts being pad and pour, which has a rubber sublayer, topped with a liquid coat urethane. "This combination of material makes this flooring seamless, resilient and safer for the user," Proud said.
Product advances have helped to make fitness flooring become more efficient and offer more protection for sub-floors. Proud noted that the most popular type of fitness flooring stems from a flooring manufacturer that invented the idea of compressed recycled rubber flooring. One of the company's product lines provides fitness flooring that is tailored to a specific exercise need. It can be used to create "inlaid platforms."
"The traditional weight room platform is about 2 to 3 inches above the regular fitness flooring," she said. "Eliminating the raised platform can give any weight room the ability to utilize more space and create a safer and cleaner environment for the athletes," she said. "With inlaid platforms athletes no longer have to worry about tripping or twisting an ankle when moving on and off the platform. When the workout is finished, the cleaning is simple. Since the surface is completely flat, it leaves no place for harmful bacteria to reside."
Steve Hayes, Midwest/West Coast regional sales manager for a Peshtigo, Wis.-based hardwood flooring manufacturer, noted a list of different flooring options that includes:
- Virgin rubber sheet goods: "Excellent playing characteristics. Good coefficient of friction, shock absorption and resiliency, and very durable for multi-purpose activities."
- Recycled rubber sheet goods, which are a cost-effective alternative to virgin rubber sheet goods.
- Vinyl sheet goods: Can be manufactured to look like wood. Good playing characteristics. Typically a little less expensive than virgin rubber sheet goods.
- Poured-in-place polyurethane: Good playing characteristics. The floor can be re-coated after years of use and will look brand new again.
- Wood: Durable and, in most cases, has good playing characteristics (depending on the type of subfloor). Handles bleacher loads very well.
Bert Kosters, managing director, Europe, for a Petrolia, Ontario, Canada-based company that designs, manufactures and installs interior and exterior rubber surface tiles, noted some different types of flooring and how to maintain each. For example, with wooden floors, [it is] "… easy to apply floor graphics; suitable for cardio equipment, dancing and group cardio/fitness lessons, but not suitable, however, for dropping weights directly onto the surface." He added that maintenance is simple, involving vacuum cleaning and mopping.
PVC flooring, also easy to clean, is available in many colors and designs. Also, floor graphics are easy to apply, and the surface is suitable for cardio equipment, dancing and cardio group/fitness lessons; but, not suitable for dropping weights directly onto the surface. Maintenance involves vacuum cleaning and mopping.
Rolled rubber flooring needs a bit of sound attenuation. "When weights are not too heavy it will protect the screed and equipment. [It's] suitable for fixed cardio and weight equipment," he said. Maintenance involves vacuum cleaning and a scrubbing machine.
Last, rubber fitness tiles have good sound attenuation. They protect screed and equipment also at heavy weights; suitable for cardio and weight equipment and free weight areas and for group lessons. And, maintenance involves vacuum cleaning and a scrubbing machine.
Speaking of maintenance, such requirements for indoor sports flooring should include daily upkeep, weekly upkeep and any annual refurbishments or cleanings.
For example, both modular and wood surfaces can be swept and cleaned weekly with an autoscrubber. "Modular surfaces require no annual coatings or restoration in contrast to wood floors, which require both," Moller said. "Maintenance repairs are also something to consider—modular floors allow for single tiles anywhere in the floor to be replaced in case of damage, whereas wood and synthetic flooring are a bit more laborious and may require replacing entire sections. Modular and synthetic floors are resistant to water and liquids as well."
Hayes said all floors will require periodic cleaning.
"The type of cleaning and products used to clean the floor should always be approved by the manufacturer of the floor. Water can be used to clean all of the floors, however, it is highly recommended to avoid using water when cleaning wood floors," Hayes said. "Also, be sure to check with your floor manufacturer before driving an auto-scrubbing machine on your floors or using any type of scissor lift on your floor to repair/replace overhead items (i.e., light bulbs)."
Proud added that maintenance for floors depends on what surface you are cleaning. "For the indoor sport courts, cleaning and maintenance depends on how much the surface is being used. If there are noticeable scuff marks and large amounts of dust, the floor should be cleaned," she said, adding that her company recommends cleaning synthetic floors with cleaning solutions that have a neutral pH. If a synthetic floor is cleaned with a high or low pH, it could negatively affect the flooring.
As long as the floor is cleaned properly, there is no need for resurfacing or reapplying of the top layers; synthetic floors last years when they are taken care of properly.
"Maintenance to a hardwood sports floor requires more effort and expense. Routine maintenance is required when it comes to owning a hardwood floor," she said. "Daily sweeping with a dust mop is highly recommended, as well as a monthly cleaning of the floor. When cleaning the floor, it is important to use 100 percent virgin mineral spirits. They are able to remove dirt and stains, while at the same time preserving the hardwood.
"When recycled mineral spirits are used, it can cause comprehensive damage. At least once a year we recommend the floor to be screened and re-coated with a new finish. This refreshes the hardwood floor giving it more grip integrity and a sleek finish," she added.
Certain types of fitness flooring should be cleaned as often as possible to prevent bacteria.
Barber noted that many times, a surface is selected based upon the way it looks. "Little thought is given to how it will support the person using it, or its maintenance requirements," he said. "Some surfaces call for expensive cleaners or specialized machines, such as buffers, to keep the surface clean. These criteria should be considered before selecting a surface.
"A floor with minimal maintenance requirements," he added, "will make it easier for the staff to care for, in addition to saving the facility money in the long run."
What to Consider
There are some things to consider when purchasing indoor sports flooring.
"First, what surface will be suitable for your facility needs? Will only athletic activity take place on the court, or will it be used for meetings or other events, requiring a more durable option?" Moller said.
Also, "Which sports will need to be played on your court? Modular and wood floors offer multi-game options, making for easy conversions between sports. Initial investment, offered product warranty, and weekly and annual maintenance costs will also need to be taken into consideration," he said.
Hayes suggested that first and foremost, any owner must consider what type of activities will be taking place.
"After such activities have been identified, the owner can begin the process of selecting flooring solutions that can be considered as options for the space," Hayes said.
Similarly, Proud said the most important thing to consider is, "What is it being used for?"
Pad and pour flooring, for instance, is great for hosting multipurpose activities, and can be used as a sport court or to hold recreational events. "A lot of churches use this product because they are able to insert bleachers for sports events (without damaging the floor), and also use it for fellowship gatherings," Proud said. "This synthetic flooring also gives more options when it comes to customization."
Hardwood flooring can be tailored more toward "sport use" because of its ability to be easily damaged. Heavy traffic can result in scratches and scuffs, which hurt the integrity of the floor. Shoes, besides sneakers, could hurt the floor.
Barber said the biggest challenge with indoor applications is the emergence of acoustics as a major consideration. "The urban migration and related surge in multi-story buildings coupled with the location of the fitness centers moving from the basement to more desirable upper floors has showcased the inherent sound and vibration issues," he said. "This trend, coupled with the surge in Olympic lifting, is creating significant acoustical challenges with structure-borne noise. Selecting flooring that dampens the transmission of high and low frequency noise is critical to a successful outcome," Barber said.
Chris Chartrand, director of marketing for a Petrolia, Ontario, Canada-based company that specializes in the design, manufacture and installation of interior and exterior rubber surface tiles, said, "Rather than thinking of the facility and the surfacing as separate components, we encourage our customers to think of the entire facility and adjacent spaces when it comes to planning the design and layout."
Many factors must be taken into consideration long before choosing the flooring. "Many of these factors will determine which flooring is required in each area of your facility," Chartrand said. "Many well-designed facilities will have several different types of flooring throughout. This is largely dependent on the activity within each space."
In order to determine the most effective surfacing for your facility, you have to consider activity and usage within each area. "Will you have group fitness classes, heavy weightlifting areas, CrossFit, etc.? Why is this so important? Of course, you want to match up the right surface to the activity but let's take this one step further," he said. "Fitness facilities generate noise—a ton of noise. This is the number one concern for many facility owners today—noise pollution.
"Within any facility, you will have thumping music, circuit training, instructors yelling, group classes jumping and thumping, heavy weights falling to the floor and of course, the humming and vibration of treadmills and fitness equipment," he said.
All of these activities generate a considerable amount of audible structure-borne sound, which can be a serious concern for neighboring tenants, adjacent businesses and even your own members and staff.
"Be mindful of the types of exercises that will be performed on each surface. Is sound transfer going to be a concern? Are you on [a] main floor or an elevated floor? Be sure to investigate sound mitigation as part of your surfacing decision. Attenuating sound within a structure can be a very complex science as there are various types of sound transfer (i.e., airborne sound and impact sound, etc.)," he explained.
"Surfacing is only one part of this equation, and there are some excellent products on the market that can reduce the transfer of structure-borne sound by nearly 40 decibels (A 10-decibel reduction is the equivalent of a 50 percent reduction to the human ear)," he added. "Airborne sound also requires consideration. You will want to find ways to reduce the transfer of airborne sound wherever possible. Consider insulation, ductwork, acoustical sealant around joints and points of contact between walls and floors, etc."
The Latest Trends
Indoor sports flooring and fitness surfaces are all trending toward multi-use surfaces. "Facilities are looking for a versatile product that can be used for basketball, volleyball, yoga, indoor cycling and more," Moller said. "The more activities that can take place on one floor, the better the ROI. There is also a trend for customization of indoor sports surfaces using custom color options, logos, etc."
One of the current trends in the rubber flooring market is that manufacturers are embracing the concept of making products that are thicker in profile and provide more comfort underfoot for end users. "Much of the time this is accomplished by vulcanizing two or three layers of material into the final product," Hayes said.
He added that from the wood floor perspective, "much of the industry is focused on how to improve the biomechanical benefits of a floor's performance (and improve the end users' experience/safety). In many ways the entire industry is working equally hard to improve owner comfort and safety while continuing to improve performance needs."
The immersion of synthetic flooring is another trend in indoor sports flooring. "Synthetic flooring has been around for decades, the athletic community embraced this product because of all the pros it contains," Proud said. "It gives athletes a comfortable surface to play on, and can be used for many different activities," she said. "Most institutions today are looking for flooring that can withstand years of foot traffic and sports performances."
In a case example involving synthetic flooring, Proud's company installed its pad and pour flooring product at Millersville University Student Rec Center in Pennsylvania. The university needed a new student rec center court. The previous floor had reached the end of its life, and students were eager for a new floor for the heavy-traffic area in the Student Memorial Center. Millersville turned to a 14-millimeter point elastic poured floor system that would be resilient, durable, long-lasting, easy to clean and maintain, and aesthetically pleasing.
The Student Memorial Center Rec Center court hosts many of Millersville University's student events. The new flooring system will be able to withstand heavy traffic from concerts, chairs and tables from job and internship fairs, and even a stage for semester concerts. It is a puncture-resistant, highly shock-absorbent, premium surface.
Barber noted that fitness is evolving, and current fitness trends are moving away from stationary cardio and selectorized equipment to members working out in more open areas for functional training and group fitness.
"These new spaces allow members to tailor body-centric movement. This trend puts more emphasis on the flooring, because it really becomes the primary piece of equipment," he said. "If your members matter, then the flooring they train on matters. A surface that provides safety, ergonomics and acoustic benefits becomes paramount."
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