Feature Article - April 2020
Find a printable version here

What's Under Foot?

Making Smart Sports & Fitness Flooring Choices

By Joe Bush

The choices you make when it comes to floor surfaces in recreational facilities are dependent on factors such as use, proximity to residential areas or offices, user health, flexibility of space usage, and climate.

Trends undoubtedly dictate what programs are offered and how space is allocated, and while surface companies and their clients agree that the move in recent years toward multipurpose areas has driven many decisions, specific-use surfaces are still very much a consideration.

Chad Johnson, national account manager of Northwest sales for a global surface manufacturer with U.S. headquarters in Pennsylvania, said one example, functional fitness, has changed the fitness industry and the flooring industry for the good, highlighting how many factors mesh in the process of selection of surfaces.

"The notion of 'functional' has placed a greater emphasis on the importance of learning lifting mechanisms with the proper techniques or 'mechanisms' of movement," said Johnson.

"Training regimens such as CrossFit, bootcamps, F45, Orange Theory, etc., have moved away from traditional 'bulky' pieces of equipment to a 'less is more' mentality. More workouts are taking place on the floor than ever before, and this switch has been quite encouraging as injury prevention has become such an important part of the exercise culture."

Fitness and recreation are constantly changing, keeping surface manufacturers and facility managers on their toes. Cross training, high impact interval training (HIIT), functional fitness, heavy weights, indoor rock climbing, dance and yoga classes—all can be addressed with either unique or general flooring.

"In order to stay relevant, it is important for companies to be able to grow and adapt to the current business environment," said John Gleason, general manager at a Utica, N.Y.-based surface manufacturer. "We cannot do the same things year after year and expect better results. We need to be able to identify trends and adapt our business model to meet the demands of our customers."

Even choices in one of the most stable spaces in recreation—the basketball/volleyball area—have changed in the 21st century. Tami Savage, international sales manager with a surface manufacturer in Salt Lake City, said options to replace traditional surfaces are designed to be flexible.

"Synthetic surfaces, specifically modular, have become more widely accepted as alternatives to expensive traditional hardwood floors," said Savage. "This greater acceptance has opened the possibilities for facilities to operate on a lower budget than they would have otherwise previously had."

Facility managers have many variables to weigh when changing flooring or overseeing choices for new construction. For activities, energy restitution and force reduction top the calculations, but where in the building the activities take place is an important factor as well.

If there are dwellings, either temporary or permanent, or offices adjacent to activity rooms, the sound of music or instructors or the clang and thump of free weights and exercise machines has to be muted. Acoustic characteristics of surfaces keep all building users happy, said David Sides, West Coast sales director for a flooring manufacturer in Lancaster, Pa.

"Behavioral health or finance departments don't want to hear the vibrations from the weights being dropped," Sides said. "We have to manage the energy created when the weights are dropped. A lot of these (facilities) can't build out because of real estate challenges, so they build up. How do acoustics play a role in these centers?"

Sides helped the University of Southern California (USC) with two projects, a new construction that doubled as a rec center and student housing and a refurbishing of a rec center. The acoustic consideration was a priority in the former, he said.

"Rec center open 'til midnight and kids upstairs trying to study and sleep," he said. "Mitigating vibration is a big concern."

The new building reflected two trends: the recruiting and retention power of recreational facilities on college campuses and the variety of fitness activities preferred by a younger generation. There's 30,000 feet of space for Olympic lifting, general fitness, cardio, sled and turf for pushing and sprints, Group X classroom, apparatuses for functional fitness activities, yoga, and dance. Safety of the users is a top priority, Sides said.

"Fitness is booming because it's becoming fun," he said. "With all that repetitive work comes injury. If they aren't doing the functions the right way, they're getting knee or back or hip injuries from doing the repetitive motions on the wrong surface. How much energy is that floor absorbing when you have a 200-pound athlete coming off a box? If they're doing that every day that's going to wear and tear on the body.