Feature Article - April 2020
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What's Under Foot?

Making Smart Sports & Fitness Flooring Choices

By Joe Bush


"We have to come up with surfaces that are going to help minimize the stress on the joints. It's going to allow them to train more often and longer."

The refurbishing project at USC had different challenges: moisture damaged flooring in fitness areas, surfaces that were hazardous in locker room and shower areas, and the conversion of part of a hardwood basketball court to a functional fitness space.

The latter work is becoming common as facilities either can't afford to build a new space, don't have the room to add, or simply want to re-purpose an underused space. Racquetball courts are targeted for such changes, for instance.

For the conversion, Sides' company used tiles designed for repetitive movement without adhesive, to protect the hardwood. Tiles with the school logo also replaced the moisture-damaged flooring in the weight and fitness rooms below. The safety flooring installed in the locker room is meant to not only reduce slips and falls but cushion any falls that do happen.

Sides said today's shifting fitness landscape is the reason all his company's performance flooring is six years old or less, designed to react to trends. Still, two factors are always balanced in fitness surfaces: energy restitution and force reduction.

Where exercise and weight machines dominate, surfaces with a lower force reduction is called for; where people do repetitive movements, in circuit training or functional fitness areas, higher force reduction and energy restitution are more important.

"People started out jumping on a floor and then wanted a softer floor," said Sides. "The density and thickness of the backing gives you the energy restitution and force reduction values."

Randy Randjelovic, technical advisor at a Wisconsin-based manufacturer, said what users don't see when they look at a fitness floor is crucial to the surface's performance and safety.

"Evaluating floor systems against athletic performance standards has resulted in a large variety of subfloor systems," he said. "Floors in the past 20 years have been designed with much greater flexibility than in the past. This has resulted in alterations to subfloor constructions that have been used for many years as well as completely new subfloor designs. Resilient pads used below athletic subfloors have seen significantly more designs and material options advancements."

Safety is also an issue with the material of rubber flooring, said Johnson. Recycled rubber surfaces were meant to lower cost but Johnson said his company's vulcanized rubber material prioritizes safety from both injury and illness.

Once rubber has been vulcanized with a heating process, it becomes sealed and is no longer porous or susceptible to bacterial and/or viral infestation.

"According to the EPA, benzene, mercury, styrene-butadiene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and arsenic, among several other chemicals, heavy metals and carcinogens, have been found in tires," said Johnson.

"Many recycled rubber flooring manufacturers often found in traditional gyms and health clubs source their rubber from tires, which is very concerning for gym owners and their members' safety. Studies have found that crumb rubber can emit gases that can be inhaled, which is also the 'gym' smell that you notice immediately as you walk into a 'typical' gym."

Johnson said that with more workouts now taking place on the ground instead of machines, there is a greater need for a clean and protective floor.

"When you are doing pushups and bringing your face within centimeters of the gym floor surface, how close do you really want to get?" he said. "What are you being exposed to if the gym floor is porous and filled with bacteria that is invisible to the naked eye? Protecting members from things like Staph and MRSA has become a top priority and more important than ever before."

From a facility manager's point of view, flooring needs to be safe, attractive, flexible, and maintenance friendly. Amber Long, executive director of wellness and recreation services at the Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center on the campus of the University of Colorado-Denver, said the most important lesson she's learned about surfaces is to customize them to users and uses.

"It is important to understand that different types of surfaces are available for different types of activities," she said. "Make sure to understand what your population wants to primarily use the space for, but also look for that space to change over time. The floor must be able to withstand different configurations and uses."