February 17, 2023
After almost a decade of installing rubber gym flooring in the UAE, we've seen our fair share of problems. Cracked concrete subfloors, crumbling weight room tiles, bulging joints in rolled rubber flooring, bumpy turf tracks. Ouch.
Many things can go wrong with rubber gym flooring, but almost all issues can be avoided. This article covers the two main causes - Bad Preparation and Under Budgeting. We'll show you what to look for, with some practical advice, making your next gym floor purchase as smooth as possible.
Follow these points and you’ll avoid long term issues, saving thousands in replacement costs and lost members.
Problems with gym flooring inevitably come down to two main things:
When we say "preparation", we're talking about two things: subfloor preparation and installation preparation.
Your subfloor is the floor you're installing on to. In places like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, a subfloor is usually a concrete slab. If you're installing onto something else, like existing hardwood or ceramic tiles, much of this advice will still be relevant.
At least 90% of subfloors we see in the UAE needs some sort of preparation before we install a gym floor. There are two reasons why:
The reason why issues with the subfloor are such a big deal is because gym floors are made from rubber.
Rubber is soft, flexible, and often comes in thin rolls. A rolled rubber gym floor can look stunning, but on a nasty subfloor it will show up all the issues underneath.
The glue used to install a rolled rubber floor will bind the rubber to the subfloor. It will pull the rubber into ridges and divots. You'll see any deep grout lines running through the concrete underneath. Ridges and bumps will show through, potentially causing trip hazards or an unstable surface to exercise on.
And it will keep getting worse, until it's not just an eyesore, but a major safety issue for your members.
So what can you do?
Flat and Level. Those are the rules. Get it flat and get it level. They aren't the same thing:
By flat, we mean no high or low spots. No ridges, or bumps that raise the floor. No divots, grout lines or cracks that drop it. You can usually see these with your eyes or feel them underfoot. If you want to go a bit further - take something with a long straight edge and place it randomly around the subfloor. You'll be able to see any areas where the subfloor rises or falls.
Depending on the specific site - getting a contractor to apply a "self-leveling compound" is the best way to flatten your subfloor. We do this on many subfloors before we install a new gym floor. It's not as expensive as you think and prevents most of the future problems you would have otherwise.
Self-leveling is a liquid compound, poured over a concrete slab - either in patches for an isolated area, or across an entire floor for more problematic sites. The liquid fills the low spots, and/or brings the level up to any high spots, creating a flat surface.
If self-leveling is not for you, another solution could be to use an underlay. Similar to installing carpet onto wooden floor boards, using a dense rubber underlay can provide a flattening effect on minor subfloor issues. Whilst this will lift the overall height of your floor, this can be an effective technique in situations where the subfloor doesn't have as many issues.
Before sending a quote for rubber gym flooring, we'll always discuss sub-floor preparation to help you avoid long term problems.
Flat floors are not always level. A flat floor is smooth, with no lumps and bumps. A level floor, means the floor is "level to the horizon".
To exaggerate the point, imagine a new drive-way going up a hill. The surface is flat (ie. free from bumps and holes), but it would not be level. You would feel off balance walking around it.
If your subfloor isn't level you will run into a variety of problems. Your rig and racks won't run parallel with your ceiling. Fit-out contractors will have a hard time fitting doors and skirting boards. Treadmills can become unbalanced. Members may feel unstable when lifting weights. The list goes on.
If you need to level your subfloor, the fix is pretty simple, so long as you deal with it upfront. We've already talked about using a self-leveling compound to get a flat finish, but it can also correct the overall level of your space. We do this by fitting a temporary barrier at the lowest point, so the compound in its liquid form fills to the level of the highest point, before it sets.
A diagram helps visualize this -
We can't say it enough - Flat and Level. That's what you're looking for in a subfloor. Getting this right from the start will save you loads of money and disruption later. If you care about creating a great, long-term member experience, you should care about how your subfloor is prepared and how your gym floor performs over time.
Which brings us to our next point…
Walk into any gym today, that's been running for at least 12 months, and you'll find issues with the gym floor. Discolouration from sun damage, gaps between weight-room tiles, bulging joints between rolled floors, turf track lines scrubbing off. Some of these issues come from high usage and should be expected. A gym floor will not look brand new for long given how it's used.
But some issues are worse than others. Bulging joints in rolled flooring can become a serious trip hazard, as can large gaps between weight room tiles.
The cause of issues like this is usually from the material itself. Rubber. Rubber is a natural material that needs to "breathe". Like wood, rubber will expand and contract in different climates. If you've ever seen flooring joints "pop" after a few days, poor acclimatization is usually why.
The most important thing with your new rubber floor is to have it delivered a few days before it's installed. Open it up and leave it on site. Let it sit in its new surroundings. It will expand and contract, adjusting to its new climate. This is especially true in the Middle East, where your rubber flooring has probably been sitting in a hot warehouse, before moving to your air-conditioned site. Give it at least 48 hours before installing.
Same goes for any wood flooring, or wood effect vinyl in yoga studios or reception areas. The acclimatisation process is crucial and will save all sorts of headaches.
That's not the end of it though. Even after your floor has been installed, it may continue to expand and contract. Not as much as those first few days and not as much if it's been glued down, but it can still happen. Always run a gap around between the final edge of your rubber gym flooring and the wall. Your fit-out contractor should cover this gap with a skirting board, so you'll never see it. Expansion gaps give the rubber somewhere to expand into, instead of bulging outward.
A 10 or 15mm rolled rubber floor can look stunning. But if installed incorrectly, the joints will start to lift and what should have been a beautiful gym floor soon becomes an ugly trip hazard.
When it comes to rolled rubber flooring, the joints are the weakest part. They are more likely to "lift" than anything else. Remember - it's been rolled up tight, like a spring. That's been its default state for a long period of time and given the nature of the material, when you unroll it, it will want to spring back in to its rolled form. While acclimatisation will help, it won't completely stop the joints from wanting to lift. A joint that lifts before the glue sets is going to be a problem.
Our answer is to "Tape and Brick".
Once we've glued two rolls down, we cover the joint with high-quality tape and a load of new bricks. The tape keeps the joints tight together, while the bricks add weight to keep connected to the subfloor (and glue). The glue needs time to work and we can't have the joints lifting in that time.
We've been using this method for almost 10 years in the UAE and it works a treat.
One important point. The choice of tape is really important. If your installer uses a cheap, low-quality masking tape - it can leave a nasty residue on the floor when you peel it off.
After almost 10 years in the UAE, we've seen far too many gym operators treat their flooring as an after-thought. They decide on it after a fit-out contractor has started. After all their equipment has been ordered.
Even if you don't buy rubber gym flooring from us - we promise you, deciding on your gym floor late is the wrong way to do it. It is arguably the most important decision to make and it should be made as early as possible. Once installed, it's a very hard decision to undo.
After everything we discussed in the Preparation section above - it should be clear that many things can, and will, go wrong if you haven't planned properly. And the same can be said about the actual product you buy. Because no matter how well you prepare your subfloor - a cheap product that doesn't last more than a year will become a very expensive mistake. Not just money expensive. You'll create a poor member experience that will cost you in retention.
Compare gym flooring to your equipment for a moment. When it comes gym equipment, you don't always get what you pay for. There are 3 main factories in China that produce about 80% of the world's bumper plates. Many brands offer exactly the same plate, but the prices vary wildly. So for equipment like bumper plates and cast iron kettlebells, you aren’t sacrificing much performance or durability by going cheaper.
With gym flooring it's different. You absolutely get what you pay for, especially over an extended period of time.
Take a turf sled track for example. The cheapest way to get lines and markings on to a turf track is to buy a cheap strip of green turf and paint on the lines. This can look ok at first, but give it a month of use and it looks terrible. It's an eyesore. The track is fading. The paint is scrubbing off. It's smearing in places, un-readable in others. It's a mess and everyone sees it.
But pay a little bit more upfront and those lines and markings are laser cut at the time of manufacturing. They're part of the track, instead of being an after-thought. There is no paint. It’s all one piece.
When it comes to gym flooring, the concept of "value for money" applies across the board. From the transitions between weight tiles and cardio areas, to the density and "bounce" in your body-weight space.
So how should you think about budgeting for rubber gym flooring?
Think of your gym floor as an investment, not an expense. You want your flooring to last as long as it possibly can before you need to replace it. You need different levels of durability in different areas. A cardio area with rows of treadmills and bikes doesn't need to be as heavy duty as a cross-fit space. You can get away with spending less in some areas, freeing up the budget for harder wearing areas.
Understanding your different durability needs allows you to play around with multiple floor types too - like rolled rubber flooring, floor tiles, even vinyl and wood effect flooring. All have a place in a modern gym and allow great flexibility when budgeting across an entire gym project.
While durability is important to extending the lifetime of your flooring, the performance of your floor is important for your members. Member retention is critical to the longevity of a gym and good member experience helps create retention. Your members are looking at, and using, your gym floor every day.
Take a weight-lifting area for example. To make a cheap gym floor tile, a manufacturer uses low-quality rubber and low-quality production methods. The tile isn't dense enough to handle the ongoing force or reduce acoustic issues. The cheaper they are, the thicker they need to be - meaning your floor level becomes higher. This causes trip hazards and unsightly transitions. They're softer underfoot and more likely to become permanently dented. A lack of density causes the joints to open up a lot. It may only take a few months until your weight-lifting area looks like it's been there since the 80's.
Spend a bit more upfront and you get a product that's designed for its intended use. Fit for purpose. The tiles are thinner and denser. They have better acoustic properties, dampening the noise from weight drops, meaning less complaints from the neighbours. You can physically feel the difference underfoot with proper "bounce-back" when you drop a bar. A greater density restricts the joints from opening too much in changing climates.
You don't need to spend a fortune to drastically improve your floor's performance. You need value for money.
It's easy to talk about buying durable, high performance rubber gym flooring. But how can you tell the difference before you've had it installed?
Easy. Go and see it for yourself. We don't just mean catalogues and fancy samples - we mean physically go and see it in action.
We take customers to see our flooring installs all the time. And not just our newer ones. We take them to indoor and outdoor projects that have been going for years. Places like Fit Republik, Jumeirah Beach Hotel and Embody to name a few.
Ask your gym flooring supplier to show their work. Go and see it for yourself.
Take the outdoor gym at Jumeirah Beach Hotel, for example. The outdoor flooring was installed in January 2020. Being an outdoor space, the durability of the flooring was critical, especially through brutal Dubai summers.
“We have a great relationship with VIVO Fitness after a number of projects together. An example of this is our outdoor gym at JBH. After more than 3 years, the durability of the floor tiles and turf has been outstanding.”
Buying a gym floor is not just an upfront cost. You should treat it as a long term investment with proper consideration, planning and budget.
Get it wrong and it will become a money pit, creating a poor experience for your members.
But get it right and you’ll be ahead of the competition. Your gym floor will look and perform as it should for years to come, saving you money in the long-run and giving your members the experience they deserve.
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