The floor is a very important piece of any room. In a home gym the floor is especially important. But what is the right choice? I’ve done some research and found out what is right for you.
For home gyms, 3/8″ rubber gym flooring is great. For home gyms where heavy weights are dropped often, you’ll want to add extra foam/rubber/plywood where you drop the weight. If you use foam flooring, 3/4″ or 1″ is advisable. Rubber flooring is higher quality and longer lasting than foam.
Just want to find which exact gym flooring is the best for a home gym? Click here to find my recommendations.
What is gym flooring?
Let’s start with what gym flooring actually is. Gym flooring is a type of flooring that you put on top of the bare floor or other surface that’s underneath to protect your floor and equipment. It has other properties as well that are useful in a gym setting. It dampens noise, provides grip and an even surface to exercise on.
Gym flooring can be made of different materials although usually it’ll be some type of high density rubber or foam that’s easy to clean and has the right properties. Other materials can be used as well but will be more difficult to put down in the room and doesn’t combine all the properties you’re looking for in one material.
Why you need home gym flooring
The first question that comes to mind is probably why you would need a special floor for your home gym. Good question and one I’ll answer here. There are a few reasons why you want gym flooring in your home gym;
- Stable surface
Let’s take a more in depth look at those reasons.
The most important function of gym flooring is to protect. It protects two things;
- The surface underneath
- Your equipment
Working out in a home gym often involves lifting heavy weights. Sometimes you drop these weights. Over time, dropping heavy weights in the same place over and over again can damage the floor. If you’ve got a bare concrete floor in your home gym, it can start breaking it up over time. The concrete weakens and starts pulverizing. When that happens you’ll be left with a hole that get’s deeper over time. Not exactly something you want to happen.
If you’ve already got something on the floor of your home gym, extra flooring can protect that as well. Maybe you don’t want to take out the carpet that’s already there. Or there are tiles that will be a big job to take out.
Gym flooring can protect whatever is underneath although tiles are difficult. I’ve seen several times that people have put thick foam gym flooring over tiles but over time they still break from the impact of dropping weights. Carpet or vinyl can survive pretty well under gym flooring.
Gym flooring softens the impact and therefore the noise that’s created. A rubber of foam mat slows down the impact of weights hitting the floor which means less energy to create noise. It also creates a barrier between two hard surfaces.
Have you ever dropped or even just put down heavy metal weights on a concrete floor? If so, you’ll understand the noise this makes. It can create a big noise that bothers both you and everyone else that lives in your house and possibly even your neighbors.
That might not be a big problem if it’s only once or twice a week. But who only puts down their weights once or twice a week. It’ll be at least 10 times per workout. And since it’s a home gym, you’ll be using if quite often. Nobody wants to hear you create a loud noise tens of times every week. It’ll get irritating for everyone involved really quickly.
Gym flooring is easier to clean which is good since you’ll be sweating in your home gym. Just some water with mild soap can easily get rid of any sweat and other unwanted compounds on your gym flooring.
Gym flooring is also designed to be cleaned easily. That’s a really good thing in a home gym since you’ll be sweating a lot. That’s one of the biggest drawbacks of using normal carpet as gym flooring. The sweat from your workouts will get on to the floor somehow. Maybe not all of it but you don’t exercise in a plastic bag so some will inevitably escape and gravity will cause most of the escapees to drop to the floor.
Imagine a carpet you sweat on every day for a year. Do you want to be anywhere near it? Probably not. Gym flooring is much easier to clean than carpet or even concrete. Just some soap and warm water will suffice. If it gets really nasty, you can even take it outside and let the sun take care of some of the microorganisms that found a home there. It’s very difficult to do that with other types of flooring and impossible with a concrete floor.
You want your feet to have good grip, especially when holding heavy weights in your hands. Rubber flooring provides great grip for extra safety.
Another great benefit of gym flooring is that it provides good grip. Since it’s often made of rubber or foam, it provides more grip than concrete or carpet. Some vinyl floors can be very slippery under the right circumstances.
The last thing you want to happen when you’ve got a heavy barbell in your hands or on your back is that you can’t trust your feet to stay in the right place. Slipping while holding something heavy can have devastating results.
A thick gym flooring can smooth out unevenness in the floor below it. This means you have a more predictable base to lift from. Good gym flooring doesn’t move around increasing stability even more.
Gym flooring can also give you a more even and stable surface. Sometimes the concrete floor in your basement isn’t a perfect polished surface. There might be some small bump and indentations that could give you an unstable base to lift from.
Sure, you can’t cover up a big hole with some gym flooring (although you could fill in the hole with something and put gym flooring over it so it seems even) but foam and rubber can soak up some of the smaller imperfections.
Something gym flooring SHOULDN’T do is move around under you easily. That is dangerous and will likely cause you to fall at some point.
Where do you need gym flooring?
In your home gym. OK, too obvious. Do you need gym flooring everywhere in your home gym? That depends. Let’s see which places need gym flooring the most.
We’ve looked at what a gym floor has to do above.
- Stable surface
Where do you need that in your home gym? It’s most important where you actually lift your weights. That’s where you need the most protection, grip, and the most stable surface. In the other places, you’ll still be sweating and walking.
The biggest concern with putting flooring in one place is the danger of tripping. Maybe you’re walking around with a heavy dumbbell in your hands and you trip over the edge of the flooring. That won’t end pleasantly.
Instead of just putting thick flooring in the places it’s absolutely necessary, try this; Put thin flooring everywhere so you’ve got an even surface. Then put some extra plywood, rubber tiles or an extra mat under the flooring where you drop the weights. This way you’ll have a bit more even surface and still have the protection where you need it without spending the money to get heavy duty protection for you whole home gym.
What happens if you don’t use gym flooring?
What about if you don’t have any gym flooring? What’s the problem?
Your floor or anything else that’s underneath will likely be damaged. If it gets bad enough where you have to replace or repair the concrete slab, it would have been much cheaper to just get some gym mats.
You’re more likely to damage your equipment. Dropping weights on a concrete floor will certainly scuff them and probably worse over time. Rubberized weights will shed their rubber skin pretty quickly. That will make them look ratty and actually cause them to be lighter than you think.
Metal weights will likely do more damage to the floor than to themselves but they can still get damaged. Other things like cable attachments and barbells can also get scuffed and that just doesn’t look good.
You’ll go deaf, your children won’t be able to sleep and your neighbors will hate you. Your gym will be less comfortable to use since it’s so noisy. That will lead to you using it less, and it all goes downhill from there. OK maybe not that extreme but for me, a noisy place isn’t comfortable to use and it’s worth it to put in some time and effort to keep the noise levels down.
Even dropping bumper plates can be surprisingly noisy and it will get tiring after a while. Also, heavy weights can cause the floor to vibrate. That vibration travels through the structure of your house and can be heard everywhere. Preventing those vibrations with gym flooring makes a big difference.
Things get dirty
Working out and sweating isn’t going to make your home gym cleaner. Gym flooring is much easier to clean than a bare concrete floor or carpet. It’s non-porous so sweat and dirt doesn’t get into it and washing the surface is enough to properly clean it.
What type of flooring can you use?
By now, I hope you’re convinced that you need some flooring in your home gym. But which type should you get? There are three main types of gym floors you can choose from;
- Interlocking foam tiles
- Interlocking rubber tiles
- Weightlifting platform
Interlocking foam tiles
The most popular choice for home gym flooring is interlocking tiles. These tiles almost resemble puzzle pieces. You can put them next to each other and lock them together so the tiles don’t move. A kit often comes with small strips so you can create a nice straight border next to the walls.
They measure 24” by 24” and come in packs of at least 24 square feet but larger packs are also available.
Because of the puzzle type edges, it’s really easy to put down and take out of your gym. Since every piece is light and relatively small, they’re easy to handle and not as heavy as big mats.
Interlocking tiles are made of a material known as EVA foam. This means it’s a closed cell material. This is a good thing since it means that liquid and dirt don’t have a way to go inside and makes it easier to clean. Interlocking tiles have a texture on top that provides extra grip and safety as well.
This product is available in different thicknesses; ½”, ¾” and 1”. Read more about which thickness is right for you below.
One thing you have to watch out for with this type of flooring is that the connecting pieces are not the strongest. If you’re relying on the puzzle shaped edges to take a force that separates the edges, you might not be pleased with the results. You’ll get better results if you fit the tiles up to the wall so they have nowhere to go and can separate at the seams.
Some of them also don’t fit together too well and can slide around if you put them on hardwood or vinyl floors. This can be dangerous although putting it from wall to wall helps with this since then it has nowhere else to go.
The durability is average. You’ll see it when you drop something on it or put a heavy power rack on it. Even though it likely won’t look great for a long time, it still protects your floor and equipment from impact.
They are a cheap product and you’re getting what you paid for. Interlocking foam tiles tick some of the boxes gym flooring should but it does come with some issues.
- Easy to fit anywhere
- Impact protection
- Noise damping
- Can slip on some surfaces and in certain situations
- Damages relatively easily compared to mats
- Different sets don’t always fit together
It’s worth noting that it does better with stationary equipment than with movement. So you could use it as a cheaper option for putting your stationary bike or treadmill on since the cons matter less in that case.
As you can see interlocking tiles are a bit of a mixed bag. If the cheaper price is worth the drawbacks, go for it. Otherwise you might want to go for the next option.
For exercises that require something a bit better, there are gym mats available. Gym mats are made from vulcanized rubber from recycled tires. This makes them very durable, impact resistant and strong. In general these gym mats are high quality although that comes at a price. Commercial gyms, hotels and stadiums use this type of flooring so you can be sure it’s super durable.
It can also look great since differently colored rubber flakes are often mixed in. This creates a really cool speckled effect that looks awesome in your home gym or anywhere else.
Interlocking rubber mats
Foam tiles are cheap and easy to put down but not the most durable and can slip. Mats are expensive, big and heavy but are very durable and look great. Would there be a way to combine the pros of both types into one product? Yes there is, Interlocking rubber mats!
The thing they are not is cheap but otherwise they have all the benefits.
- Impact resistant
- Looks great
- Easy to clean
- Easy on your equipment
These tiles are made of the same material and have the same properties as the gym mats. The difference is that they are produced in the same shape as the foam tiles so they have the benefit that they’re lighter, easy to put down and you don’t have to cut your big mats to size.
The last option isn’t really flooring but it does a lot of the same things. And it does those things in the most important location. If you’re looking to just put down some gym flooring in/around your power rack, this might be for you.
A weightlifting platform is made to lift and drop weights on. It’s super strong and actually looks pretty cool.
A weightlifting platform is a metal frame that measures at least 8’ x 4’. Inside the metal frame you have rubber tiles or mats similar or a bit thicker than the ones mentioned before. Sometimes there is a wooden or bamboo platform in the middle to provide a good, stable and even surface for your feet.
They are perfect for deadlifting and other power and Olympic lifts. A weightlifting platform is a package that has everything you need to lift weights safely while protecting everything under and on it.
How thick should gym flooring be?
Gym flooring is available in different thicknesses. The most common sizes are 3/8″, ½” , ¾” and 1”. Which size is right? It depends on two things. What’s underneath your gym flooring and how you lift.
What is right for you it depends on what is underneath.
If you got something underneath that’s already soft like carpet or thick vinyl, you can get away with a thinner gym floor. It’s actually better to get a thinner one (1/2” or ¾”). To lift heavy weights, you want a stable base to stand on. A surface that is too springy or squishy can make your stance unstable.
For example; you’ve got a thick carpet with foam underlay and want to put gym flooring on top? If you go for a thick version, it’s going to be pretty soft. Softer than you want. In that case you want to have something thinner so the total won’t be too squishy.
If all you have is a concrete floor ¾” or 1” thickness is fine. It won’t be too soft and make for a great surface.
In short: If what’s underneath is already soft, go for thin. If what’s underneath is hard, go for thicker.
Of course it also depends on which material you use. If you’re using foam tiles, it’s better to go thicker. Foam is softer than rubber. That means you’ll need more of it to absorb the impact of your weights. For foam 3/4″ is the minimum thickness you’ll want to use.
With rubber mats or tiles you can go a bit thinner to get the same protective effect. The drawback is that you might have less noise damping with the thinner rubber mats. For rubber mats you can go down to 3/8″ thickness. This will protect your floor and equipment but might have less noise damping as said.
How do you lift?
If you’re lifting light to medium weights and putting them down softly, your floor has to endure a lot less than if you’re dropping heavy weights from overhead.
If you’re easy on your floors and equipment, you’ll be able to get away with a ½” foam floor tile. The impact of putting down a medium weight is so much smaller than dropping a heavy weight overhead, the floor has to do a lot less.
For dropping heavy weights, you’ll want to go up to ¾” or 1” thick flooring tiles. For extra protection you can put some extra plywood underneath the floor where you often drop your weights. Alternatively you can go for ½” thick flooring for most of your gym but add a weightlifting platform for the location you drop the weights.
Are there any cheaper alternatives?
There is dedicated gym flooring that is made for the purpose and marketed as such. While it’s not super expensive, it’s always nice if you can save some money. Are there any cheaper options you could use instead?
A very popular alternative to gym flooring is stall mats. Stall mats are used in horse stables and dog kennels. They have many of the same properties as gym flooring but in the end they’re designed to be flooring for large animals. There are a few pros and cons to using stall mats as gym flooring.
- Good impact resistance
- Slip resistant
- Easy to clean
- Made of recycled plastic that can smell really bad.
- Not as thick as gym flooring (depending on the gym flooring) so less effective at protection
- Quality and consistency not as good as gym flooring.
The biggest drawback of stall mats is the smell. Since the quality isn’t very consistent, the amount of smell differs between mats as well. You won’t know what you’re going to get until you receive them.
Stall mats can certainly work if you’re able to put up with the smell and less protective properties. You’ll be able to save a few bucks and still have an effective floor. Stall mats are the most effective substitute you’re going to find for gym flooring.
Simple slabs of plywood are often used as a cheap replacement for a weightlifting platform. Plywood is a bit softer than concrete so it certainly provides a buffer between the weights and you floor. It does work to some degree and is cheap but can break down pretty quickly. Once it starts breaking down you have a possibility for getting splinters. That’s not really what you want from a gym floor.
The solution to this is to put stall mats on top. This also helps the stall mats create some extra protection. A lot of people use this combination without problems and it seems to work great for them. The only time when it’s possibly not enough protection is if you drop heavy weights from overhead. The speed the weight gains when you drop from that height gives it so much impact force that is difficult to protect against.
A weird outlier is patio flooring. There is a wide range of patio flooring available. Not all of them are suitable as gym flooring but some types are actually pretty good alternative flooring options.
The rubber tiles made from so called SBR granules. This type of rubber tile is often used for patios and sometimes even kids playgrounds. They’re very strong, pretty thick and very impact resistant. The high weight makes them stay in place pretty well and they provide good grip.
The only drawback would be the ease of cleaning. Sure you can take a pressure washer to them but that doesn’t really end all that well if your gym inside. And while it does some noise and vibration damping, it’s not the most effective at it.
Yes, it’s possible to find solutions that are cheaper than real gym flooring. They won’t do everything that gym flooring does at the same time however. They will do different things well and a combination of the different alternatives can actually create a floor that is really effective.
Stall mats with rubber patio tiles underneath is a great combination that’s really strong, durable and still provides protection, noise damping and makes it easy to clean. The problem is that the total price might not actually be too far off the price of actual gym flooring.