When you’re setting up your home gym, there’s something that you probably haven’t considered, something that will massive impact on your workouts.
Perfectly understandable. After all, who gets excited about buying gym flooring? After all, it’s decidedly un-sexy, especially when you could be checking out machines packed with tech or a shiny new set of weights, or a full-blown multi-gym.
Wait, don’t leave just yet… Whether you decide to go for mats, rolls or tiles, what you put on the floor of your gym is going to make a huge difference to everything else you buy, and it’s definitely something you want to get right first time.
Gym flooring: why you should care
It sounds simple to say, but it’s astounding to think how many people overlook the importance of specialised gym flooring. Normal flooring just isn’t strong enough to take the punishment it’s going to get from the weights and other equipment used in a home gym.
Whether that’s a 150lb running machine, or the stresses of a squat rack and deadlifts, the constant wear will break down most normal flooring over time, even concrete.
Be kind to your body
Proper gym flooring provides a protective, supportive barrier for your body. Harder floors are not a lot of fun to train on. Stretches, bodyweight exercise and weight lifting will all feel uncomfortable.
No one likes to drop to their knees on solid concrete, and the floor giving underneath you slightly as you lift a heavy load takes a lot of the strain off of your joints, allowing you to lift heavier and safer.
Dropping your weights onto bare concrete isn’t going to do them any good either. Expect to chip or damage your equipment, and probably the floor as well.
Finally, improper flooring is almost impossible to keep clean, meaning you can’t exercise barefoot or lie on the floor, unless you want to end up covered in dust and dirt when you’re stretching or doing bodyweight sets.
What you really need from your gym flooring
There’s several things you should keep in mind when picking gym flooring. Here’s the main ones:
- Your flooring needs to protect you and your equipment.
- If possible, it should be durable and long lasting.
- It should keep you safe. If you slip or fall, dropping onto bare concrete won’t end well.
- Your flooring should be flush and even, with little-to-no visible seals or seams
- The material used needs to absorb impact
- It also needs to provide some traction to keep everything in place: You don’t want your squat rack skidding across the floor when you re-rack the weight, which it can easily do on concrete or wood.
- There’s also the psychological benefits of walking into a nice room. Not only is it more pleasurable to walk into a well decked out home gym and be proud, it could even motivate you to train more.
One type won’t fit all needs
A gym set up for heavy lifting, complete with a power cage, smith machine and workout benches needs something completely different to a room that’s going to have floor space for yoga and stretching, or pounding out the cardio on three different machines.
You’re also going to be limited by budget, and size constraints. No one has infinite space or money, but luckily the best choices are flexible, easy to lay, and usually reasonably cheap.
Why you should never workout on a cement floor
Pretty much every garage has bare cement as the base flooring. You might think you can plonk all your gym gear down on the cement and be done with it.
Here’s why that’s a terrible idea:
- Firstly, there’s stability. Your equipment is going to slide and move, a lot, unless you bolt it directly into the ground. Everything from your dip station to a recumbent exercise bike will benefit from the correct flooring.
- Cement is tough, and the chances of it damaging things that get dropped is high.
- Cement also provides zero cushioning for your body.
- Stretches, push ups, and more are gonna suck, not to mention how much it’s going to hurt if you fall.
- Even painted cement (which can look really good at first glance) will very quickly chip, wear away and start creating DUST that’s not good for your health.
Don’t expect to be comfortable either. It’s hard to keep clean, can get hot in the summer, and freezing cold in winter.
Despite this, concrete is actually something you should be happy to have, because it’s the single best foundation to build your gym on top of.
Here’s what you should be using to build your gym flooring
Rubber: the #1 material for gym flooring
As you go down the list, you’ll notice a definite theme in the materials that are recommended.
Rubber is basically the first and only choice, if you’re serious about creating the best home gym possible. It’s hard wearing, reasonably priced, and has multiple options.
Rubber flooring tiles
The absolute best option in our opinion is rubber floor tiles. They’re designed to be interlocking, so can be laid down in minutes, and generally come at a standard thickness of ¾ inch, (8mm.)
Cheap and cheerful, rubber tiles are easy to pick up in bulk and even easier to lay. They’re tough, hard wearing, resistant to most chemicals (more on this later,) and most are moulded to have anti-slip texturing on the walking surface.
Plus, even though rubber is tough enough to hold even the heaviest weights, it has a lot of give, so it’s going to offer all the cushioning you need, no matter how hard you push yourself.
Downsides are minor. Like most flooring options on the list, you’re going to want to secure them to the floor using flooring tape or adhesive, cutting them to size can be a pain, but really only needs a sharp Stanley knife, and you have to occasionally push the seams where tiles meet back down, unless you want to stub a toe or end up on your ass.
Rubber flooring roll
If you’ve ever been to a commercial gym, you’ve probably experienced rolled rubber flooring. It’s pretty ubiquitous. A better option for larger areas, rubber flooring roll literally comes as a roll just like a carpet, and lays down just the same.
Rubber flooring roll is very heavy and dense, so it provides a good amount of cushioning. It’s also incredibly hard wearing, so will shrug off almost anything. Plus, it’s reasonably priced, and surprisingly easy to lay. Some double sided flooring tape is all you need to make sure that your flooring never goes anywhere.
Downsides are that it’s heavy, and might not be suited if your garage regularly experiences harsh weather, because the rubber can shrink in the cold and expand in high heat, not good if you’ve laid it wall to wall.
Plus, you’re going to need to secure it in some way. As already said, tape is the easiest option, otherwise you can expect it to bunch and roll if it gets caught anywhere.
Heavy duty gym mat
Rubber gym mats differ from tiles and rolls in size and thickness. Most are 4 x 6ft, around the size of an average rug, and they can be up to ¾ inch thicknesses; much thicker than other options.
Effortless to put down, heavy duty gym mats are easy to clean, and the thicker mats absorb impact well, making them great for lifting.
But they’re not the cheapest option, and come in a fixed size. If you can work with those constraints, great, if not, we would recommend tiles or rolls. Alternatively, one or two heavy duty mats are a great choice to put down in specific areas, if you want the extra cushioning and toughness a thicker mat gives you.
The final option on our list, gymnastics mats are much thicker than the other flooring choices, and normally are a better supplement to another choice from the list.
Gymnastic mats are great for yoga, stretches, some martial arts and obviously gymnastics. They’re normally up to 2 inches thick, so provide a serious amount of cushioning, and they’re normally easy to set down, pick up and store.
While we wouldn’t recommend a gymnastics mat as your main floor choice, they’re awesome if you want a warm-up and stretching area, or regularly practice actual gymnastics.
Gym Flooring you should avoid
#1 – Horse Stall Mats
If you have any exposure to Crossfit, you’ll know they love horse stall mats. This is because they’re super cheap, fill up space fast and provide a decent amount of protection.
But for a home gym, they might not be ideal.
While they can be an okay short term option, especially if you live close to a farm or other wholesaler whose shifting a bunch of mats, horse stall mats should probably be avoided long term.
So why do people pick them? Simple. Horse stall mats are one of the cheapest options, are large (generally around 4x6ft in size and ¾ inch thick,) and are very tough and hard wearing.
Way too heavy and a bit rough round the edges
Unfortunately, horse mats are also ridiculously heavy (around 100lbs each!) so transporting them is a huge issue, and because they’re roughly cut for farm use, each mat is almost guaranteed to have poor quality on cuts and sizing.
This means the sides are sometimes not square and mats are uneven, which leads to big gaps between your floor cover when they’re set up.
#2 – Foam gym mats
If you search for gym mats, especially online, EVA foam mats are generally what comes up first, which is ironic, because for most serious home gyms, foam mats like this are basically useless.
Why they’re good
Dense EVA foam mats are soft and comfortable to lay on. This makes them great for stretching, yoga, Pilates, and even light weight training. EVA foam mats are also really cheap, probably the cheapest option on the list by a fair margin, except for horse mats.
Finally, foam mats are simple to set up and put away, so if you share your workout space or you only have a small amount of room to work with, they’re not a bad choice if you use them right.
Disadvantages to foam mats
But the downsides are just as big. EVA foam isn’t suitable for anything heavy. The weight will crush it and leave dents in the floor underneath. This means EVA foam is not suitable for cardio equipment like treadmills and bikes, or power cages, benches, even heavy weightlifting like deadlifts.
EVA foam, because of its softness, is also very easy to deform, and will definitely deform long term. Something as simple as standing in the same place every time will leave feet marks in EVA foam, so imagine what happens when you squat two plates on it.
Foam mates are also very easy to tear or break. While they’re not expensive at all, that’s not a good sign, so stay away from EVA foam unless you’re creating a dedicated area for stretching, body weight exercises, yoga or foam rolling.
#3 – Cork floor boarding
Cork is the new kid on the block when it comes to gym floors, and you might already have seen cork floored gyms all over Instagram. Natural, renewable, and great looking, cork certainly seems to tick all of the boxes.
Unfortunately, there are some serious downsides.
Firstly, cork isn’t tough long term. While cork might have great durability if you put a heavy weight on top of it, the downside is that, if it tears (and it can tear very easily) that mat is basically done.
Cork also has very little give, which you’ll realise the first time you drop down onto your knees, elbows or back. It’s going to hurt.
It also means that you’ll feel heavy lifts far more over time, because there’s nothing helping to absorb the force of the weight except your body. All that force has to go somewhere, and it’s going to end up being absorbed by your joints and back.
In short, don’t buy cork.
#4 – Carpet
Carpet might be the obvious option for a lot of people. Your garage might already have carpet in it, or you might have offcuts that you can lay down, and maybe save some money.
But this is generally a bad idea.
High levels of activity, heavy weights and constant sweat, dust and chalk can wear down the carpet. And a lot of carpet isn’t designed to be broken down like this, so it actually gives off toxic fumes. Obviously, this isn’t ideal when you’re in a small, enclosed space. Like a garage.
Plus, damp and mould are real issues with carpet. You’re going to be sweating on top of this thing, and you might even be lying directly on top of it. It’s not going to last long at all
If you already have carpet down, you might be able to get away with using it for a month or two, but it’s not a long term solution.
#5 – Wood or tile flooring
We’ve lumped wood and tile floors together because they both face the same issues when used as gym flooring.
Firstly, while both offer good footing in perfect circumstances, they can get slippery when slick with fluids. Like sweat. (Eww). Not ideal when you’re exercising on them.
But the main downside with both wood and tile will be obvious if you decide to work out on top of them for any length of time.
Heavy cardio machines, dropped weights, even just using heavy weights in one spot over and over will obliterate wood or tile flooring.
If you drop something heavy even once, expect your nice, shiny floor to remember that for good. At best, you’re looking at replacing one cracked tile or floor panel, but we’ve seen much worse, just from one kettlebell slipping through sweaty fingers.
However, if you’re happy to put down rubber mats on top of wooden or tiled flooring, you can have the best of both worlds. Just make sure the mats are thick enough to absorb any impacts. If not, don’t use wooden or tiled floors for your home gym.
6 Essential Gym flooring tips
#1 – Make sure the floor is clean before hand
If your garage has actually ever seen use as a garage, before you start, make sure the surface is clean and free of oil and other petrochemicals.
This is because oil and oil based compounds attack rubber and foam, breaking it it down over time. This means you could literally have your flooring break down and fall to pieces in a matter of months after paying out and spending time laying it down.
How to prep and clean your gym floor
Liquid soap or clothes detergents break down oil. Apply with a heavy bristled brush or a broom, then hose your garage floor down and scrub it clean.
If you don’t have any cleaning materials to hand, you can also use a bottle of Coca-Cola to do the same thing. (Seriously.) It’s a pain to clean up, but Cola melts through any oil residue, and washes clean off concrete.
#2 – Remember to seal the floor
Most garages are concrete. If you’re going to be laying rubber flooring directly onto it, make sure you seal the concrete first with a concrete sealant.
If you don’t, you’re liable to end up with mould and other goodies growing underneath your mats, which could spread in secret and stay unnoticed until everything is pulled up, which could be years later.
#3 – Sizing and cutting
Pretty much every flooring option on this list can be cut to size with a sharp Stanley knife. Laying a metal ruler or even a scrap piece of wood can help you achieve a modern, super-straight edge.
#4 – Making the choice
Always pick your flooring based around the hardest job it has to do. There’s no point in saving money going for a slightly cheaper option, only to have it fail and have to spend more down the line, because it can’t do the job you need it to do
#5 – Dealing with dust
Try and minimise dust. Garages don’t tend to have the same level sealing as a normal property, and because of that they tend to let in a whole lot more dust.
Plus, garages tend to be a storage space for other things that accumulate dust and dirt, like barbecues, garden tools, and more.
All of this leads to a room that needs to be kept clean, otherwise you’ll be getting filthy every workout, or at worst getting so dusty you slip or fall.
#6 – Noise dampening
If you know you’re going to be lifting heavy and dropping the weight onto the floor repeatedly, e.g. when deadlifting, it’s a good idea to invest in some extra flooring pads. These can easily be cut down to size and secured in place where you’re lifting, taking repeated impacts, saving your real flooring, and being much easier to replace when needed.
Closing thoughts: Getting the perfect gym floor
When you’re setting out your home gym, it pays to do it right first time. It’s always better to invest a little time and money up front and end up with a gym that you’re proud of, and you’re going to love working out in.
Re-laying the floor can be a real pain and waste a lot of time!
Here’s the key takeaways:
- Choose your flooring based on your training scheme.
- If in doubt, pick hard-wearing rubber based flooring, whether tile based or rolled flooring.
- Use secondary methods like flooring tape to secure your chosen floor protection.
- Make sure everything is clean beforehand.
- Maintain your tiles, replacing worn ones when you need to, and your gym floor will last a very long time.