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Don't Be Floored by Flooring

Use the following guidelines to help you choose the right flooring for your fitness center.

Are you in the planning stages for a fitness center upgrade? Are you thinking of new cardio equipment, flatscreen TVs and paint colors? The planning stages are so much fun because you can imagine what everything will look like. Look up and you may see new lighting, look out and you may see new windows and paint, look down and you may see ... carpet? Tile? Wood? Rubber?

One of the most important parts of your fitness center --flooring -- may be put off as the last to consider. However, flooring will likely be your biggest purchase, at least in size, and it must be budgeted for appropriately. A good floor is the foundation of your fitness center and, if you choose the wrong floor or don't care for it properly, you may be paying for it down the road. Following are some tips for choosing the right flooring for the different areas of your fitness center.

DIN standards

Flooring is serious business -- serious enough that floors have standards that they should meet to comply with fitness needs. Primarily used for wooden floors, DIN certification standards are widely accepted as the norms for fitness center and sports flooring. DIN (which stands loosely for Deutsche [because the standards were developed in Germany] Industrial Norms) requirements for sports floors include standards for shock absorption, floor deformation upon impact, deformation isolation (if the flooring can't control the spread of impact, participants' movements can interfere with each other), surface suitability for bouncing balls, behavior under a rolling load (such as wall bleachers) and foot stability.

The type of flooring you choose is critical to the success of the activities you hold. For instance, basketball floors need less shock absorption so the balls can bounce, but group exercise floors need to be slightly softer to take more impact. The wood surface area may look the same, but what's underneath is completely different.

What lies beneath

Flooring manufacturers will install the floor for you, and this is always a smart move if you can fit it into your budget. Many flooring companies, for instance, will not honor a warranty if it can be proven that the flooring was not installed properly, or the subfloor was not prepared properly. Depending on the type of flooring, installation is a huge job.

About half of flooring customers, says Steve Chase, general manager of Exerflex Flooring, Indianapolis, Ind.,have their own in-house maintenance staff do "the dirty work" before installation, to save on labor costs. This can work, but only if proper precautions are taken before the floor is put down. A lot goes into preparing the surface area, or subfloor, on which you will lay your floor, particularly wood floors. First, your flooring material shouldn't even be delivered until the surface area is ready, or the material should be stored away from the work area in a clean, dry, cool place. And, flooring should only be installed after all wall and ceiling work is complete. According to Connor Sports Flooring Corp.'s, Amasa, Mich., website, subfloors should be "clean, dry, and free of dust, dirt, oil, grease, paint, alkali, concrete curing agents, hardening and parting compounds, old adhesive residue or other foreign materials."

Chase also says that the subfloor should be level, with no dips, and that the building's foundation should be structurally sound.

Humidity levels

Moisture is a big issue for flooring, because humidity levels can play havoc with a floor's stability. Summertime's heat can cause floors to expand or buckle, and winter dryness can cause floors to separate. Remember, it is not the outside humidity that is the real problem, but the inside. Put a bunch of sweaty people into a room and the humidity level will surely change. Chase recommends a year-round humidity level of 40 to 60 percent, with no significant swings. A humidifier and dehumidifier can prevent swings. Remember, if your floors buckle or separate due to your building's humidity, the expense for repair falls upon you.

What to put where

Sohow do you decide what type of flooring to put where? One way is to check out some high-end fitness centers in your area to see what those with a bigger budget chose. Decide what you like and why, and then talk to flooring suppliers to find out what might work for you.

Group exercise studios. Lori Lowell, co-owner of Gold's Gym in Lakeridge, Lorton, and Stafford, Va., has been a part of many floor installations throughout her years in fitness. In addition to owning these Gold's Gyms, Lowell is also the national group fitness director for Gold's Gym International. She has strong feelings about flooring, particularly about the flooring in group exercise studios. "Many try to cut corners, but you just can't easily substitute for hard wood floors in a group exercise studio," she says.

Wood provides traction, and the pocket of air underneath floating wood floors protects the body's joints. However, hardwood floors are expensive and challenging to lay, and Lowell suggests purchasing your wood flooring from a company that has expert installers.

Cardio areas. One place where you may have the opportunity to save is the flooring in your cardiovascular equipment area. "There's nothing better than the warmth and acoustics of carpet in the cardio area," says Lowell from Gold's Gym, "but with the stains and the bacteria, it just isn't a good way to go."

Randy Meyer, national sales manager of Magnum Fitness Systems, South Milwaukee, Wis., echoes that sentiment: "From my experience, many people incorrectly try to save money on flooring by choosing carpeting, but it just doesn't [last long.] Plus, it's not that inexpensive. You can pay three times the price with carpeting than you would with rolled rubber flooring."

Cardio and strength areas. Rubber flooring is great for cardio and strength equipment areas, plus your free weight area. Rubber is inexpensive to install, easy to clean, and comes in a variety of colors and designs. Meyer also likes it for childcare areas, and hallways or other high-traffic areas.

Locker rooms. Your locker room floors need to be made of a material that prevents fungal growth and prevents slipping. A great option are the new types of flooring that inhibit bacteria growth by preventing microorganisms from absorbing oxygen.

Many types of flooring for the locker room are easy to install because they consist of interlocking tiles. Lee Dees, president and CEO of Kendall Products, does not recommend using tiles individually, but rather in sufficient quantities so that it is safe. "A 1-by-1-foot square weighs only 1 pound, but an 8-by-12-foot section, for instance, weighs over 100 pounds, and will stay stable," says Dees.

Tile and newer-material floors are also easy to clean. Some flooring can even be rolled up to clean the floors underneath. It is recommended to clean floors with detergent weekly, and spray with a high-power pressure hose at least yearly, depending on usage.

Making a good first impression

Your entrance and front desk areas are crucial not only for first impressions, but also for safety. Even textured surfaces can be slippery when wet. On rainy or snowy days, you can put down a rubber mat. There are also companies that offer carpet with your fitness center's logo that can be replaced, and some will even clean the carpets. This way, you have the personalized touch of your fitness center's name and logo for everyone to see.

Planning is the key

Some fitness center owners fail to budget properly for flooring, and find themselves having to cut corners. Says Lowell from Gold's Gym, "Many don't realize their group exercise floor will be $13,000." Make flooring a priority in your planning stages so that you'll have plenty allocated to this important component. While the costs of flooring will not be large in comparison to other costs, such as the purchase of new equipment, it is imperative that you not be forced to cut corners where corners shouldn't be cut.

Lastly, have fun with your floors! With so many companies offering so many options in colors, surfaces and prices, you can make a great statement and set your facility apart from the rest.

Not sure where to start? Check out the flooring suppliers on Fitness Management's website (www.fitnessmanagement.com). It's the supplier's job to help you find a floor that is right for your needs and budget. They will ask the right questions to get you started.

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