Choosing the right flooring can be a tricky decision for fitness facility owners and managers. From the locker room to the cardio floor to the smoothie bar, flooring must meet a multitude of needs. And, at most health clubs, flooring is more than simply functional. A floor's texture, color and overall look can add an essential element to any club's décor.

Entry and Transition Areas

The entry area may be the first thing your members see when they walk into your club, but it's also the first surface they step on with their shoes — whether they're clean and dry, wet and muddy or dusty and dirty. Although more expensive than traditional carpeting, quartz carpeting was owner Dave Bundy's choice when building his Tyngsboro, MA, Global Fitness Center. He plans to redo his Stow, MA, club entry with it as well. Left unsealed, small pieces of quartz in the carpet help pull dirt off of people's shoes, requiring less cleaning in the rest of the club. It also looks great, Bundy says.

As one of the most durable and economical types of flooring, porcelain tile is another good option, says Bruce Lutz, associate principal and senior interior designer at Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative. The nearly absorption-proof property of porcelain tile eliminates staining and maintenance issues, and recent advancements in production methods have provided a wider available range of sizes, textures and colors. Even “stone-look” tiles have been perfected, and almost every stone normally considered for flooring can be duplicated in a less expensive and durable porcelain tile product, he says.

For walkways, David Phillips, interior designer of Fabiano Designs, typically chooses stained concrete. As long as it's installed correctly and maintained according to manufacturer specifications, this type of flooring can be less expensive, easy to maintain and a visually appealing addition to any club, he says.

Behind the Front Desk and Smoothie Bar

Because the areas behind the front desk and smoothie bar aren't seen by members (or at least shouldn't be), they often go neglected. Given that staff members are on their feet a lot in these areas, the wrong flooring can be hard on shins and knees, leading to unhappy employees, which may eventually lead to unhappy members. Phillips recommends 1/8-inch or 1/4-inch rubber flooring to ensure comfort for both staff and clientele.

“Put a smile on [the staff's] face when a member comes in,” Phillips says. “Put a floor they can stand on and not get tired.”

Lutz recommends other foot-friendly floors: glue-to-glue padded carpet installation or a resilient padded vinyl flooring. Both types are available in unlimited colors and patterns, including even a wood-plank looking padded athletic flooring, he says.

Free Weight Room

Rubber flooring has long been the staple in free-weight areas due to its ability to hold up to the wear-and-tear of heavy dumbbells crashing down on it each day. Because clubs increasingly are choosing “green” products, recycled rubber is an appealing, environmentally friendly option. Rubber comes in tiles, interlocking tiles or rolled goods, and should be at least 3/8-inch thick, Lutz says.

Some club owners may think rubber only comes in black, but today's fitness facilities have a variety of shades to choose from. Facilities can customize the color of the rubber granules in the usually multicolored blend, which allows the flooring to reflect a facility's logo or school colors, Lutz says.

The free weight room isn't limited to rubber flooring, however. Bundy chose sports floor carpeting for his Tyngsboro, MA, facility and expects it to work for his members.

“We don't have a club with a bunch of bodybuilders, and we're not worried about people slamming the weights,” Bundy says. “Our demographics aren't right for that.”

Cardio Room

Back in the 1980s, carpet was the flooring of choice for the cardio room. Although carpet was soon replaced by rubber and wood flooring in the 1990s, carpet is making a comeback a decade later, experts say. Why the renaissance? Carpet not only helps reduce the noise and vibration created by ellipiticals, treadmills and stairsteppers, but new tile carpet makes upkeep easier than before.

“Retrofit [carpet] tiles are great,” Phillips says. “You don't have to move the equipment.”

To further reduce maintenance costs, clubs should consider investing in a solution-dyed fiber construction, which encapsulates colored dyes within the carpet fibers so the colors are not prone to staining, bleeding or fading, Lutz says.

It's also a good idea to choose an anti-microbial carpet to prevent the mold and mildew that can develop because of excess sweating and spilled bottled liquids.

Selectorized Equipment Areas

In the more inviting and less muscle-centric environment of the selectorized weight equipment room, carpet can be a better alternative to the harsher appearance of rubber. Carpet can not only be warm, comforting and vibrant, but it also has an acoustic value since it absorbs sound leading to a quieter atmosphere.

But like any flooring type, carpet isn't entirely worry-free. Carpet collects both dust and sweat and needs proper maintenance and cleaning. However, Bundy, like many in the industry, safeguarded against these issues by choosing sturdy and easily replaceable carpet squares, which is another flooring option that's in vogue.

“This is due to the fact that the carpet industry has been able to significantly reduce the cost of carpet tile products as compared to broadloom, and the expanded availability of more colors and patterns adds to the tile's benefits,” Lutz says. “The design options are almost unlimited.”

Group Exercise Studio

Although wood has been the norm in many group exercise rooms, clubs are branching out in the types of wood used — anything from light maple wood to a deep mahogany wood. Pair a beautiful wood with the right lighting and a few bright stability balls, and a group ex studio can become the visual showcase of your club even when it's empty, Phillips says.

Other trends for studios include cork and bamboo. Enjoying a resurgence in popularity, cork is ideal for low-impact exercises like yoga and is available in a variety of colors, textures and finishes. Bamboo is a popular, rapidly renewable resource that also comes in almost any color. Not only can bamboo be manufactured to provide a high-density plank that is stronger and more maintenance-free than other hardwood flooring, but colored bamboo flooring also can be used for bordering or other inset design areas, Lutz says.

Don't forget about carpet either. Engineered cushion flooring systems under a carpeted floor finish are making quite the comeback, Lutz says. Design options for carpet are almost unlimited.

When it comes to the cycling room, Bundy found a unique solution to the problem of damaging cleats — epoxy painted concrete. So far, it's worked.

“The epoxy paint was easy to put on and seems like it's pretty resistant to bike shoes,” he says.

Locker Rooms

Wet areas always provide a unique challenge for health clubs. Not only do club owners need to think about mildew, mold and the risks of slippery surfaces, but they also should focus on making a member feel at home, which they can achieve by selecting the right flooring. That's why Phillips recommends anti-microbial carpet tiles for locker bays. They are soft, durable, hygienic and can fit any color scheme.

“At home people put down a bath mat,” Phillips says. “You want to make your health club like it's part of a person's life, and you want them to be comfortable changing on your flooring surface.”

In wet areas, tile is still the easy choice. However, due to increased availability, clubs are now actively using larger scale ceramic tiles on walls — both for wainscots and shower stalls.

“There is also a wider availability of colors and textures for solid surface acrylic plastic paneling for shower enclosures,” Lutz says. “This is designed to provide a more maintenance-free, seamless wall surface.”

More bathroom accessories, such as recessed soap dishes and corner shelves, are available in matching materials, he says.

Child Care Area

Besides making a child-care room look like a creative and enjoyable place for children to spend time in, club owners must also consider the types of “clients” who will be frequenting the room.

“You have kids in there and they puke, and they spill things,” Bundy says. “As much as you clean it, it's never clean.”

While Bundy didn't want to install a hard surface in the child care area because of safety concerns, his club needed a durable enough flooring material to withstand children's activities and accidents. Bundy found carpeting wasn't the right fit for his facility and instead went with a softer rubber flooring.

Phillips recommends a mix of both carpet and a harder floor such as a cushion-backed vinyl. Carpet is easy for the children to play on and has good acoustics, while vinyl can be good for painting and other craft activities since it's easy to clean up.

“The best thing I advise is to have a carpeted area and a hard floor — different activities on different floors,” Phillips says.

Athletic Areas

When it comes to basketball, volleyball, squash and racquetball courts, most health clubs have the traditional cushioned and floated wood plank floor assembly. This type of flooring has worked well over the years because it has both wood slat and rubber cushion underlayment providing the proper rebound and support for the ball and the players, Lutz says.

However, more contemporary alternatives are gaining in popularity — especially for clubs specializing in athletics or recreation.

For example, engineered monolithic floor materials composed of a rubber underlayment and a poured or “wood-look” surface finish are becoming more widely used, Lutz says. This type of flooring comes in a variety of thicknesses and densities and are developed for every sport from basketball to in-line skating.

“This is a much more technical approach to providing ‘tuned’ resiliency and support for either specific sports, or more frequently, multi-purpose sports flooring,” Lutz says.

“A good rule of thumb for delegating the appropriate floor surface to the appropriate area is the more traffic, the harder and more durable the flooring should be. The wetter the areas, the less porous a surface should be. The noisier the room, the more sound-absorbing the flooring should be.”
David Phillips, interior designer for Fabiano Designs

Flooring Manufacturers
Aeson www.stagestep.com
American Mat & Rubber Products, Inc. www.americanmatrubber.com
Centaur Floor Systems www.centaurfloors.com
Covermaster www.covermaster.com
Dodge regupol www.ecoreintl.com
Dri-Dek www.dri-dek.com
Everlast Performance Flooring www.regupol.com/fitness/everlast.html
Fitness Flooring www.fitnessfloors.com/exerflex.htm
Gerflor www.gerflor.com
Gerstung www.gerstung.com
Kiefer Specialty Flooring www.kieferfloors.com
Linear Rubber Products, Inc. www.rubbermats.com

For more information, visit the Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro Buyer's Guide 2005 at www.fitnessbusinessprobuyersguide.com.

Color Schemes

When it comes to color, less may be more. Instead of the focal point that bright colors were five to seven years ago, color is now used as more of a “touch” or “tease,” Phillips says.

“We're using the architecture and design of the space as the key element with color being used as a sprinkle,” he says. “It goes back to having a member walk around and be comfortable with activity. It's a balance of color and architecture.”

Carpet can be a particularly playful flooring because it should be swapped out every two to three years while other types of flooring last more than a decade. This high turnover with carpet allows for greater freedom in choosing colors, patterns and designs.

Although no one wants to repeat the stereotypical 1970s and 1980s colors of aquamarine and purple, Phillips says that blues are making a comeback as are earth tones. However, a club's demographics will determine its colors.

“Take your core member and understand who they are — what hotel they'd stay at, what resort they'd like,” he says. “It's all about the experience. Give them the experience they deserve and expect that they'll be a member for a long time.”