Selecting the Right Rubber Flooring For Your Gym
Rubber flooring shopping for your home or commercial gym can become overwhelming real quick without the proper guidance. Where do I start? Are rubber rolls or interlocking mats best for my application? What rubber flooring thickness do I need? How much is all this going to cost me? These are all common questions we ask ourselves when beginning to shop for the perfect flooring solution. The two most important questions to ask yourself when considering flooring for your home, garage or commercial gym are A) What is my budget for this project? and B) What will I be using it for? We have included information below that will help answer these questions for the beginner home gym owner to the seasoned club veteran. And if after reading this you still have questions please feel free to contact IRON COMPANY®.
Selecting rubber flooring within your budget
When shopping for gym flooring, most of us are naturally attracted to the types that have beautiful bright colors and patterns. Who wouldn’t want to lay down their garage gym equipment on solid blue diamond plate tiles or even burgundy interlocking tiles with a beveled edge around the complete perimeter? These are all great flooring choices but be careful because your costs can quickly skyrocket. Factors that dictate flooring prices are the materials used, the manufacturing process and how labor intensive it is to make those products.
Purchasing the best rubber flooring for your gym equipment
What type of gym equipment are you using? Yoga is certainly going to require something different than Olympic lifting. Overcompensating your flooring needs can unnecessarily blow the budget and undercompensating with something insufficient can lead to damaged floors and equipment. So when selecting the right flooring, education is key. Here is a basic rundown that will help you quickly determine what products and thicknesses are best for your application:
- Cardio Training – For treadmills, elliptical trainers, steppers and exercise bikes, make sure to purchase a cardio mat that will repel dirt, liquids and grease that can be a common bi-product of this type of equipment. A Tire/Plast cardio equipment mat contains half recycled rubber and half plastic and usually range in size from 3’ x 4’ x 3/16” to 3’ x 6.5’ x 3/16”. This hybrid material provides a non-porous protective barrier that is almost indestructible. As with any petroleum based rubber mat, make sure that when placed on carpet or wood floors that you put a plastic barrier between the two to avoid possible staining.
- Weight Stack Machine Training – Weight stack machines such as home gyms and isolation machines, like a leg extension machine, can range from a few hundred pounds to several hundred. These machines don’t create much impact or shock to the floor underneath so any ¼” thick rubber, such as rolled rubber or mats, will be sufficient. ¼” thick rubber rolls are available in 4’ x 25’ and 4’ x 50’ in black or fleck colors.
- Light Free Weight Training – Light Free Weight training would be defined as using dumbbells and barbells that when dropped only create minimal impact. A pair of 30 lb. dumbbells is an example of what is appropriate. Like weight stack machine areas, light free weight training areas with ¼” thick material is acceptable.
- Heavy Free Weight Training – Some of today’s garage gyms can look like full-blown commercial gyms or CrossFit boxes sporting heavy-duty squat cages and barbell sets weighing several hundred pounds. For this type of heavy duty training, whether at home or at a dues paying facility, we recommend materials having a 3/8”, ½” or ¾” thickness. Rolled rubber as well as 4’ x 6’ rubber mats are available in a 3/8” thickness. Use these under racks and weight benches. For heavy lifting, use a ½” or ¾” rubber mat that will absorb the impact of heavy dumbbell and barbell drops. Olympic lifting platform mats are typically 4’ x 6’ x ¾” or 4’ x 8’ x ¾” and are capable of absorbing literally tons of shock. 4’ x 8’ rubber mats are recommended if you have the room so to allow plenty of room when performing Olympic barbell exercises.
What are the different types of rubber used in gym flooring products and how are they made?
Understanding the material and manufacturing process is another step in researching and understanding what will be the best selection for your application. As you will see, there are some big differences.
- Recycled Rubber Flooring (Most Affordable) – Recycled rubber comes from post-consumer truck and passenger tires. Solid black truck tires are used for the plain black flooring while passenger tires with white walls are used to make “natural” rubber that contains small flecks of this white wall material. This reclamation process is great for our environment as it saves many thousands of tires annually from being buried forever at the bottom of a landfill. When received, the tires go through a large tire shredder that rips them to small bits about the size of a fifty cent piece. Milling machines refine these pieces further turning them into small granules. Steel belt material must be removed and is done so via a magnet as it passes through a conveyor belt. One more step is needed in the cleaning process, which includes the removal of the fibrous material via a vacuum system. When the shredding and cleaning processes are finished, the clean rubber granules are ready to be mixed with the urethane binding agent and EPDM colored granules if needed and will go on to make mats, rolls, interlocking tiles and on-deck circles. While the shearing strength, or “tear resistance”, of recycled rubber is quite a bit less than that of vulcanized or virgin rubber, recycled material is more environmentally friendly and sometimes much lower in price. It is suitable for most home gyms, training studios, commercial gyms and agricultural use. If using in doggie daycare or other such pet facilities, a sealant is recommended for easier cleanup.
- Vulcanized Rubber Flooring (Mid-Range Pricing) – Like recycled flooring, Vulcanized rubber is produced using post-consumer products such as truck tires. Quality manufacturers such as Humane Manufacturing use what they refer to as “buffings” to produce their vulcanized product. Buffings are removed from the outside of the tire that contains no belts or wires and is easier to process. The buffings are then processed down to the proper size and then mixed with latex, sulfur, oil and a blend of colored granules if needed. There is also a neutral scented odor mitigate mixed in to significantly reduce the natural smell of the sulfur and other ingredients. The colored granules used in some vulcanized rubber flooring products are painted and not an EPDM material. The difference is that an EPDM granule is not UV resistant and will fade in the sun over time. A painted granule will not. This mixture is then baked at high heat between 300-500 degrees under extreme pressure of between 500 and 1,000 PSI depending on the thickness of material being produced. The freshly vulcanized material is then allowed to cool so that it can fully contract before being cut with a water jet into mats and interlocking tiles. One of the best attributes of the vulcanizing process is the strength it creates. Vulcanized rubber has a tensile strength rating of between 800-1,000 PSI. This is the amount of force it takes to pull apart the material. And because the vulcanization makes the material totally non-porous, there is no sealant needed and bacteria will not grow on it. One other valuable tidbit worth noting is that since vulcanized rubber mats are pressed in a mold it is possible to texture the top of the mat to add up to 10% more slip resistance compared to a smooth mat. Vulcanized flooring materially speaking is about as good as virgin rubber at a lower cost. This material is suitable for home gyms, training studios, commercial gyms, agriculture and anywhere else a non-porous flooring is needed. No sealant is ever required and no bacteria will grow on it.
- Virgin Rubber Flooring (Most Expensive) – Virgin rubber does not use any form of recycled rubber from tires or any other source. Its formula is primarily made up of virgin rubber, synthetic rubber polymer EPDM and SBR and about 5% crude rubber. Some virgin rubber will include a fire retardant additive to make it suitable for installations like hospitals that can have stringent guidelines and restrictions on building materials used. 400 lbs. of this rubber formula is put into a mixer for ten minutes of constant mixing. This mixture, or “batter”, is transported to a press that is heated by steam to 350 degrees. This press exerts 2,000 PSI and together with the high heat completes the vulcanization, or cooking, process in about ten minutes. As with any mold, there is always excess material around the edges. So once the virgin rubber flooring tiles exit the press they are trimmed clean and then put on a cooling rack. One of the biggest selling points of virgin rubber is the aesthetics. Both diamond plate and interlocking tiles are available in rich solid colors provided by a mixture of natural rubber pigments and iron oxides that is present throughout the entire tile and not just on the surface. Virgin rubber is another very resilient material that demonstrates a tensile strength of not less than 890 PSI and a compression recovery testing yield no less than 90%, which is ideal for weight drop. Virgin rubber is suitable for home gyms, training studios and commercial gyms. Like vulcanized gym flooring, virgin rubber is also non-porous and does not require a sealant.
Why do some rubber flooring products smell and others don’t?
All rubber flooring carries an odor to some degree, as does rubber dumbbells and plates. That’s just the nature of rubber. But some people report that their flooring carries a pungent sulfur or rotten egg smell. What most don’t realize is it is not the actual rubber giving off this foul smell but is the sulfur based binding agent. Foul smelling rubber flooring is indicative of a low quality product that you should steer clear of especially when putting it in your home. Any quality flooring manufacturer such as Mitchell Rubber and Humane Manufacturing that uses a sulfur binder or mixture will also use an odor mitigate to greatly reduce or eliminate this smell completely.
Rubber flooring products to consider for your gym
Rubber Gym Flooring Mats – For Weight Training
Rubber gym mats are ideal for both home and commercial gyms because of the different sizes and thicknesses available. Most common sizes for weightlifting applications are a 4’ x 6’ or 4’ x 8’. Most common thicknesses are 3/8”, ½” and ¾”. Home gyms and machine areas do well with a 3/8” thick mat. But for heavy dumbbell and barbell areas, make sure to use a ½” or even better, a ¾” mat to allow plenty of impact resistance and shock absorbency for your sub-floor below. And like we said before, if you intend on placing your mats side by side and don’t want gaps, make sure to ask your IRON COMPANY rep if the product you are purchasing is “trued”. A new product we recommend, especially for deadlifting, is Shok-Lok by Humane Manufacturing. They refer to this technology as a “vibration control flooring system” thanks to the waffle-like underside that acts to alleviate noise and vibration caused by excessive weight drop. CrossFitters are finding that they make great portable deadlifting mats for parking lots.
Bonus Info – How Are Recycled Rubber Gym Mats Made?
A mixture of recycled rubber granules and urethane is spread out evenly on a 10’ x 30’ hydraulic press. The material that ends up on the 10’ x 30’ press is compressed using high heat (up to 300 degrees). Once thoroughly pressed and “cooked”, the large rubber sheets must go through a cooling process so it will solidify and contract. A cooling system comprised of water sprayers and air blowers gets the cooling process started but must be finished in a chiller room for about 5 minutes where the temperature usually stays at about 38 degrees. Once these large rubber sheets are fully cooled, they can now be shear cut into different sized rubber mats. Did you know that a lot of these rubber mats are made for the equine industry where it doesn’t matter if the edges are totally straight? In a horse stall, 100% straight cut edges does not matter all that much. But if you are purchasing your mats to be used in a home or commercial gym the last thing you want is large gaps that can collect dirt or become a tripping hazard. Therefore, when purchasing mats that will be laid side by side, make sure to ask your IRON COMPANY rep if they are “trued”. Truing is where the manufacturer puts each mat on a computerized sonic cutter for a precise cut. The end result is a beautiful and functional floor.
Ironcompany Gym Mat Favorites
- Black – RB Rubber 4’ x 8’ x ¾” and Humane 4’ x 8’ x ¾” Shok-Lok
- Colored – RB Rubber 4’ x 6’ x ¾” 10% Fleck and Humane 4’ x 6’ x ½’ 25% Fleck Guardian
Other uses: Did you know that rubber mats are also used for horse stalls, livestock areas, washing machines, ice rinks, ski lodges, boat decks and batting cages? The natural non-slip nature of these mats makes them equally useful in wet areas.
Cardio Equipment Mats – For Cardio Machines
Equipment mats, such as Super Sport Equipment Mats by Humane, Cardio Equipment Mats by IRON COMPANY and Spinning® Indoor Mats for Spinner® bikes offer a protective, non-porous barrier between your cardio equipment and floors. These machines have belts, chains, motors and internal mechanisms that can leak oil and other lubricants. The last thing any homeowner wants is to have this stuff leaking out on their carpet or wood flooring. These mats don’t require the same thickness as the weightlifting mats and are typically 1/8” to 3/8” thick. Materials can differ from 100% recycled rubber to a 50/50 mix of recycled rubber and plastic or even vinyl. Either material will be sufficient and selection is usually just a matter of aesthetics preference and size to accommodate the footprint of your machine.
Ironcompany Equipment Mat Favorites
- Exercise Bike Mat – Spinning® Commercial Spinner® Bike Mat 30” x 60” x 3/10”
- Treadmill Mat – Humane Shok-Lok Mat 4’ x 8’ x ¾”
- Elliptical Trainer Mat – Ironcompany Vinyl Mat 3’ x 7’ x ¼”
- StepMill Mat – Ironcompany Heavy Duty Vinyl Mat 4’ x 6’ x ¼”
Other uses: Did you know that rubber cardio equipment mats are also used as protective floor runners and floor mats for trucks and SUV’s?
Rolled Rubber Gym Flooring – For Weight Training and Weight Stack Machines
Out of all the options we cover here, rolled rubber offers the least amount of seams and gives the smoothest and cleanest looking install especially in large areas. It can also be one of your most economical choices. Rubber rolls are usually used to span large areas of exercise machine areas. The most popular roll color is black because it is a neutral color and is also much cheaper when compared to colored. If your facility tends to get a lot of dirt build up, foot prints, etc., be aware that pure black flooring will show more dirt than the speckled type. Speckled flooring gets its color speckles from a synthetic material called EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer) that is also known to be used in roofing and car hoses. Different colors of EPDM are produced in blocks which are then milled down to a size appropriate for mixing into the mixture of recycled rubber granules and urethane. EPDM color percentages in flooring can be as little as 10% and go up beyond 70%. EPDM creates beautiful flooring colors and patterns but remember the higher percentage present the more your flooring will cost. Colored rubber rolls usually contain about 17-20% color and do a great job to brighten up the room and camouflage dust and dirt. Thicknesses include ¼”, 5/16”, 3/8” and even ½”. Club owners these days are beginning to realize the added value of 5/16” which saves them money over the 3/8” and performs about the same.
Rolled rubber installation involves a form of adhesive, a straight edge (or chalk line) and a very sharp cutting knife. Some installers coat their knife blade with WD-40 to allow it to better slide through the material. Adhering to the floor with pressure sensitive seaming tape (carpet tape) is common in homes, small training studios and even doggie daycare centers. This form of adhesion is easier for the layman and is cheaper to use than liquid polyurethane adhesive. Liquid adhesive, such as MasterWeld 941 (formerly CX-941), is available in 2 and 5 gallon pails. You’ll need a trowel to apply it over the sub-floor before laying the rubber over top. Using the liquid adhesive is the best way to permanently adhere your rubber and is preferred by professionals. Why do you need to adhere your rolled rubber to the floor? You’ll want to prevent it from moving and bunching especially if there is not a lot of equipment sitting on it. Another reason is that rubber rolls can have built-in “memory” from being wound into a tight roll after production, which can cause it to curl when rolled out. For this reason you will want to lay it curl-side down so that as it acclimates to the surrounding atmosphere it will eventually lay flat and aid in the adhesion process.
Bonus Info – How Are Recycled Rubber Rolls Made?
The same mixture of rubber granules and urethane that is used for producing rubber mats is also used for rolls. Approximately 3,500 lbs. of this mixture is put into large 4’ wide cylinders where it is compressed without the use of heat and remains under pressure until it cures. After curing, the material, or “log”, is removed from the cylinder via a large hoist. The log is then placed on its side on a lathe that will begin peeling rolls off of it with a large band saw blade. At the beginning of the cutting process the blade has to work up to the desired thickness. It usually takes about 10’-15’ to get to this thickness. After the rolled rubber is essentially “peeled” from the log it is just a matter of cutting it to length, which are commonly 25’ and 50’. The small left over core of the log is reground to make other rolls and mats. From there this product can then be sold as rolled rubber or go on to be die stamped into interlocking puzzle mats.
Ironcompany Rolled Rubber Favorites
- Black – Patriot 4’ x 25’ x ¼” Diamond Plate Roll and Patriot 4’ x 25’ x 3/8” recycled roll
- Colored – Patriot 4’ x 25’ x ¼” 17% Color Roll and Patriot ½” 20% Sports Flooring Rolls
Other uses: Did you know that recycled rubber flooring rolls are also used for assembly lines, horse and livestock trailers, hotels, basements, dog day care centers, ski lodges and even for sound proofing?
Interlocking Rubber Gym Flooring Tiles – For Weight Training and Weight Stack Machines
Interlocking flooring is a “loose lay” product, which means there is no adhesive required when installing it. When locked together, the weight of the material holds it down firm and keeps it from moving. This is a definite advantage over other options like mats or rolls. You will find that tiles do require a bit more planning and labor when installing. Different rooms will provide different geometry, which will determine the amount of pieces ordered as well as the number of centers, corners and edges required. When purchasing rubber gym flooring it is always wise to order overage (additional pieces) to allow for any cutting mistakes made during the installation process. IRON COMPANY does use a Humane Manufacturing room planner that will calculate the exact number of pieces you will need and then cut so that only minor trimming is needed when it arrives. This cuts down on material costs because of reduced waste while making the install much easier for the customer. Another tip briefly covered above is that smaller tabs equal less seam visibility. On some of our small tab interlock, such as Iron-Lock and Aktivlok, the tabs are almost non-existent when installed especially when fleck colors are present which help camouflage seams even further.
Bonus Info – How Are Recycled Interlocking Rubber Tiles Made?
Recycled Interlocking tiles, or “puzzle tiles”, are made from the same concoction of rubber granules and urethane as the rubber mats and rolled rubber. There are multiple ways of producing the tiles from this material depending on the thickness. 3/8” thick tiles, such as Iron-Lock Gym Tiles, are stamped from rubber rolls with a die stamp. Thicker ½” and ¾” mats such as Mega Lock and Fleck Lock, are cut from the original 10’ x 30’ sheet into oversized rough cuts. Once these rough cuts are made they are stored for three days to be allowed to acclimate and shrink as necessary before the final cutting. The final cutting that takes place to form the edges, corners, centers and interlocking tabs is done with a sonic cutter.
Ironcompany Interlocking Gym Flooring Favorites
- Black – Ironcompany Iron-Lock 28.5″ x 28.5″ x 3/8″ and Ironcompany 2’ x 2’ x 7/16” Virgin Rubber
- Colored – Ironcompany 2’ x 2’ x 7/8” Dust Blue and Humane Loktuff 4’ x 4’ x ½” Glacier/White
Other uses: Did you know that rubber flooring tiles are also used for playground surfaces, ice rinks, boat decks and trade show booths?
How Do I Clean My Rubber Gym Flooring?
For dust and light foot traffic dirt a broom or vacuum will often be sufficient. For heavier dirt use a string mop with a mild soap and water solution. And if your flooring is really dirty, use a Neutral PH Flooring Cleaner and Degreaser such as CleanBreak Cleaner. For extra protection and easier cleaning consider using a Rubber Flooring and Mat Sealant by CleanBreak Sealant for your recycled products
About the Author
J.P. Brice founded IRON COMPANY in 1996 and is currently President and CEO. He began weightlifting in 1984 at the age of 14 and by the age of 25 turned his passion for fitness into one of the webs first and leading fitness equipment and gym flooring suppliers. He holds numerous Patents and Trademarks on various fitness equipment products and is the lead designer of IRON COMPANY branded free weights and strength training equipment. Today he works extensively with the US Military in providing the equipment necessary for combat readiness.