Last updated on May 10th, 2021 at 05:06 pm
How is leg day like installing a new floor in your home gym?
It’s critical to your foundation and it’s something a lot of people would rather skip! Of course, you would never skip leg day, would you? It’s fun, exciting, and not at all painful, right?!
I think that’s why so many people don’t seriously consider the flooring in their home gym. It’s not really sexy or exciting. It can be kind of a pain to decide on and install. Besides, what’s wrong with working out on the bare cement of our unfinished basement or garage? Why not simply repurpose the old carpet that was already in that spare room? Who needs the extra work and expense involved in installing dedicated flooring in their gym?
In my opinion, everyone who has a home gym should invest in the proper flooring!
Your floor is the very foundation your gym sits on. Choosing it wisely can set you up to have a home gym you’ll love and that you’ll use more often. It’s something that has a functional purpose and improves your workouts. It will protect you, your floor, and your equipment. Frankly, it’s one of the most important steps in putting together a great home gym that will stand up to years of use.
The best flooring to use in a home gym is 3/8″ or 8mm interlocking rubber tiles. These are easy to install, look great, don’t have seams or gaps, and provide protection to the floor underneath in all but the most extreme circumstances. These tiles will last a very long time and look great for years.
I also made a YouTube video showing the installation process in my gym. Check it out!
Why you should install flooring in your home gym
My first “home gym” was an adjustable bench and a set of weights from Sears. My parents got them for me for Christmas when I was in junior high. That bench and weight set went into the corner of my bedroom and sat on the carpet that was already there.
Over the years I proceeded to wear out that corner of the room. I wore out the carpet, pissed off my parents, and broke the subfloor underneath as I moved, lifted, and dropped weights during workouts. It was my first real-life lesson in the importance of a proper gym floor.
It’s been a long time between that Sears weight set and building the gym I have now. My lesson in proper flooring, for some reason, didn’t stick with me. When I bought a bench and weights to put in my garage, I thought bare cement would work fine. I figured I’d just clean it off really well and voila! I was wrong.
In short order, I realized that the cement floor wasn’t going to work for me. I quickly chipped it and damaged one of my favorite kettlebells. It was painful to kneel or lay on. I cleaned it repeatedly, yet my hands continued to come away dirty after sets of pushups. It was clear that this was an issue I needed to address.
All home gyms should be built on dedicated rubber gym flooring. This type of floor will provide a safer surface to train on than standard surfaces like concrete or carpet. Rubber flooring will also protect the floor underneath from the damage caused by dropped weights and frequently moved equipment.
10 qualities of a great gym floor
Step one in picking out the best flooring is realizing that your gym has unique needs. It’s unlike flooring any other area of your home. It will see use that no other floor sees. It will directly impact both the enjoyability and usability of your space.
- A solid gym floor needs to protect the ground under your feet and also be very durable. Even if you only work out a few times a week, over time your floor will take a beating. Dropped weights, dragged equipment, and heavy traffic are just a few of the rigors you will put your floor through. Using material that won’t stand up to that abuse doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
- A great floor needs to protect your equipment. Over time, the investment you make in your gear will add up. It will get dropped, scraped, kicked, thrown, and otherwise knocked around. It’s only logical to install a floor that will mitigate some of that wear and tear.
- Your new floor needs to provide a level of safety. It must have good traction Many of us will be lifting and pulling some serious weights. Having a floor that has great traction is critical.
- There can be no visible or uneven joints or seams. The last thing you want is to have uneven footing. Even worse would be to trip or stumble. Your floor needs to provide a clean, smooth surface to walk on.
- Another safety concern is how well the floor can absorb impact. We’ll be dropping weights, kettlebells, and other implements on our floor. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Those weights can’t be allowed to come bouncing back up at us. The floor has to absorb this shock and keep the weight where it is.
- Points 3 – 5 directly contribute to avoiding injury. Another equally important facet of great gym flooring is that it needs to protect our bodies as well. Having a floor with a little give to it will make things significantly easier on your body. Specifically, your back, knees, and ankles.
- A great floor will also make it much more enjoyable to do things on the ground. Floor presses, stretching, pushups, and a myriad of other exercises are done on the floor. Having the right foundation makes these a lot more enjoyable than suffering through them on bare, cold cement, or other equally inappropriate options.
- Your bench, squat rack, power rack, treadmill, rower, and other heavy equipment will all sit on your new floor. One often overlooked function of a gym floor is keeping those items in place. There are few things more annoying than constantly having to reposition your larger pieces of equipment. Not to mention, it’s not safe. You need your squat rack to stay in one place as you are using it. Often times it’s acting as your spotter. It simply can’t be allowed to move around!
- The floor is one of the largest surfaces in your home workout area. It has a huge impact on the aesthetics of your gym. The nicer your gym is, the more you’ll want to use it. I know when I put in new flooring, it made me want to work out more. Sounds weird, but it’s true none the less!
- Finally, it can’t let off noxious and possibly toxic fumes. That may sound obvious, but the most common choice for home gym flooring, horse stall mats, does both of these. It’s best to pick something that’s not only safe but doesn’t make your gym smell so bad you don’t want to use it!!!
Can you reuse your existing flooring?
Two of the most common places to build a home gym are in the garage and in an unfinished basement. Those places lend themselves almost perfectly to conversion to a dedicated workout space. They also typically require very little preparation. A little cleaning, some better lighting, and presto, a place to work out!
When it comes to flooring in these areas, it can be very tempting to leave the smooth, bare cement that is already in place. Considering the sizable investment that gym equipment and weights can represent, it’s easy to justify leaving the floor as is. Cement is durable, isn’t it? And, after all, it’s free!
Unfortunately, cement comes with a host of built-in problems:
- Equipment will slide and move unless bolted down
- Cement may damage any equipment dropped on it
- It provides no cushion for knees, hands, or other points of contact
- It’s hard to clean
- It can be very cold in the winter
It’s not the worst floor, but it’s certainly got room for improvement. What it is good for, though, is that it’s hands down the best base you can have for the proper floor you’ll eventually lay on top of it. There’s no better place to start building a great gym floor than on top of a nice, strong layer of concrete.
Another common floor type that is already present in repurposed spaces is carpet. If it’s a low pile and in good condition, it can be very tempting to keep it and spend your money elsewhere. Carpet presents a different set of problems than cement.
Many carpets are made from toxic substances that can off-gas some nasty and hazardous stuff. When we add a high level of activity, that agitates the carpet and, at the same time, causes us to breathe heavily and deeply. This can be a dangerous combination.
Older carpet, especially in basements, can be riddled with toxic mold. Even on a carpet that we think is well kept, a little bit of damp can cause unseen problems that lead directly to significant health issues. We also need to consider that the carpet may be in fine condition, but the padding underneath may not be. For more detailed information on some of the possible dangers, see this article.
Your gym is an area where you will be breathing deeply. There will also be times where you work out directly on the floor. It’s always better to err on the side of safety. While it can be passable in a pinch, carpet isn’t an ideal solution for your home gym.
Hardwood and tile
These can present many of the same problems as cement in that they are a little too hard of a surface to be ideal, can get dirty fast, and don’t always provide good grip.
A hardwood floor, in reality, can be a pretty decent floor for your home gym functionally speaking. It has some give, won’t damage your weights when dropped, and is relatively easy to keep clean (which gives it decent grip). It’s problem, however, lies with its durability. Traditional wood flooring will get all but destroyed in most home gym applications.
Tile is even worse. It has all the drawbacks of hardwood and cement. Add to that it’s the least durable of the three. Drop a kettlebell on a tile floor, shatter the tile, and there goes the usability of your gym until the tile is replaced. Not to mention, just a tiny bit of sweat on a tile floor and you might as well be working out on ice!!!
2 important considerations
While many gyms can benefit from dedicated flooring, we still have to consider two things.
First is the budget. While not a reason to skip proper flooring, it can be a reason to scale back or even look for unique solutions. Where there is a will there is a way. Craig’s List, eBay, and local garage sales can often net you some finds that will serve you well and not cost a fortune.
The second is use. If all you put in your home gym is a treadmill and weight machine, flooring is a much lower priority for you than someone who will by doing CrossFit, calisthenics, kettlebell training, and Olympic lifting. We have to consider the actual activities taking place in our gyms to see how badly they warrant a new floor in the first place.
This leads to our first real step in determining what floor will end up in each of our home gyms:
What do you do in your gym?
As with most decisions you’ll make regarding your home workout area, you must start with determining what your goals are. Are you looking to build a calm and peaceful yoga studio? Are you looking to build a tough and gritty Olympic lifting area? Is your only piece of equipment a treadmill or rower?
Knowing what you’ll be doing in your gym will directly impact the flooring you choose. That flooring can either hinder or enhance your chosen activities. In many cases, the very floor you choose can make or break your space.
If you’ve made the decision to put dedicated, gym specific flooring in your gym, you’ll need to set yourself up for success. The best way to do this is to give your new flooring the best possible foundation.
As mentioned above, the best choice is bare cement. In a garage, this should be an easy task. In another room, it might not be.
If you are starting with carpet, it must come up. It won’t work to lay down a new floor over the existing carpet. You will need a flat, sturdy, and stable surface to lay your new floor over. Carpet of any kind simply doesn’t qualify. Not to mention, we don’t want to create an environment where mold or mildew can accumulate. That means that the old carpet has to go!
If you have tile, wood, laminate, or something else, removal may not be an easy option. If you hire professionals, that’s one thing. For do it yourselfers, it might not be in the cards. In that case, clean and disinfect the current floor and then allow it to dry thoroughly before laying the new floor on top.
A final recommendation is that when in doubt, hire a pro. I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes it’s easier and less expensive to hire someone instead of making a mess myself. That self-made mess then means I have to hire someone not only to do the project but also to clean up the mess I made trying to do it myself!
Gym Flooring Options
Let’s start with EVA foam tiles. It comes in an array of colors and designs. It’s available from a wide variety of sources. It’s inexpensive (typically as low as $1 per square foot). It’s what you’ll find most commonly labeled as gym flooring at your local home improvement store.
It’s a terrible option for almost all applications.
If you are building a playroom for your toddler and you only need the floor to last a short time, this option is great. For almost all home gym applications, it’s pretty much worthless.
It doesn’t spring back from compression very well. If you put any kind of stationary weight (bench, weights, machines, anything) on it, those items will leave permanent indentations in this floor. They can also easily puncture and tear this type of flooring.
EVA foam doesn’t provide a firm and even foundation to stand on. When lifting heavy loads, it’s critical that your flooring doesn’t give and shift under your feet. EVA foam has way too much give to safely train on. Especially with heavy weights!
All this said I do have one small section of EVA in my house. It’s in a space I’ve created as a small yoga and meditation studio. It’s away from my weights and bench. I only walk on it barefoot. It’s covered in a high-quality yoga mat where it gets the most use. In this application (and only in this type of application!!!), the cushion and give found in EVA foam are helpful.
I kneel a lot in my yoga practice and the foam base provides a more comfortable place for my knees than a hard floor would. EVA has been a really nice solution for this area of my home.
For home gyms, EVA foam floor tiles are absolutely the wrong thing to use. Make sure you are checking closely as a lot of EVA foam is titled “rubber gym floor” when it’s really just foam. Always double check before buying!
While it might look nice when new, laminate will scratch and dent over time with no ability to repair it. It’s the next least expensive option after EVA foam so it may be attractive to those on a budget. In my opinion, it’s almost useless in a home gym application.
Other than looks, it provides no other performance benefit. It will not cushion the fall of kettlebells or weights. It will not provide a forgiving base for your knees or ankles. It won’t keep machines or other equipment in place and you’ll spend a good amount of time repositioning things.
Like EVA foam, if you are setting up a yoga or light calisthenic area, laminate might work well for you. Otherwise, I would seriously consider a different option.
Every once in a while a trend comes along that I can’t get my head around. Cork flooring falls in that category.
I’ll admit, it actually looks kind of cool. It’s eco friendly and made from a natural and renewable material. It’s also moderately priced, easy to find, and easy to install. Sounds good, right? It is, but with 2 important exceptions.
First, it’s just not durable. Sure, it will stand up to something being dropped on it. It will also accommodate heavy items sitting on top of it. What it will not withstand, however, is something being dragged across it. Cork tears easily. And once it’s torn, it can’t be repaired.
Second, it doesn’t have any give (great property when making yoga blocks, terrible for your gym floor). One of the properties you are after is just a bit of give. Give (cushioning) helps a floor absorb the shock of things being dropped on it. It also protects your knees, ankles, and back. Cork does none of these things.
Despite how nice it looks and its other potential benefits, cork’s drawbacks are significant. They are more than enough to keep me from using it in my own gym and should be enough to persuade you too.
Rubber Horse Stall Mats
I absolutely do NOT advise using horse stall mats in your gym. I completely understand that I’m in the minority here, but I stand by my recommendation. Don’t get lured by the low price. They’re not a good solution!
When I started looking at flooring for my garage gym, I came across this option multiple times. I read about CrossFit boxes that used it exclusively. I read about how budget-friendly and durable it was. I also realized that since I live in a semi-rural area, finding them would be easy for me.
In fact, it seemed like this was going to be the ideal choice. Almost every YouTube video I watched, article I read, or person I asked advised that horse stall mats were the only way to go. It seemed like a no brainer, so I thought that’s what I would use in my new garage gym.
After a few calls, I headed out to a local tractor supply store to look at them. When I got there, I was shown to a few large stacks of thick, heavy (over 100 lbs each!!!) mats. At first glance, I thought I’d hit pay dirt! They were cheap, thick, and clearly durable. They were large too. It wouldn’t take many to appropriately cover my small garage gym floor.
Then I looked closer. Well, at first I just smelled a little closer. Wow did these things stink! There was no way that odor was going to work in my garage. I asked the person at the store if the odor would dissipate and they said it could if I left them outside to air out in the hot sun for a while.
This is technically true. But be prepared to leave them in the sun for months. For more details see my full article on the smell created by this kind of flooring by clicking here. Not to mention, guess what that smell is in the first place! It’s dangerous VOC’s (volatile organic compounds). This is NOT something you want in your enclosed home gym.
So let’s say they didn’t stink. Let’s say that they don’t give off possibly harmful chemicals for you to breathe deeply into your lungs as you work out. Let’s say that you bought them and left them outside to off-gas for months until they didn’t smell bad and could be considered “safe”. What then?
The next flaw to point out in using horse stall mats is also safety-related. They simply don’t provide safe footing. First, there are large gaps where the mats meet. Look on any YouTube video shot in a CrossFit box using stall mats and you can clearly see the gaps between the mats.
In those same videos, you can also see that the mats are slightly different heights. The edges do not meet evenly. I have stumbled on these mismatched edges more than once. Thankfully, I was not also carrying weight when it happened!!!
Over time, this problem gets worse. The edges, and especially the corners, of stall mats tend to curl up over time as they dry out. This process is expedited if you leave them outside in the sun to remove the odor prior to installation.
Bottom line, you will not get a nice even floor using stall mats.
A last benefit that people tout of horse stall mats is that they are 3/4″ thick. They can stand up to the rigors of CrossFit folks repeatedly dropping weight on them. On the surface, that sounds good. It’s anything but.
First, the ideal thickness of gym flooring is 3/8″ or 8mm. That’s thick enough to provide all the benefits you want. It’s thin enough to keep dropped weights from bouncing too far back up. And this is where stall mats fail miserably.
Drop a bar loaded with bumper plates on 3/4″ stall mats and watch that bar bounce dangerously back up. It will bounce much higher than if dropped on a better quality, slight thinner rubber floor. Besides, ideally, you don’t want to drop the loaded bar directly on the floor anyway.
If your training dictates dropping a bar (and many types of programs call for this), you should be using either a lifting platform, silencer pads, or both. If you are using either of those, you have no need for 3/4″ flooring. Using a platform or pads is an inexpensive way to both protect your floor and stay safe. Not sure if you need a platform? Check out my full article here that will help you figure that out.
In the end, just because most people do something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. I really feel that stall mats fall in this category. They are made for semi-outdoor, well-ventilated areas. They are not made for your basement or garage. Yes, it will cost a bit more to get the right kind of flooring, but it will be well worth it!!!
Up to this point, I’ve basically pointed out all the flooring you don’t want in your gym. This is the same process I went through when deciding what I wanted in my garage workout space. I started at what would cost the least and worked my way up from there. Using that approach led me to two options. Both of them rubber.
Real rubber flooring, in my opinion, is hands down the best choice for flooring in your home gym. It has every quality you would want and is reasonably priced considering how important installing a safe and durable floor is.
Advantages of rubber flooring
- It’s durable. And I mean really, really durable. It will handle the abuse of daily CrossFit style workouts. It will absorb the impact of heavy weights dropped repeatedly. It won’t allow those weights to bounce dangerously back up. You can subject a rubber floor to the most torturous of workout regimens and it will keep pace with you the entire way.
- It will safely support your squat rack, treadmill, rower, and other heavy machines. It will prevent these big items from moving and shifting around as you use them. With rubber flooring, you won’t have to spend time repositioning your equipment.
- It’s easy on your body. Whether you are doing calisthenics, yoga, free weights, kettlebells, or any other type of movement-based workout, it will cushion every step. Your ankles, knees, feet, and back will thank you for installing rubber flooring in your workout area.
- It looks great. Rubber flooring is available in several appearances and styles. All of them look great.
- It’s easy to install. My preferred option is interlocking tiles that measure roughly 2′ x 2′. These moderately sized tiles lock together and couldn’t be easier to install. There are no visible seams or uneven edges to trip on once installed.
- It’s got grip. Not only will it hold your machines and bench in place, but it will also hold you in place too. If you have a bunch of weight over your head, you’ll appreciate this feature of rubber gym flooring. When lifting heavy, safety is a primary concern. If that’s part of your daily workout, rubber flooring is the only sensible choice.
- It’s safe. When installed properly, it will be a smooth and even surface devoid of bumps and folds that could cause injury. And, it will stay that way! Because of its durability and ability to stay put, it won’t cause problems over time either.
- It cleans up beautifully. I never come away from exercises done directly on the floor with dirty or blackened hands like I did when working out directly on cement.
In other words, rubber flooring ticks every box on the “what makes a great gym floor” list we started this article with.
Rubber flooring choices
Rubber flooring comes in two formats. Tiles and rolls.
Tiles are like 18″ x 18″ puzzle pieces. Some companies offer larger options if you have a bigger area to cover. You can buy edge pieces that are smooth on one side with teeth on the other three, corner pieces that are smooth on two sides with teeth on the other two, or middle pieces that have interlocking teeth on all sides. Or you can simply trim the sides of the pieces to fit your space exactly!
These work exactly like jigsaw puzzle pieces. Tiles are nice because you can dial in the exact size and shape you want. Need to tile around a corner? No worries. Need one section wider than another? Piece of cake. It’s very versatile.
Rolls are just that, rolls. They typically come in 4’ widths and varying lengths. They can be cut to fit easily. These are nice in that you basically buy the size you need, roll it out, and go. One caveat is that you’ll want to use something to secure them down as adjacent rolls don’t lock together as tiles do.
Each type has its benefits. I’ve used both but prefer and currently use the interlocking tiles. I’d never use anything else in my home gym.
The other choice you’ll have is flooring thickness. Most flooring sites will recommend one of two thicknesses for your gym floor. Having tried them along with both thicker and thinner varieties, I agree with their recommendation. Stick with either 3/8″ thick or 8mm thick varieties.
What I use and recommend
There are a couple of quality websites that carry good quality rubber flooring. In the end, they both charge entirely too much for shipping. A set of 25 tiles for my current gym priced out at over $300 just in shipping costs!!! It turns out that Home Depot is the ideal place to order. Everything ships to your local store or to your home for free!!!
I’ve used and tried a ton of different flooring materials. There is a surprising amount of variety to choose from. In the end, I use (and am extremely happy with) 18″x18″ 8mm thick black with blue flecks tiles.
You can also check out my YouTube video where you can see my unboxing and installation of this flooring. I think it’s the ideal choice and it will last me for years to come. Sure, it’s more expensive than horse stall mats. But it’s also safer and a lot nicer.
Not mention, it’s very low odor. I was working out in my garage the day I laid the new floor. The smell was tolerable and mild. It had totally dissipated after just a week or two.
Whatever you decide, flooring makes a huge difference in your gym. I’m really happy with mine and I hope you’ll be happy with yours too.