Sometimes my imagination gets the best of me. As I was using my treadmill the other day (it’s in an upstairs bedroom), I envisioned my 205 lb. frame riding the 350 lb. treadmill as it crashed through my floor into the garage below. I’m fairly sure that won’t happen, but that’s just how my mind works sometimes.
That got me to wondering how much weight my second-story bedroom floor could hold before failing? I started to think about the viability of putting a full gym on my second floor instead of in my garage. Would the floor hold a power rack and a full set of weights? What if I wanted to deadlift and drop a heavy bar? Could all of my weight lifting equipment be safely installed in a second-floor room? (If all you are concerned about is a treadmill, I have a dedicated article on putting treadmills on a second floor that you can see here!)
After some research, I discovered that an upstairs floor in a modern home (this may not apply to older homes) is rated to hold between 30 and 40 lbs. per square foot. Using some quick math and a good bit of Googling, I figured out that my little upstairs bedroom could safely hold quite a bit of weight. I also found that items like my treadmill (elliptical, rower, etc.) would be safe as well.
You can safely put a gym on the 2nd floor of most well-built homes that includes a squat rack, weights, and cardio equipment. Check the total weight of your gear against the capacity of your floor and ensure your home is built to code. It’s also best not to drop your weights while training on the 2nd floor.
Safety, Damage, & Noise
The obvious concern with a second floor home gym is safety. I had, after all, just imagined plummeting to my death. Odds are that a complete catastrophic failure of the floor isn’t going to happen. But there are plenty of other issues to be concerned about.
What’s more likely to happen is that the structural integrity of your home will be compromised. Windows will end up crooked and won’t open or close. The same can happen to your doors. Floors will sag and warp. You may also find damage to the floor itself as dropped weights puncture and crack the floor boards.
Noise is also a big concern. Anything we do on the second floor will be amplified in the room underneath us. Drop a dumbbell on the floor upstairs and the people downstairs are going to think the house is falling down. Take a run on the treadmill and it will sound like you are herding elephants.
You can mitigate some of that noise with rubber matts and proper flooring. You can also choose machines like rowers or ellipticals which are typically quieter overall (see my recommended cardio machines here). In the end, though, you’re gonna need to let the folks downstairs know what’s going on so they don’t panic. There are several great steps you can take to quiet your home gym, but if it’s upstairs, you simply can’t eliminate all of it.
Building your gym
Even though I have a second floor bedroom that would be a great place for a gym, that’s not where I’m building one. I’ve elected to put mine in the garage. Despite the fact that it’s not climate controlled and I spend a good amount of time chasing spiders out, the garage is simply a better choice. If you have a choice between a basement/ground floor/garage and an upper story location, avoid the second level location.
If you can’t, it’s not the end of the world. It’s not ideal, but you can definitely build a nice home gym in a second floor room.
If you choose to work out upstairs, it will be important to know how much weight the floor in your chosen room can hold. Today’s homes are built to a preset standard and that standard can give us insight into this problem.
The load capacity of a second floor in a home is regulated at 40 lbs. per square foot. For bedrooms, the capacity is 30 lbs. per square foot.
This does NOT mean that if you put 50 lbs. on a single square foot area the floor will collapse. What it means is that if you take the total square footage of the room and multiply it by the weight capacity per square foot, you’ll get a load limit for the room as a whole.
For example, a 10’ x 10’ common room would be 100 square feet. Since it’s not a bedroom, multiply that by 40 and you get 4,000 lbs. In the same size bedroom, the capacity drops to 3,000 lbs. But let’s talk about that 3,000 lb. number for a minute.
First, that doesn’t mean that if you have 3,001 lbs, your house is falling down. Numbers like this are always conservative. For legal reasons they leave quite a bit of wiggle room above them. That said, you really should follow the guideline.
Second, you can’t safely take a 3,000 lb. weight and drop it on one square foot of flooring. That will most assuredly break the floor. That 3,000 lbs. should be distributed across the floor as evenly as possible. Which brings us to some general guidelines of how to place equipment within the room so you don’t bring the whole house down.
Setting up your gym
Start by preparing the floor to support your equipment with 3 basic steps. For a very detailed guide to picking the perfect flooring for your home gym, make sure to check out my in depth article here.
- Remove any carpet and padding down to the floor boards. Tile weighs a lot and could crack under the weight of your equipment. It’s best to pull that up too. If there is wood flooring, you can probably leave that.
- Lay down a layer of 3/4” plywood. This will help distribute the weight of your gear. It will also protect your floorboards from damage. Secure this to the subfloor with wood screws.
- Lay down a layer of 8mm thick rubber flooring. I personally use an 8mm rubber floor that you can check out here on Amazon. It’s perfect for any floor of your home, second or otherwise! This layer of rubber will further protect the floor as well as serve to dampen some of the sound coming from your second-floor gym.
- As I reviewed in my article on improving the air quality in your home gym, I do NOT recommend horse stall mats for this. Yes, I know a ton of people recommend these. No, they aren’t good for indoor use. They are made from the lowest quality recycled rubber that off-gases dangerous VOCs. Mats made for a well ventilated outdoor horse stall are simply not a good choice for a small and enclosed interior room.
Once you have the floor down, there are some general rules to follow to make your equipment placement as safe as possible.
- Heavier items should go up against the walls. The closer an item is to the walls, the stronger the floor is in that area.
- If there is a load bearing wall under the room, place your heaviest gear over that. That section of the floor will have a much higher tolerance for load than others.
- Figure out what direction your floor joists run. Then make an effort to have heavier equipment like dumbbell or squat racks span multiple joists.
- While you are at it, the closer you can get those items to the ends of the joists, the better off you are. The more towards the center of the joists you locate weight, the more the joists are likely to sag and bend over time.
- Try keeping most things out of the center of the room. That will usually be the weakest part of the floor.
Choosing your equipment
If your home gym is made up of cardio machines or all in one home gyms, you don’t need to worry too much about floor capacity or placement. You can feel safe placing those anywhere in the room. They will transfer noise to the floors below, but their weight shouldn’t be a concern. One suggestion is to put an extra mat or layer of rubber flooring under them to help absorb vibration. Check out my article on cardio machine mats here for even more options!
UPDATE Nov 2023: I’ve found an amazing source for low-cost rubber gym flooring. It’ll save you a ton of money while still getting the same flooring I recommend in this article. Inventory changes pretty regularly, but head over to Freedom Fitness’s flooring page to see what’s available today. They usually have a tremendous selection and their pricing is well below what you’ll find anywhere else! And make sure to use our exclusive coupon code, “GC1” for 5% off of your order!
For heavier items, you’ll want to abide by the above placement guidelines. You’ll also want to make sure you know the weight of your equipment and how that relates to the floor capacity of your room. I’ll use my second bedroom as an example.
My spare bedroom measures 12’ x 14’. That’s 168 square feet. Multiplied by 30 that means the floor capacity is 5,040 lbs. Here’s what would go in that room:
- 3 pieces of 3/4” plywood at 55lbs each = 165 lbs.
- Rubber flooring = 120 lbs.
- Power rack = 550 lbs.
- Barbells = 115 lbs. (traditional, ez bar, trap bar)
- Weight plates = 450 lbs.
- Adjustable dumbbells = 180 lbs.
- Treadmill = 350 lbs.
- Me = 205 lbs.
- Total = 2150 lbs.
As you can see, with my equipment, the floor in my second bedroom can easily support the weight. I’m still going the garage route, but if I had to use that room, I could.
Your results may vary. If you have an 800 lb. power rack and 1,1000 lbs. of weights along with a full rack of dumbbells, you could find yourself fast approaching the weight limit on your second floor gym. You have to do the math first to find out.
A must have piece of gear for ALL second floor gyms
If you are training with weights on your second floor, it’s almost a requirement to get some sort of drop or silencer pads for your weights. These have been around for a while, but have always been cost prohibitive. Not anymore!
Titan Fitness recently released their silencer pads and they are awesome! They are the first thing I would buy if I was building my gym on an upper floor.
They will do a great job of both protecting your floor and keeping the noise downstairs to a minimum. No second-floor home gym is complete without them.
What type of lifting are you doing?
I don’t do anything crazy in my gym. I’m a pretty straight forward lifter. Press, squat, deadlift. When I deadlift, I don’t usually do it from the floor and I don’t drop the bar. For me, the type of lifting I do wouldn’t be a concern for second floor safety or damage.
That may not be the case for you. If you are a CrossFitter, Olympic lifter, powerlifter, or someone who likes to drop a fully loaded bar repeatedly, you will need to take additional precautions (or simply not build your gym on a second floor). For example, the floor reinforcement I mentioned above is a must. In addition to that, a lifting platform will be essential gear for you.
Don’t want to make a DIY lifting platform? Check out this reasonably priced option from Titan Fitness. Not sure if you need a platform at all? Check out my complete guidelines here.
A lifting platform is typically made from 3 layers of wood that is topped by a layer of rubber. With this on top of your initial floor reinforcement, you are taking good measures to prevent damage to your floor. That said, it will still sound like God is pounding on your house every time you drop the bar. There isn’t much you can do to prevent the noise. This is a big part of the reason that my gym is in the garage.
Another note about this type of lifting is that you don’t want to weight your floor right up it’s capacity and then proceed to also drop hundreds of pounds on it. Simply jogging on a treadmill doubles the amount of weight the treadmill and person place on the floor below it. You can imagine the weight multiplier in effect when dropping a fully loaded barbell! Leave yourself plenty of extra capacity to work with.
Lastly, if you are dropping weights on the floor or a platform, bumper plates are a must. And when it comes to bumper plates (and specifically ones built to withstand being dropped), head over to Fringe Sport for the best all-around plates out there!
A word of caution to those who plan on lifting heavy and dropping their bar to the floor repeatedly… Regardless of how you protect your floor, you will probably damage it over time. Dropping weight from any height puts a dynamic load on your floor that is many times that of the load itself. If this is the type of lifting you plan to do, building your gym on a concrete subfloor is the best and probably only real choice.
I am not a structural engineer. I’m a guy who likes to research home gym related things and then share what I learned on the inter webs. If you are going to put any kind of serious weight on your second floor, it’s a good idea to hire a structural engineer to help you.
There are a few advantages to hiring an engineer:
- They can tell you the exact capacity of your floor.
- They can tell you which direction your joists run.
- They can advise you as to the placement of your equipment.
- They can tell you how heavy a barbell you can drop before causing damage.
- They can design and coordinate floor reinforcement if needed.
- They can keep your power rack from crashing through the floor on to the head of someone downstairs!!!
Please, when in doubt, consult a professional!!!
Otherwise, if upstairs is the only location you have, you are most likely going to be in good shape building out your gym there. Just follow the simple guidelines I outlined and you’ll have your upstairs work out space equipped and ready to rock in no time!