Last updated on June 13th, 2023 at 12:03 pm
The weight dropped with a thud that shook the whole house. I hadn’t expected to lose my grip, but the bar (which was loaded to just over 300 lbs.) slipped without warning. After I inspected myself for injury, I checked the weights for damage (at that time I was using a set of sharp-edged iron plates). Then I held my breath and gingerly lifted the carpet remnant that served as my gym floor to see how the cement underneath had fared. Thankfully, it was okay. But I was surprised. Ever since I started deadlifting in the garage, I had been worried about damaging my floor.
The heavy weights typically used while deadlifting definitely have the potential to damage a floor. The possibility of damage increases if the loaded bar is dropped. Basic precautions like bumper plates and rubber flooring can prevent most damage. In extreme cases, a lifting platform is advised.
Why is the deadlift a concern for your floors?
What you will find if you survey home gym owners is that most of them are not performing Olympic lifts. They generally aren’t doing CrossFit WODs that include lifts like the snatch or clean and jerk. For all but the most skilled lifter, Olympic lifts are dangerous to do at home alone. This is why most folks stick to traditional lifting patterns.
What most people with a barbell will do are 5 core lifts that make up barbell training. These are the bench press, overhead press, barbell row, squat, and the deadlift. Of those, the deadlift is unique in several ways.
First, of all of those lifts, the deadlift uses the most sheer weight. By a lot. Second, it’s the only one of those 5 core lifts where if there’s a problem the bar gets dropped to the floor (all of the other lifts drop to safety bars, pins, or straps instead of the floor). Third, it’s the only one that starts and ends with the loaded bar on the floor. While there are a lot of variants on this, the most common set up is to pull from the ground.
Dropping weights is an almost unavoidable part of barbell training. Even if your technique doesn’t call for dropping the bar, odds are that you will accidentally drop it at least a few times. Whether it’s because we get lax and don’t pay attention or we are pushing ourselves to achieve PRs, those weights are going to hit the floor.
In addition to the reasons above, many training protocols require the bar to be dropped on every rep. It is not uncommon to train the deadlift by eliminating the eccentric portion of the lift. In other words, lift the bar up from the floor and then drop it instead of setting it back down.
Lastly, while the deadlift is the most common lift that will send the weights to the floor with force, there are many others that will do the same thing. If you CrossFit or Olympic lift, dropping a loaded bar to the floor is a common part of your training regimen.
What is your floor made of?
If you are in a garage or basement with a cement floor, you are better prepared to deal with this issue than home gym owners that locate their gym in other areas. Cement is naturally a more durable material and will withstand the rigors of deadlifting better than a wood subfloor, tile, laminate, or other floor material.
Understanding the type of floor you are working out on is the first step in determining how extensive your precautions will need to be. A cement floor may simply require using bumper plates and quality flooring. A wood subfloor may mandate a lifting platform or some other type of reinforcement.
The question of your flooring type is compounded if you are on the second floor. It’s almost a mandate to reinforce your floor in an area like this if you think there is any possibility of a dropped bar at all. You can see my complete guide to second-floor gyms here.
The final reason the floor type is important is repetitive stress. Even if you aren’t dropping your bar, you will probably be setting a large amount of weight on your floor repeatedly. Always in the same place, a heavy weight will eventually start to damage any floor. This might not come into play with a cement floor, but with a wooden subfloor, it will most certainly cause a problem.
Solutions to floor damage caused by deadlifts and other training stress
The first and most obvious solution is not to drop your weights. If your gym is located in a room that doesn’t have a cement floor and you choose not to (or can’t) install reinforcement, you’ll have to take special care never to drop your weights. One nice solution, if you have a power rack, is to lift from the safety pins or straps. That way if you do drop the bar, it hits the safeties and not the floor!
The second important factor is the type of plates you are using. There are many things that justify using bumper plates instead of standard steel plates and preventing damage to your floor is an important one. I switched to bumper plates not too long ago and haven’t regretted the expense in the least (see why here). I love training with them and I’m sure my floor is grateful too.
If you are looking for great bumper plates, I can think of no better place to look than at Fringe Sport. They make the best virgin rubber bumpers out there. I love my set and wouldn’t buy anything else!
I’ve reference proper flooring several times and I’ll mention it again here. Even for those starting with a cement floor, laying a durable material over that should be a given for all home gyms. I’ve written a complete guide to home gym floors you can see here, but the short answer is to use rubber flooring. For areas that you don’t need to withstand a dropped weight, a 3/8” layer of rubber is perfect. For areas that need additional protection due to deadlifting or other stressful activities, a 3/4” layer of rubber is preferred.
Using a lifting platform
For avid lifters who are moving serious amounts of weight, a lifting platform is an ideal solution. There are several good tutorials on YouTube that show how to build these platforms. Basically you end up with 2-3 layers of 3/4” plywood topped with another 3/4” of rubber.
This not only prevents direct damage to the floor caused by dropped barbells, but it also spreads out the weight over a larger surface area. A lifting platform is a great way to make sure that no matter what, you don’t cause damage to your floor from either acute impact (drops) or chronic stress (load over time).
A lifting platform can also quiet your lifting. This is something that is important to most home gym owners. We often work out at hours when the rest of the household is asleep. Providing a cushioned place for your weights to hit the floor will significantly reduce noise. If this is a concern for you, see my full guide on soundproofing your home gym here.
***Update!!! Since I wrote this article, Titan Fitness has released their version of Pound Pads called “Silencer Pads”. They are one third the price of the pound pads and actually work a little better!!! I just ordered these and they are on the way to my house as I type this. Make sure to check them out over on Titan Fitness and get yourself a set while they are still in stock!!!
I tend to go overboard on many things I do. That’s why I’m currently considering the purchase of something called pound pads. While I haven’t used them personally, I’ve seen several demos and they look interesting. Basically, they are hefty pads that go under your weight plates. When the bar is dropped, the pads take all the abuse. They look to not only protect the floor below but also to significantly quiet the sound of a dropped bar. Even one dropped from overhead!
The drawback to the pound pad is that they are expensive. To me, they are way too expensive for what they are. That said, I’m still keeping my eye on them. Maybe a black Friday sale or online coupon will make them worth a try. For now, I’m saving my money.
I’ve seen some people use leftover squares of rubber flooring for this, but I wouldn’t recommend that. The Pound Pads are soft and absorb the shock of a dropped load. Rubber flooring does not. Instead, it makes your bar bounce more than it normally would. With a lot of weight on the bar, this could be dangerous.
I’d also like to note an odd solution that I’ve seen work very effectively. Instead of expensive pads, simply build some shallow boxes filled with sand. The sand will deaden the drop, prevent bounce, eliminate a lot of sounds, and protect your floors.
What you should do
For me, this is a simple matter.
If you have cement floors, lay down some rubber flooring and you should be okay. I’ve chosen to build a lifting platform to be extra sure, but many consider that to be overkill. I think it comes down to how much weight you are lifting and how often you drop your bar.
If you are working with another type of floor, the lifting platform is almost essential. A platform is far less expensive than fixing a damaged subfloor. It also looks cool, an added benefit that I haven’t mentioned, but is one of the biggest reasons I’ve chosen to use one.
One last thought
Not only is repairing a broken or damaged floor time consuming and expensive, so is repairing or replacing damaged equipment. Keep this in mind as you decide on the solution that is right for you. And as always, safety first.