This is an interesting question because in the fitness industry there are standards that are “required” and then there are those that are “recommended.” The differences between required and recommend standards are essentially based on federal and local laws. That is, a fitness facility owner/operator is required by law to adhere to the standards of building design that relate to the designing, building, expanding or renovating of space as presented by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Facilities are also required to be in compliance with federal, state and local building codes. But these standards don’t necessarily apply specifically to the flooring and surfaces in a group exercise room.
Recommended standards, on the other hand, are guidelines that have been set forth from experts in the fitness industry based on evidence and years of practical application. There is wide acceptance of the recommended standards set forth by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) in the book ACSM’s Health/Fitness Facility Standards and Guidelines, Fourth Edition. According to the ACSM guidelines, group exercise room floor surfaces should adhere to the Deutches Institut fur Normung (DIN) standards, which help to evaluate the suitability of a floor for sport function, protective function, and material/technical function. Performance characteristics for sports surfaces include:
• Shock absorption
• Ball bounce
• Vertical and area deflection
• Surface friction
• Rolling load
For floor surfaces in group fitness classes, the primary concern for participants’ safety is shock absorption to protect the lower extremities during repeated impacts of the feet (e.g., jumping, hopping, jogging, and aerobic dance). Shock absorption is often addressed through a suspended wood flooring system or carpet with a specific volume of padding underneath. Each type of flooring has pros and cons. A suspended wood floor is superior in terms of cleanliness and giving participants the ability to glide across the floor with ease, but it is costly to install and maintain.
Carpet with padding is great for shock absorption and it is economical, but it is difficult to keep clean (especially in very humid areas) and it can pose a trip and fall hazard for classes in which quick turns and cuts are the norm, which describes just about any cardio-based conditioning class that occurs in a group fitness room. Carpeting also has the potential to cause excessive twisting torques to the ankles, knees, and hips as the feet can “catch” on the carpet and remain planted while the rest of the body moves.
So, while there are no required standards that dictate which type of floor surface must be in place in group fitness rooms, it’s makes the most sense for rooms in which cardio-based classes are being held to have suspended wood flooring.