Gym Flooring Guide – How to Pick Between Rubber Mats, Rolls and Other Choices

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Flooring Quick-Pick

Type of Gym Flooring Choice
Commercial Gym,
Health Club,
Training Studio

1/2″ Rubber Mats for most applications.

If it’s all pin-select weight stacks or any other type of gym where there are no freeweights to drop, you can also do hardwood flooring.

Box Gym

3/4″ Rubber Mats or 3/4″ Rubber Stall Mats. The stall mats are the economy option and won’t fit together as flawlessly as the others.

Your clients will be dropping barbells all over the place, and the occasional kettlebell, so 3/4″ thick rubber is a good idea.

Home Gym

3/8″ to 3/4″ Rubber Mats or Stall Mats. As above, if you plan on doing olympic lifts, get 3/4″. Otherwise 1/2″ or 3/8″ is fine.

If you really want to cheap out you can do EVA mats.

Olympic Lifting Gym

No matter if it’s in a home or commercial gym, if you’re doing the olympic lifts (snatch and clean-and-jerk), you may want a Lifting Platform in addition to the above flooring.

If you have lots of clients doing olympic lifts at once in a box gym, and limited space, well, 20 lifting platforms makes no sense for you. The approach that everyone in this situation takes is just being ok with a little pulverized concrete underneath. It’s part of owning a gym.

 

See further below for more detailed information on these options.

Sub-Floor Considerations

The sub-floor (ie: what you lay your mats on top of) is also a consideration. Depending on the type of flooring you’re going with, you may or may not need to do anything extra.

Flooring (from above table) Subfloor Notes
Rubber Mats

A concrete subfloor is ideal, and it’s the only subfloor you should have if you plan on dropping weights at all when doing olympic lifts or being careless.

For a medium- or high-pile carpet, you’re going to either need to pull up the carpet (ideal) or lay sheets of 3/4″ (or 23/32″) plywood over it.

For low-pile commercial carpet, you can lay mats directly on them.

For tile or hardwood floors, put down some canvas dropcloths (foam underlay also works but can add squishiness, not good) to prevent scuffing, then 3/4″ plywood, then rubber mats. This will protect your nice flooring sufficiently from dropped weights and the direct abrasion of the plywood… and reduce noise. Then drill some wood screws through the rubber and plywood to keep everything nicely in place.

Plywood note: Get sheets that are nice and flat, not warped. It can still eventually curl up on you, but at least starting with flat plywood is critical. Be careful when you mop the floor, keeping any moisture from seeping down to the plywood to prevent curling over time.

EVA Mats Same as above. Scuffing a tile or hardwood floor isn’t going to be an issue with EVA, but weights being dropped can damage the subfloor easier because EVA doesn’t disperse the force nearly as much as rubber.
Lifting Platform

Putting it directly on a concrete subfloor is fine. Most commonly a lifting platform is on top of the rubber flooring that’s everywhere else in the gym. A platform is built with two full layers of wood (plywood or hardwood), with coated hardwood and rubber on the top, and a metal frame to hold it all together.

If you have anything but a concrete subfloor, re-think the platform. This won’t go well. Light to moderately heavy deadlifts should be ok, but not dropping cleans from shoulder height

 

Detailed Info on Flooring Choices

EVA Tiles

EVA Foam Gym Flooring Let’s get this out of the way first. If you want to cheap out on flooring, EVA is what you’ll get. It’s the Cheez Wiz of flooring. Don’t even think about using it in a commercial setting, or your whole gym will feel cheap.

PROS:

  • It’s cheap!
  • Lightweight, easy to install and move, cheap to ship
  • Has a little give to it

CONS:

  • The floor protection isn’t that great if you drop weights, because it doesn’t disperse the load like rubber does
  • Pieces can stretch and move out of alignment
  • The surface texture wears down
  • Heavy equipment will cause it to compress a lot
  • Your footing won’t be as firm as you would like for heavy lifts. Squats and cleans, beware!

Don’t put them directly on carpet, unless it’s the thin industrial grade carpet. They’ll squish and separate all over the place. Major bummer. If you have a carpet floor, lay some 3/4″ plywood sheets down first to give yourself a hard surface… and as a bonus that gives you more protection for the floor underneath.

 

Premium Rubber Mats

Rubber Gym MatsRubber flooring comes in mats, interlocking tiles, and rolls.

Mats are the go-to staple. They’re in gyms all over the place, from homes to health clubs.

They usually come in 4ft x 6ft sheets and are 3/8″ to 3/4″ thick.

Make no mistake, this is dense rubber that will have no problem holding the heavy equipment in health clubs.

PROS

  • They will last longer than your gym will
  • Minimal compression under load, firm footing
  • Precision-cut length, width and thickness

CONS

  • They can potentially slide out of place if not held down by equipment. Sometimes people use glue or a frame around the area to keep them from moving.
  • They’re heavy and awkward at 96 lbs a piece. Not a problem once they’re installed, of course.

Any rubber material can be cut easily enough with a few passes of a utility knife, so cutting to size isn’t a big deal.

Rubber Stall Mats

The most popular choice for home users and box gyms. Stall MatThese are a lot like the above premium mats, but they’re actually made for putting into stalls and horse trailers. Nowadays just as many people buy them for gyms as they do for stables.

Same pros and cons as the above mats, but with these differences:

PROS: They’re cheaper.

CONS

  • They stink. Air them out for a while.
  • They are not precision cut. Decent, but not like the above. Seams will be noticeable. The thickness may be 1/16″ off on some edges. Fine if you’re going for the grungy look.

Rubber Puzzle Tiles

Rubber Puzzle Tiles

The same good stuff as rubber mats, but they lock into each other and stay together.

Same pros and cons to rubber sheets. But in addition:

PROS

  • They won’t come out of place
  • Even easier to install
  • Easier to move

CONS

  • More expensive than mats of the same thickness.
  • Easiest to find in thinner versions like 3/8″

Rubber Rolls

Rubber Rolled FlooringFor big areas. Health clubs, large warehouse gyms, that kind of thing.

Because it’s stored rolled, it can’t be very thick, so you’ll find them in 3/8″ or thinner rolls usually.

Again, the same pros and cons of the other rubber options, in addition to:

PROS

  • Minimal seams to worry about
  • They sure won’t move.

CONS

  •  3/8″ or thinner
  • You will probably need a professional to install them. They’re heavy. One 25ft x 4ft x 1/2″ roll is 254 lbs. It’s a serious job to manhandle that and get everything lined up right..

Lifting Platforms

Lifting PlatformFor ultimate protection in dropping barbells when doing the olympic lifts. You do still need to use bumper plates.

Tis is basically a 6ft x 8ft or 8ft x 8ft wooden platform, with a couple layers of plywood and some hardwood and rubber on top, and a steel frame around it. It’s awesome.

PROS

  • Ultimate floor protection
  • Noise and vibration reduction
  • Firm footing on hardwood
  • The hardwood has just the right amount of traction if you’re using olympic lifting shoes
  • You feel like a pro using it

CONS

  • Takes up space, and you really can’t move it
  • Expensive, like any good toy
  • Very heavy at ~300 lbs. Again, not a problem once it’s where you want it.
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4 comments

  1. Justin 28 August, 2017 at 20:03 Reply

    Ok, thanks! I have tile floor above concrete subfloor, my plan is to build a standard 8×8 lifting platform out plywood and horse stall mats. Since firmer is better, would laying down four 4×6 horse stall mats and building the platform ensure better protection tile floor? A few of the tiles are uneven. Could the mats themselves damage the tiles in some way, or lead to water pooling underneath them? Perhaps I should lay the canvas drop cloth beneath the horse stall mats as the first layer? No dropped weights, just deadlifts (~300-400lb at the moment) lowered quickly to the platform.

    • David Kiesling
      David Kiesling 29 August, 2017 at 11:19

      Right, I’d put something like the drop cloth as the first layer to protect the tile even from just rubber. Rubber will probably leave marks on it. Moisture shouldn’t be an issue as long as you only do light mopping.
      I would want the plywood as well to distribute the impact and protect the tile, but the platform will do it. I’ll be interested to hear how it goes, but sounds fine. As a reference point, concrete gets pulverized from enough drops (cleans/snatches) when only protected by a layer of rubber mats, but with only deadlifts and a platform I can’t imagine you would do damage. The uneven tiles might be troublesome, maybe requiring another layer of canvas or something on the other tiles to even things out.

  2. Justin Hill 25 August, 2017 at 22:21 Reply

    What type of thin foam underlay would you recommend to put between tile floor and plywood? How thick should it be?

    • David Kiesling
      David Kiesling 28 August, 2017 at 12:15

      Good question! A canvas drop cloth under the plywood would prevent the possibility of the plywood scuffing the tile. Here’s a 12×15 one: http://amzn.to/2wiWp5Z
      3/4″ plywood and 1/2″-3/4″ rubber on top of that should do the trick to absorb impact, as long as you aren’t doing anything extreme like dropping weights from shoulder height.
      I’d steer away from foam underlayment, because it’s designed to add a tiny amount of cushion, and that’s a bad thing for this application. The firmer the better.
      I’ll have to add a note about it to this article.

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