Fitness centre, sports hall and gym designs are starting to show more much more character, and the choice of sports flooring can play a major role in aesthetics – and, of course, safety. Sport England still state that the floor and its performance is the most important aspect of any design.
Whether you’re designing a new facility or redesigning an existing one, never underestimate the impact that flooring can have in terms of design, sustainability and safety. Flooring must be practical and affordable, and meet the specific programme and application needs – but it must also be safe and user-friendly.
From professional stadiums to college recreation centres, early-years multi-use halls to senior-school sports halls, the primary concern in the specification of sports and athletic surfaces is still the prevention of injuries.
This comes as no surprise, of course, in professional sports where athletes are paid huge sums of money to perform. An injury that takes them out of the game is money out the window. In community and school sport, though, something more important is lost: the user’s ability to exercise and enjoy time with their peers.
With innovation such a key factor in sport, it’s no surprise to see that products developed in conjunction with major sporting federations are now tweaked to make them suitable for the mainstream. To take a parallel example, motor racing technology from five years ago is now commonplace in many road cars: you can now buy a Vauxhall Corsa with a rally-car gearbox. Is it, then, any surprise that you can have a sports floor used at the Olympics, redesigned to withstand the daily pressures of a primary school hall? A floor that copes with rolling loads means that rolling out even dining equipment is no issue and, more importantly, wheelchair users can still make use of these facilities.
Although the financial considerations are not there, the same levels of safety are true for educational establishments, from primary schools right through to universities. A school is responsible for keeping its students safe, and thoughtful specification of sports flooring is one way in which it can do this. We can’t control what footwear pupils use, or how well they are able to avoid injury: but we can, with careful specification of the best products available, optimise the flooring they will be using.
Sustainability is also key here. In sports facility management, energy efficiency, sustainable technologies and careful use of resources are all continuing to gain in importance. A good ecological balance, sustainable building materials and consistently implemented accessibility measures allow both private and public operators to differentiate themselves from the increasingly fierce competition.
One of the reasons that durability matters is the way in which deteriorating floors harm the user experience. On an emotional level, members might be put off from joining or staying with a gym that has worn or scuffed flooring. But what matters even more is whether the flooring protects their physical wellbeing.
Impact absorption is a huge factor in gym environments and flooring manufacturers have stepped up to the plate in the past decade or two. Impact is still one the biggest causes of injury, but manufacturers have now developed flooring that offers huge impact protection, while also taking into account other key criteria such as design and sustainability.
David Carter is a Sports Specialist with flooring manufacturer Gerflor.