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What makes sports flooring different?

Gymnasium Subflooring

The subfloor of a basketball court helps preserve your back, knees and ankles.
Wendy Hope/Getty Images

­Maple is strong, stiff and resistant to scuffing and scratching. It also has good shock resistance, meaning it can take a pounding from thousands of hours of heavy use on a gym floor without suffering damage. When maple is installed in your home, it will likely be sitting on top of a cement slab or a subfloor made of softer wood like Douglas fir or pine.

Sports flooring is completely different. The floor of a gymnasium needs to have some give and flex. While you may not realize it, every time your foot hits the floor of a basketball court, it sinks slightly and springs back. Of course you don't want this to be noticeable, otherwise you'd feel like you were playing hoops on a trampoline. The idea is that the floor absorbs some of the shock, resulting in less wear and tear on an athlete's body. It's called an orthopedic surface. A restaurant kitchen floor may have a thin layer of padding on top for the same reason. If you're on your feet all day, it can make a big difference in your fatigue level.

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There are many types of subflooring for a gymnasium, but they all have the same concept in mind -- to help reduce the impact on your lower back, ankles and knees. One of the most common types of subflooring systems used today for gymnasiums incorporates round rubber pads under a plywood subfloor. The pads are small rubber discs filled with air, set about 12 inches (30.5 centimeters) apart from each other over the entire area of the floor. Think of a fancy athletic shoe that uses air-cushioned soles, and you have the right idea. This padding gives the court the spring necessary to combat fatigue and injury.

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