You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.

Make sure the floor you’re exercising on is safe


Question: Are you a fitness class participant, or do you have a home gym? If so, you need to read this for the health of your knees.

As we age, we need to be especially careful about the surfaces we choose to exercise on.

You young’uns ought to read this too! I have been thinking back to all the surfaces I have exercised on over the last 40 years. Back when I was invincible, I did a lot of pounding on concrete surfaces indoors and outdoors. I bet you did, too.

But now I know better, and as a lover of group exercise as my primary source for fitness, I have decided I will only teach or take a cardio active-type class on a wooden surface.

Wooden surfaces have more of a springy feel, which helps absorb some of the force. Plus they are much safer than carpet or rubber floors for some types of exercise.

As fitness classes get more and more popular and certification specialties become way too easy to get, it’s now super common to have a class in a church basement, or a school cafeteria, or any space that is big enough. And of course, these places did not put that carpet there with group exercise in mind.

Be careful! Carpet and rubber floors are fine for yoga or Pilates-based floor workouts, or even strength workouts where you are only standing and lifting, not turning or twisting.

But carpet and rubber floors are not a friendly surface if the class you are doing is cardio-related. So, no Zumba, step aerobics, kickboxing or HIIT (high intensity interval training). Not any type of class with a jumping jack, or any forceful jumping or grapevine or any lateral movements that are considered movements in the frontal plane.

Why not? Because tennis shoes and carpet create way too much friction and it becomes too easy to torque your knee or twist your ankle.

Torqueing your knee simply means your foot plants and doesn’t move but your knee joint keeps moving. Not good.

Also, some types of tennis shoes are not meant for lateral movement. Many are designed for forward and back movement, or movements that are based in the sagittal plane, such as walking or running.

Same goes for rubber flooring mixed with tennis shoes. One of our YMCA instructors recently injured a knee coming down from a jumping jack onto a rubber floor. Her injury put her out for some time.

Consumer Reports medical adviser Dr. Orly Avitzur says that any class with multidirectional movement on carpet is not recommended. Speaking specifically about Zumba, she said a wooden floor provides a certain amount of give that is better for your knees and ankles.

If you have the chance to build a home gym, make sure you research your options. If you only plan on doing weightlifting, then a rubber floor is probably best. You can always add yoga mats to the floor if you are lying down for floor work. If you already have carpet, you can add rubber flooring on top that will protect your carpet from sweat and be much more sanitary. Carpet is hard to keep clean if there are a lot of folks sweating on it. Wood or rubber and much easier to keep clean.

We all want the gentlest impact for our joints, and a wooden floor provides that better than carpet. A suspended wooden floor is even better. All in all, a wooden floor makes it easier to keep your balance because it is a flat surface.

Do what you can do to make your workout experience a safe one. Now get moving!

Ann Angell is a certified instructor and personal trainer and  manager of the oxford YMCA. Her fitness column appears the third Sunday of each month.