International Expert in Functional Training & Calisthenics.
What you’re standing on might be the limiting factor to better health and performance. I discovered this the hard way.
Years ago, I would have never paid attention to details like the best gym shoes and flooring to work out on. It was only after an injury that I discovered how flooring and footwear can affect your whole body and performance. I used to squat in a commercial gym; you know, those big gyms with hundreds of machines, spa, collective classes and then the standard 1 or 2 squat racks. Even though I was a rookie at the time, I knew the importance of squats in strength training.
What I didn’t acknowledge was that the gym flooring was too soft. Gravity’s main job is to pull you down and stick you to the Earth. Therefore, when you stand on a soft/cushioned floor, you naturally “sink” into it, which isn’t really a problem if you don’t put any extra weight on yourself.
However, when you perform movements with extra weight on your back (i.e. squats), you need sturdy flooring.
What about the gym shoes?
A key point to optimise to ensure safe training, especially with compound movements such as the squat, is stability and power transfer into the ground.
A great tip for squatting is: instead of thinking about getting up from the bottom position of the squat position, think about pushing your feet into the ground like you’re trying to push the earth away. It’s simple physics, the earth isn’t going to drift away as you’re thrusting up, considering the mass force you apply into the ground is lower than the mass of the earth itself (obviously, right?).
Besides the inconvenience of the floor, I made another mistake: my training shoes.
Performing compound movements that put significant metabolic stress on your body and mind with the “wrong” shoes can be dangerous. Most trainers have a soft cushioned sole to help support shock absorption, which can be an advantage for sports like running, basketball, etc. Though again, it creates instability and decreases power transfer. This still isn’t something you want.
Your feet are the base of support for your whole body. Not having a strong and stable foundation can compromise the function of your structural joint mechanism. Imagine a building with unstable foundations; if the base doesn’t firmly accommodate the rest of the building, chances are it won’t stay upright for long. It’s similar to what happens to your body when you lift big weights. You have a lot of work to do to stabilise yourself and you’ll eventually end up damaging your body and frame.
The sturdier the shoes the better the stability and power transfer (again). Some shoes are even designed for better performance, like Olympic lifting shoes that have a strong and solid base that allows the lifter to create more power. They even have elevated heels to support ankle mobility, which boosts the range of motion for your squat. Here you have some of the best gym shoes available: Adidas Leistung 16 or Converse Chuck Taylor.
So now you have the right shoes on, but what happens with the flooring?
Now imagine squatting with weight on a soft floor. The more you force you to create to push up, the more you “sink” into the floor, thus losing stability and power since the flooring is “absorbing” it.
Stability enables your joints to move safely without being compromised or having to do more work than they are “designed for”.
Most commercial gyms use this type of floor and it really isn’t the best option. Even for simpler exercises, even if you don’t feel it your body does and it’s something that can have repercussions and eventually end up getting you injured (like me).
You’ll probably understood by now that you want stability and power transfer into the floor when training. An extra key safety point is shock absorption. Soft flooring is all about it but misses the other parameters for health and strength. Flooring like “hard” rubber mats is a win-win. It’s hard enough to provide the stability and power transfer you need while absorbing shocks. There are specifically-designed PAVIGYM products that cover those needs perfectly, such as PAVIGYM Extreme or PAVIGYM Endurance.
This insightful experience has made me more aware and taught me to pay more attention to many details. It’s not something most people notice and it’s totally normal, although it’s something we should all be conscious of considering that besides adding weight to your lifts, it’s a matter of health. At the very least, gym owners, coaches, personal trainers and athletes need to take measures to ensure that general membership in the gym doesn’t suffer because of inappropriate training environments.
After I got injured, I signed up to another gym, made sure that the floor was suitable for my needs, and chose hard soled trainers. I took care of my injury and by then I was back on my feet. I started squatting again, and the difference was pretty noticeable. I still got injured later on, but that’s another story.