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Scratching the surface: does flooring make an impact on the safety of aerobics? Exercising minds want to know.

Does flooring make an impact on the safety of aerobics? Excercising minds wnat to know.

Aerobic dance flooring has come a long way since the early days of the fitness industry. Originally nobody paid much attention to flooring. It was common to see aerobics being taught on concrete floors or even outdoors on tennis courts. It is now known that repetitive impact on such surfaces can harm the bones and joints. There is ongoing controversy over which types of flooring--concrete, wood, linoleum over concrete or carpeted surfaces--may be associated with higher rates of injuries. Although more research is needed to determine the safest surfaces, suspended hardwood and synthetic dance floors appear to offer the most protection for the instructor and student.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to rate a particular floor as the best because there has never been an independent study conducted to compare the numerous floors currently on the market. Objective research is needed to find out what type of surface provides the optimal balance between shock absorption, resilience, durability, traction, stability and affordability. Until the results of a comprehensive study are released, instructors, students and club owners need to be wary of unsubstantiated advertising claims such as, "the only floor designed specifically for aerobic dance."

Injury Alert

The most common aerobic dance injuries occur in the lower extremities which often cannot adequately absorb the impact of landing. Chronic rather than acute injuries are common to the feet, ankles, knees, shins, hips and lower back. An aerobic dance participant lands on the floor with a force equal to three times his or her body weight. Proper shoes and flooring help dissipate much of that force. Thus the role of shoes and floors is among the most important factors to consider for injury studies.

In a 1985 injury survey of 135 aerobic instructors, 103 reported they had sustained an injury as a result of aerobic dancing. The majority of the instructors, 34.2%, reported teaching on carpet over padding, 23.4% used wood surfaces, 19% used carpet over a hard floor, 9.8% used linoleum, 7.1% used a mat type surface and 6.5% used concrete. The average number of classes taught per week was seven. The survey authors concluded that injuries common to aerobics participation may be due to non-shock absorbing surfaces. Teaching too many high-impact and long duration classes also increases the risk of injury for instructors.

In another aerobics injury survey 351 students and 60 instructors from six different facilities were observed for 16 weeks. During that time 200 (48.7%) of the participants had medical problems associated with aerobic dance activities. The types of floors used included three "cushioned" wood floors, one "floating" wood floor, and two concrete floors covered by padded carpet. Comparing rates of shin and leg injuries, often associated with unsafe flooring types, failed to show any pattern associated with a specific type of floor. Instead, this study concluded that other factors, such as the frequency of classes taught or taken and the instructor's safety skills may have more to do with injury rates than flooring.

Another injury associated with aerobics is intravascular hemolysis (red blood cell destruction). Sixty-five women participated in a study comparing its association with various types of dance routines and floor surfaces. All the women participated in a 60-minute aerobics session, and one separate group participated in five successive sessions with an hour of rest between sessions. The findings indicated that intravascular hemolysis did occur, and was in part caused by the hardness of the flooring as well as the duration and type of dancing. It was concluded that high-impact routines performed on hard surfaces are associated with blood cell damage.

Seven different floor surfaces were represented in this last study. The highest injury frequency (50%) was found using a concrete floor covered with carpet. The lowest injury rate (36%) resulted from a concrete floor, heavily padded and covered with carpet. A wood over air space floor had the second lowest injury frequency (38%). And other floors covered with padded carpet yielded the second highest injury rate (47%). In this study, adding cushion to a floor surface did not always reduce the incidence of injury. According to its authors, "The ideal floor surface must provide the right combination of cushion and stability." Their investigation found that hard, non-resilient floor surfaces increase risk of injury, proven by the fact that dancers on concrete and linoleum floors suffered more injuries than those on suspended wood floors. The authors concluded that resilient but stable wood surfaces, proper shoes and exercise moderation can prevent injuries in aerobic dance.

You don't need to be a biomechanist to realize that since most aerobic dance injuries occur in the legs, feet and ankles, injury prevention should emphasize protecting the lower extremities. Aerobic dance participants must pursue the safest combination of shoes and flooring to prevent injuries. An inadequate floor surface, improper shoe or a biomechanical abnormality in the participants' feet and legs can increase injury rates.

Instructor Appeal

In response to a telephone survey of 25 random instructors, a majority reported teaching on a variety of surfaces including carpet over padding, suspended hardwood floors, regular wood floors, carpet over hardwood, linoleum over concrete, foam mats, concrete, outdoor tennis courts and even playground blacktops. When asked their preference of floor type, 100% of the instructors favored a suspended hardwood floor. Why? Because it provides the most shock absorption and resilience compared to other floors. Several instructors commented that suspended hardwood floors offer spring and flexibility with each rebound, without being too rigid. Some instructors surveyed who are also involved in the management of facilities reported that hardwood floors were easier to maintain.

Although suspended wood floors are popular among instructors, they are not common due to high purchase and installation costs. Jean Rosenbaum, M.D., director of the American Aerobics Association, stated, "Suspended wood floors comprise less than 5% of the surfaces in fitness facilities because they are so expensive."

Owners' Choice

The owner of a health club or dance studio shopping for an aerobic dance floor will discover there are numerous companies to choose from. When studying some of their marketing brochures, it appears each company claims to have "the best floor designed for aerobic dance." The many factors for owners to consider include shock absorption, hygiene, durability, stability, resilience, usage, cost and aesthetics.

Before installing an aerobic dance floor, owners should survey the instructors and club members. As fitness participants are becoming more educated consumers, club owners might be surprised at how much they can learn from their members. In addition to consulting manufacturing companies, instructors and club members, talking with other club owners will reveal common experiences with different types of flooring.

Since many fitness facilities may not be able to afford the top of the line flooring system, compensations can be made by instructors and members to improve safety. First and foremost, instructors should be educated, trained and certified. Even the most forgiving floor cannot prevent injuries when a poorly trained instructor is leading a class. Second, instructors need to modify the intensity and duration of classes and use appropriate teaching strategies according to the type of surface being used. Finally, members should be encouraged to participate in alternative, non-impact exercise to reduce the risk of overuse injuries.

Since aerobics participants exercise on a variety of surfaces, they should use good judgment when choosing shoes. There is no definite association between the ideal shoe and floor surface. But using both proper footwear and flooring, combined with safe exercise technique, will provide the greatest assurance against injuries.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Roberts, Scott O.
Publication:American Fitness
Date:May 1, 1992
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