Safe Gym Design

Safety in the gym begins with the design and equipping of the gym. In order to do everything possible to ensure the safety of gymnasts, certain design concepts must be incorporated into the building and layout or redesign of any gymnastics facility.

Emergency Response Equipment and System

While we plan to make sure the safety of all gymnasts is so aggressively protected that no serious injury will ever occur, it is a prime responsibility of a gym designer to design and provide an emergency response system. A proper emergency response system will include both emergency response equipment and hardware and safety plans and safety training for all staff.

Emergency Situations to Plan for and Provide Emergency Response Equipment for

  • Emergencies when the coach is alone in the gym (no other coaches or office staff)
  • Emergencies when no other staff person notices the problem.
  • Emergencies when the coach cannot leave the accident area at all
  • Emergencies in the waiting areas or other parts of the facility other than the gym

Walkways

The concept of clear pathways to emergency exits is a commonly ignored gym design problem. In any emergency, especially in case of fire, clear, quick access to exits is necessary. Clear pathways are also needed to provide easy access to all gym areas for emergency personnel. When gym areas are not separated for age groups, walkways provide safe passage for preschoolers and other young gymnasts through areas where larger, older gymnasts are working out.

Separate Cordoned-Off Preschool Areas

Mixing small inexperienced preschoolers with older larger gymnasts in the same areas can be a prescription for accident and injury. Separate areas can still be a problem when preschoolers must travel from preschool area to preschool area but must travel through areas with older larger gymnasts. It is also probably a very good idea to provide separate areas for younger beginner gymnasts as well as preschoolers.

Pits

Pits are one of the biggest safety feature innovations in the history of gymnastics and sports training. As a minimum there should be pits available for training bar dismounts and release moves and also vault and tumbling pits. Pits for beam dismounts, p-bar dismounts, ring dismounts should also be available for maximum safety.

Wide Pits

Training pits should logically be longer and wider than competition matting requirements. Since gymnasts have not yet mastered the skills they are performing, like they would be in competitions, they need a larger margin of safety in the size of the safe landing areas. Gymnasts landing in pits may fall backwards or sideways striking the edge of the pit if the pit is not wide or ling enough.

8″ Pit Side Mats

For the same reasons as above, falls backwards or sideways, the sides of the pit should be fully padded with mats soft enough to really cushion a fall against them. The commonly used inch and a ¼ mats over concrete are not really enough protection.

Type of Pits Must Match Training Style and Systems

There are loose foam bungee pits, loose foam pits, bungee resi-pits and resi-pits. It is extremely common for coaches to place 8″ foam or competition mats over loose foam pits for more stable landings as gymnasts progress. Ideally all of those pits would be available for training progressions providing the full range of landing and release move safety progression. If only one pit type is available, it should likely be the softest landing, the loose foam bungee pit. The style of training progressions normally used by the coaches should match the type of pit being used. More gymnast skill and experience is required for safe landings on the harder pit surfaces as opposed to the softer ones.

In-ground Trampolines

Unless gymnasts are training for competitive trampoline competition, it is much safer for all trampolines in the gym to be sunk in the ground with the bed level with the rest of the floor. Then, in case an athlete should fly off of the trampoline, the fall is to a level floor (suitably matted) and not down and additional four and a half feet fall from an above ground trampoline.

Open View of Whole Gym for General Supervision Visibility

All gyms should have at least one person or more designated with responsibility for general supervision of the gym at all times. General supervision means that someone should be watching the entire gym, not just one class to look for possible dangerous situations, like wandering preschoolers or non-class members, accidents, etc. In order for this to happen the gym must be completely open so that one person can see the whole gym.

View into Gym from all Offices and other Rooms

For the same general supervision reasons as above, ideally all offices and other rooms in the gym should have a view into the gym so as much supervision as possible occurs, including from staff members not in the gym itself. Windows or other openings into the gym from all, or as many as possible, rooms in the building make general supervision of the gym easier and more effective.

Available Hydration and Air Conditioning for Safe Summer Workouts

In certain climates or during certain seasons of the year, heat stroke or heat exhaustion are things all coaches should be aware of and taking precautions to prevent. From a design perspective, this means that where applicable, air conditioning should be available in the gym to lessen the possibilities. Equipment or a system should be in place to allow proper hydration for gymnasts. This would show up in gym design by having a sufficient number of water fountains or water sources, spread throughout the gym.

Complete Matting and Safety Margins

One of the most important safety measures for gym design, in terms of gym equipment layout is allowing sufficient space for safe matting and allowing for a sufficient matting margin of error. To us, that means that matting should extend to any and all places that might even possibly need to be padded against a fall from the equipment. Sufficient space for and sufficient matting should always be designed into any gym design.

Fire Control Detection and Suppression System

Considering the dangers from the smoke from burning foam and smoke inhalation in general, smoke detectors or a smoke detector system should be a requirement for gymnastics facilities. In addition, because of the flammability of foam, it would be good policy to have a fire detection and suppression system throughout the entire gym.

You can learn much more about designing a safer gym in our Secrets to Gymnastics Gym Design e-book.

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