Never get turf burn again with this guide to workout surfaces at the gym


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Photo: Getty Images/Mireya Acierto

When I’ve completed a workout from start to finish, I want to feel like I’ve earned a fitness gold star. I want to be sweaty, satisfyingly sore, and fueled with endorphins. After a recent HIIT workout, though, I walked out of the gym looking like I’d been maimed by an angry cat with razor-sharp claws. I’d made the rookie mistake of completing bodyweight moves on harsh fake grass. Turf burn is real. The harsh surface left a million tiny scratches patterned across my stomach, legs, and every bit of exposed skin. My wounds have now healed, but the #gymfail got me thinking. Is each surface found at the gym conducive to particular types of workout moves?

Aaptiv master trainer Ackeem Emmons tells me that the workout surface really makes a difference in the efficacy and safety of your workouts. Below, he breaks down exactly how to choose the ideal area for your workout—whether you love to lift, play a team sport, or tend to stick with a body weight-based regimen.

Avoid turf burn by choosing the right surface for your workout.

Turf: Emmons tells me that turf’s primary use is for sports like indoor soccer, football, and lacrosse. For those of us who don’t participate in the team activity, the coach says the surface can still be useful in certain types of movement. “The turf is better to train on because it can improve overall balance, proprioception, as well as strengthen the feet,” he tells me. “It engages smaller muscles in your feet, ankles, legs, and hips—areas that don’t get worked as much on a flat, smooth surface.” While you can complete body weight workouts on turf, do so with leggings and long sleeves. (Take it from me, the combination of shorts and faux grass won’t end well for your skin.)

Mat: “Mats are primarily used for comfort, and stability,” says Emmons. “It’s best used when practicing mobility, flexibility, and meditation.” In addition, you can also use a mat for low-intensity HIIT workouts. The smooth surface will also be kinder on your low back when you’re challenging your core.

Rubber flooring: If strength training is your favorite flavor of workout, then you’ll want to spend the majority of your exercise time on a common material found at the gym. “Rubber flooring is ideal for bodybuilders, and power lifters,” says Emmons. Why? Because its squishiness absorbs the heaviness of those mega-heavy weights. “When pushing your limits, lifting heavier weight is necessary. The rubber floors create a safe space to make mistakes, and provide comfort,” he says.

Gym Surfaces 101 is over, now let’s get down to sweaty business. Here’s the beloved workout of world-renowned ballerina and the surefire way to make your ab workouts more challenging

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