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AirBags & Gymnastics – Are We There Yet?

My, how the world has changed in a short period of time. As most gym owners can attest, the new normal is hardly recognizable and if you want to stay in the game, you have to adapt…quickly. To sum it up, facility cleanliness is key going forward   

One aspect of the gym everyone is a little unsure about is the foam block pit. There is hardly a gymnastics facility in the country without one. However, in today’s environment, with respect to cleanliness, foam block pits seem to come with a stigma that may have existed before but most were able put it out of their mind. There’s no denying that foam pits are challenging to keep clean. It is a process that involves hours of time and dozens of people lending a hand to make it happen. 

As you may be aware, there is an alternative and you shouldn’t shy away from it. That’s right, it’s the AirBag. I can assure you, they are not just for tramp parks anymore. Manufacturers have been working hard on this product to make them a better fit for any gymnastics facility. 

So, let’s get right to it and discuss the AirBag so you can make a more educated decision for your facility:

1. Fully Customizable Shape & Size – Gymnastics pits come is all shapes and sizes. “L” shapes, “U” shapes, long channels, large rectangles, and even hour glass shaped. The good news is the AirBag can be made in any shape you can imagine. So that crazy polygon hole you have in the ground can easily be filled with a perfectly customized AirBag. 

2.  Cleaning & Maintenance  – The HUGE bonus of owning an airbag is the ease of which you can clean it. We all know too well the method for cleaning out the foam block pit – Wrangle up multiple staff members and a team of kids and start throwing foam out of the pit and then bang out each and every block. It is a tedious task to say the least. Also, foam pit blocks can be impregnated with fire retardants, which become airborne in the form of dust particles. 

This is where the AirBag outshines foam block by a long shot. It has a top sheet that can be removed by two staff members in a matter of minutes. That top sheet can then be cleaned and replaced. With the AirBag you won’t have to worry about filthy socks or other nasty items sinking down into your pit and making a home for months. 

In addition, Anti-Microbial top sheets are also available, which kills micro-organisms and stops growth – so no need to wash daily! It’s the same price as a normal top sheet so that’s pretty awesome!

3. Landings – There are some major differences with landing on an airbag compared to foam block. Both systems are designed to create a landing area that is extremely safe when it comes to awkward landings. Is injury possible with the both systems? Yes, of course, but the risk is substantially reduced due to how each are constructed. I think this is where gym owners are a little skeptical of the airbag system. They know foam block systems, they are comfortable with them, and they know for the most part they are very safe if installed properly. 

Well, more good news on the airbag is that the technology has evolved over the last several years to create a system with redundancies and other safety mechanisms. Let’s take a look at the construction of the airbag. 

One question many people have is whether or not you can bottom out an airbag. Engineers have taken this question seriously and have devoted lots of time in to creating a system that is next to impossible to bottom out. The safety zone (the bottom layer of air) is a key feature that prevents anyone from bottoming out. Well, what if the blower malfunctions and the airbag deflates? To deal with this scenario, the AirBag (aka Smart AirBag) has 3 different built-in safety features. 

1. Blower Alarm – Visual and audible alarm goes off any time a blower malfunctions 

2. Pressure Sensor – there is a sensor located in the airbag that is able to read the pressure within the bag and that pressure is displayed so one can determine whether it is within the appropriate limits.

3. Traffic Light – basically like it sounds. It shows a constant green when it is safe to land on the bag, yellow when there may be an issue, and red when it is completely unsafe to land

Since we are discussing landings on the airbag, it is definitely worth mentioning one really cool feature that would be appealing to a lot of gym owners. Pressure may be adjusted to allow for different types of landings on the bags. If the athlete is learning a new big skill and needs a more cushioned landing, no problem. Pressure can be reduced to allow for that softer feel, resulting in a more comfortable landing on their back or rear.  Or, do you want to mimic more of a firm mat landing? This can be done as well by increasing the pressure enough for the athlete to land on their feet.

4. Aesthetics – I will keep this one short and simple. Airbags can look amazing and provide a very clean look in your facility. Your imagination is the driver of the look of the top sheet. Any design or look you want can be done on this top sheet – logos/branding, motivational words, shapes, colors, pictures, etc.

5. Throughput – This is another area where the AirBag is amazing. We all know how long it can take to get out of a foam block pit. This can sometimes take more than a minute, while other kids are standing in line waiting for their turn. The average time to exit the pit from an airbag is about 7 – 10 secs. Now you are increasing training productivity by almost 10 fold!

6. Noise – This one seems to be the deal killer for a number of folks in gymnastics facilities. Coaches fear the noise can be distracting. Again, engineers have listened to the gripes and have come up with the low noise air blower. The decibel level can be compared to that of a low level conversation. 

7. Cost – This is a BIG question for most people considering an AirBag over foam block. What is this thing going to cost me? Quite simply, the initial cost of the complete airbag system (with all bells and whistles) is going to cost you more than foam block. However, if you are more interested in the cost over time, then the airbag will become the obvious choice. Long term cost analysis shows that most gym owners will recover that additional cost in about a year and half when purchasing an airbag over foam block. Think about it – very little maintenance (both staff time and actual cost), and nothing to replace for a very long time (if ever). 

How about cost to run the Blower? Quite low…about $2 per day.

Based on all of the information above, the future is looking pretty bright for AirBags making their way in to gymnastics facilities. I think education on the product is key for each owner considering making the switch. We are here to answer any questions about them and can also provide a quick estimate for changing out your existing pits if needed. 

Brad Thornton

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