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Using foam pits with safety in mind may help reduce the likelihood of a major injury

A review of past claims history for Markel Specialty’s gymnastics program indicates there is an opportunity to address guidelines for the safe use and maintenance of foam pits.

The USA Gymnastics Risk Management Safety Course Handbook offers the following guidelines for use of foam pits:

  • Pits should be used only under supervision.
  • Athletes should enter a pit one at a time, and coaches/instructors should establish safe procedures to ensure that gymnasts do not land on each other when entering a foam pit.
  • Loose foam pits require fluffing. Fluffing consists of loosening the foam pieces by physically entering the pit and lifting up the packed foam pieces. Failure to fluff the pit results in a less forgiving landing surface.
  • The best landing position in a pit is on the middle of the back. Landing feet first, in an “open tuck” or sitting position are also recommended.
  • The gymnasts should never attempt to land head first in a foam pit.
  • The gymnast should never attempt to land in an arched position, on the chest or stomach in a foam pit.
  • Foam pits should not replace sound and thorough progressions.
  • Horseplay should not be allowed.
  • Spotters at the edge of a pit may be needed when the gymnast must travel horizontally from some distance before landing in the pit.
  • When tumbling or performing a take-off from the edge of the pit, the gymnast should carefully establish his/her starting position so that take-offs occur from a solid footing. Apparatus should be stable and properly positioned for skills, such as dismounts or vaults, performed from the apparatus into a pit.
  • Jewelry, gum, hair items, and other objects that may come off in a pit should not be worn.

Additional recommendations include: 
  • Use an impact-absorbing safety material on the surface around the pit.
  • Foam pieces should fill the pit to overflowing. Frequently fluff pits to ensure the pit keeps is absorbency.
  • Inspect the pit thoroughly, and often. Before class and after high level use.
  • Remove deteriorating foam pieces.
  • Maintain active supervision of foam pits during open gym and birthday party activities. Provide clear instructions on how to use the pit before each event.
  • Lastly, Markel has experienced a significant loss due to the flammability of pit foam. While nonflammable foam is required in some states, it is recommended that all foam be non-flammable.

In addition to the above guidelines, the manual further provides the following, very important message. “Foam pits should not be considered a failsafe for eliminating injury. Serious and catastrophic injuries have occurred in foam pits, in spite of the soft and forgiving appearance of landings in the pit. Pit safety should be included in lesson plans and reviewed with the athletes prior to use.” 

  • Gymnastics Risk Management – Safety Course Handbook. 2013 Edition (Revised July 2014). USA Gymnastics, Inc. Indianapolis, IN.