Managing foam pit exposures

Foam pits are an essential component of gymnastics. While they are designed for safety, accidents can happen. A 5-year study of claims reported to Markel involving foam pits identified the following results. Of the accidents reported: 56 percent involved some form of unsupervised or horseplay activity; 22 percent involved a pit defect; and 22 percent involved routine entry, where the gymnasts entered the pit correctly but may have come in contact with the bottom of the pit.

To help reduce the likelihood of these events incidents at your gym, the 2013 Edition of the USA Gymnastics Risk Management Safety Course Handbook provides the following guidelines for using a training pit.
  • 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 gymnast 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 for 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.

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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.


The information provided in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as all encompassing, or suitable for all situations, conditions, and environments. Please contact us or your attorney if you have any questions.

For safety or risk management questions or suggestions, please contact Markel.

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