How to choose an exercise mat
An exercise mat buying guide
If you love keeping up to date with the latest fitness trends, investing in a top rated exercise mat might be a simpler, more cost-effective alternative to a gym membership or workout class. However, exercise mats come in many variations, each specifically suited to a certain activity. Knowing what features will suit your workout lifestyle will help you decide how to choose an exercise mat that will be comfortable and functional for your fitness needs.
>> How will you use your exercise mat?
The first consideration when deciding how to choose an exercise mat is the activity you will most often use it for. Yoga, for example, requires stability and balance, so yoga mats are thin enough to allow your feet to feel the floor, with a gripping surface to prevent slipping. Pilates mats are thicker, providing a suitable amount of cushioning for your body during Pilates exercises. For general stretching and weight-training exercises, fitness mats are even thicker than Pilates mats, to absorb the shock from any impact during most exercises. These sports mats can be several inches thick, ideal for gymnastics and other sports training. Martial arts requires the most amount of padding, and foam or flexible rubber mats can be up to five inches thick, well-suited to the high-impact nature of the sport.
Floor protectors are the last kind of exercise mat and are perfect for weight-lifting. Unlike other exercise mats, these lack any type of cushioning and are made to avoid damage to your floor if using other types of exercise and fitness equipment, like exercise bikes or treadmills.
Another consideration in choosing the best exercise mat for your workout is where you will be using it. Many types, such as yoga and Pilates mats, can be easily carried when rolled up, allowing you take them with you to fitness classes, your workplace, or even to avoid the frequently used public mats at your local gym. Larger mats, however, are far less mobile, despite some being able to fold up neatly. These are suited for stationary, relatively permanent set-ups, such as in a home or office gym.
>> Choosing an exercise mat size
There are several factors when deciding on a proper exercise mat size, one of which is the thickness of the padding. Not only does the padding provide a more comfortable, cushioned surface to exercise on, it also prevents impact damage to your joints, hips and back while performing different exercises. While it may seem like a thicker mat is always better, these are only recommended for those whose workouts actually have impact shock. Lower intensity workouts like yoga and Pilates require stability over cushioning, so the best exercise mats for these activities are those through which your feet can feel the floor.
To buy exercise mats for your specific workouts, another factor to consider is the dimensions of the mat. Highly mobile activities, such as martial arts or gymnastics, require a large surface area to protect your body wherever it lands. Exercise mat dimensions for yoga and Pilates, however, are generally much smaller, as these activities require far less mobility. These mats also roll up easily, making storage very efficient. Thick exercise mats, on the other hand, are generally either left permanently on the floor in a home gym, or folded up and placed to the side.
When deciding how to choose an exercise mat in the proper size, the rule of thumb is to choose a mat around six inches longer than your height. As for width, the ideal is generally to choose a width a foot longer than the widest part of your waist.
>> Choose an exercise mat material
Exercise mats also come in a wide variety of materials, some of which are suited to particular activities. Bamboo, for example, is ideal for a yoga mat, as it is lightweight and portable. Cotton, hemp and jute are similarly well-suited to yoga and are very easy to clean. Foam, latex, rubber and PVC mats are used in various types of mats, and health experts highly recommend exercise mat brands that use phthalate-free PVC. Microfibers are similarly multi-purpose, however they are much easier to clean, being machine washable. PVC backing is required if you plan to use a microfiber mat on solid or hardwood floors, as it provides the necessary grip to avoid slipping during your workout. Keeping the materials in mind is an important step in knowing how to choose an exercise mat that will be both safe and comfortable for your workouts.
>> Consider additional features
For people who like their fitness on the go, some of the more portable exercise mat dimensions will include straps to facilitate transport. Carrying cases are also available, but be sure to only keep your exercise mat in its case while you are transporting it, so that your mat will remain aired out and clean. Another way to achieve this is to buy exercise mats with moisture and odor resistance, to keep your mat fresh and to protect the material from breaking down from frequent use. Keep these features in mind to help you decide how to choose an exercise mat that will be safe, comfortable and effective for your fitness needs.