Mats come in handy throughout the execution of many exercises. Various types of exercise mats exist, and each serves a different purpose. Some mats are to protect the gym floor from heavy weight crashing into it. Others give varying amounts of cushion to protect the body during the exercise. And still others create a non-slip surface while also providing minimal cushion. While mats can be a minute cost for someone performing yoga at home, or a larger cost for heavy mats to protect a gym floor, many exercises require the use of a mat for proper execution.
Gym Floor Mat
You may be accustomed to seeing the gym floor covered with rubber mats. While they help protect the floor, they serve a greater purpose in some exercises than others. When you are training near maximal level, dropping weights may be required at times to avoid injury. This holds true primarily in dumbbell bench press, dumbbell overhead press, barbell or dumbbell deadlifts, and clean and jerk. Never perform these exercises at or near maximal level without a mat beneath you.
Yoga and Pilates Mats
Yoga and Pilates exercises require mats for a non-slip surface. Pilates mats also serve the purpose of cushioning the spine and joints while performing the exercises. Pilates mats are typically ½” thick so they can provide enough cushion while still offering support. Many Pilates exercises require rolling the spine, a movement that may be painful and damaging if not properly cushioned.
Yoga mats are 1/8” thick on average. Exercisers need the ability to feel the floor for proper execution of movements and balance, so thicker mats may pose a problem. Yoga mats are also smaller than Pilates mats on average, with a standard length of 68 inches versus the Pilates mat length of 76 inches. While yoga mats are typically more suitable for yoga exercises and Pilates mats for Pilates exercises, having a non-slip mat, regardless of the specific type, is the most important point while performing any yoga or Pilates exercises.
Soft cushion mats, often called exercise or workout mats, are important for any floor exercise such as abdominal work. Placing your hips, knees, tailbone, or spine on a hard floor without proper cushion may cause pain, thereby keeping you from pushing through a difficult part of the workout. General exercise mats are inexpensive but will save you pain and injury in the long run if you use them for crunches, leg lifts, donkey kicks, fire hydrants, or any other exercise that requires you to lie on the floor or be on your knees.
Other types of mats that are necessary for the performance of specific exercises are tumbling mats used in gymnastics, safety mats used to cushion the floor in the event of a fall from the beam, vault, uneven bars, parallel bars, or rings in gymnastics, and plyometric mats that serve to cushion the stress placed on joints during high-impact plyometric exercises. A general rule of thumb for the use of mats is if it feels uncomfortable or dangerous in any way, play it safe by using a mat. Researching the most appropriate mat for a specific exercise will improve your workout efficiency and further decrease your risk of injury.