Fitness Articles

Do You Have the Right Mat for the Job?

An Introduction to Exercise Mats

If you've ever stretched or exercised on a hardwood floor, you know just how uncomfortable it can be when sitting, kneeling, or trying yoga and Pilates exercises. For these activities, an exercise mat will offer support and traction, but not all exercise mats are the same. Depending on your activity, the mat you're using could either be helping or hurting your workout—and your body. While many gyms offer a variety of mats, some people prefer to use their own mat at home or in gym classes. You can buy a new mat to meet your fitness needs for as little as $20 at most sporting goods stores and online. Here's a rundown of the most common exercise mat needs, how they're different, and who needs them.

Fitness Mats can be used for general fitness activities that take place on hard floors or carpet. They offer extra cushioning when sitting, lying, and supporting your body on hands, knees, or elbows, whether you're stretching or exercising. Less expensive fitness mats are made of foam or soft fabrics, but they will compress over time and need to be replaced. Cheaper mats also lack traction, which is important if you use your mat on the carpet.  Poor traction can also cause your body to slip and slide while on the mat, increasing your risk for injury.

Mats with better cushioning (using air pockets that don't deteriorate) and more traction usually cost more but last longer. You can find waterproof mats (usually made of a "closed cell" structure) that make cleaning easy, and others with antibacterial and antifungal properties. Generic fitness mats are too thick for activities like yoga and Pilates and don't offer the traction that is necessary for those exercises. Depending on size and materials, you can purchase a lower end fitness mat for around $25, and the price only goes up from there with size and quality of materials.

Yoga Mats or ("sticky" mats) provide a thinly-cushioned, non-slip surface for yoga practices and work best when used on a smooth floor. While they offer slightly more padding than a hard floor, yoga mats will not cushion your body well enough for the general fitness activities mentioned above. Their sticky surface can be easily cleaned, and they roll up for easy storage and toting. Yoga mats are now available in extra-thick varieties as well. A basic yoga mat will run around $20. Extra-thick, as well as "designer" prints and colors will cost more. You can also find eco-friendly yoga mats (made from recycled materials, biodegradable materials, and/or natural and sustainable plant fibers such as hemp and jute) starting around $40.
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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.

Member Comments

  • Great, useful information! I've done Pilates on a yoga mat, but on a carpeted studio surface. My studio DID provide Pilates-specific mats, but my particular class was a fusion of yoga and Pilates, and so I was comfortable using just my own mat. I heartily agree that straps and blocks are big helps with some yoga for some of us!! Bolsters can also be great for yoga nidra, as well as for opening up the chest area. - 12/18/2011 6:58:26 PM
  • Great article! I think this info needs to get out there. It also should let people know pilates and fitness mats should not double as yoga mats. They're too thick and make balancing poses more difficult ^.^ - 11/10/2011 8:48:00 AM
  • I have never heard of a pilates mat. Whenever I have done pilates in a class we just used yoga mats. How interesting. - 12/10/2009 11:21:06 AM
    I have two mats - one is a sticky yoga mat that I use in my stability ball class on a harwood floor. For home use, I have a more cushioned foam mat that I use when I exercise in the bedroom, which is carpeted. It slides around too much on the hardwood floors.

    Even with the mats, I have to use either a pillow, or folded up towel/small blanket when exercising on my back or on my knees, because of arthritis. Neither mat offers enough cushioning for me. - 10/12/2008 2:36:50 PM
  • I really needed this info- have seriously done 'something' to my right hip by NOT using a mat. - 8/22/2008 11:26:39 PM
  • Great article. A mat is basic exercise equipment and used daily, unlike expensive "gadgets" that people buy and don't use. Blocks and a strap are helpful for yoga, too. - 4/21/2008 12:40:17 PM

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