Choosing the Best Exercise Mat
Part 1 - Yoga, Pilates and Traditional Exercise
At some point almost every fitness program will require you do some exercises on the floor. That's true for weight training, Pilates and yoga. To get the best results, you're going to want a mat that's appropriate for your routine, physical size and storage requirements. Use this as a guide to choosing what's best for you.
Yoga mats are typically the thinnest available. Many yoga poses require the practitioner be able to feel the floor with bare feet through the matt. The most common thickness is 1/4 an inch, but they range from 1/8 inch to one-half inch thick. The surfaces of these mats are often bumpy or textured, to help the mat stick to the floor and feet stay firmly on top. They're also a little sticky or tacky to prevent you from slipping as you sweat.
Pilates mats tend to be thicker than yoga mats. Their job is to get you off the hard floor and provide cushioning for your hips and back during core exercises. The thinnest you should consider are one-half inch. To put the least strain on your body, I suggest you choose ones that are a full inch thick. If you have a choice of soft or firm, pick the firmer one. It will give you more stability while doing balance exercises. Pilates mats are often textured similar to yoga mats, but they're generally not sticky. Since most Pilates exercises are done seated or lying down, slipping isn't generally an issue.
Exercise mats are the thickest. They're designed to keep you off a hard floor while also providing some cushion when you're working with weights. An inch is the minimum thickness you should choose, but I prefer mats that are one and a half to two inches.
If you sweat a lot, look into mats that are on the thicker side. You want it to absorb your perspiration but you don't want to leave sweat on the floor behind you.
For all three types of exercises, the length of the mat should be determined by your height. The average size is between 62 and 72 inches long. Look for something that's about 6 inches longer than you are tall. Mats come in sizes all the way up to 86 inches (just over seven feet.)
For width, let your stomach be your guide. A typical width is 20 to 36 inches, but if you're particularly heavy you may have body parts that hang over the edge. Measure the widest part of your waist/stomach and choose a mat that's at least a foot wider. That way you'll have room to put your arms down beside you without touching the floor beneath.
How a mat is stored is important if you plan on transporting it. Most yoga and Pilates mats can be rolled up and carried around. If you're bringing your own mat to and from class, this is an important consideration. Look for one that includes straps so you can secure it, but avoid bags. Many bags prevent the mat from airing out properly and can lead to more rapid breakdown of the mat material. Make sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning and care after every workout. Remember the easier it is to clean, the more likely you'll keep it that way.
Once you've chosen the type, thickness and size of your mat, all that's left are the materials. You can separate them into two broad categories, natural fibers versus synthetic materials. The natural products include bamboo, cotton, hemp, jute, latex, and rubber. Synthetic materials include latex, microfiber, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and rubber. Each one has distinct features you should consider before making a purchase.
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