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Choosing the Best Exercise Mat
Part 2 - What Material is Best?

Exercise Mat

Bamboo is a good choice for yoga because it's strong, lays flat, relatively light and can be transported easily. The downside is it's difficult to clean thoroughly and doesn't provide enough cushioning for use as a Pilates or traditional exercise mat.

Cotton, hemp and jute are three of the most popular choices for yoga mats. They are non-reactive materials, they absorb sweat easily and can be cleaned simply by putting them in the washing machine. The downside is they don't grab or hold onto a wood or concrete floor very well and may cause someone to slip. However, they may be a good choice when used on a carpet or a rubber gym floor. Cotton, hemp and jute are generally too thin to be used for anything other than yoga.

Latex and rubber can be natural or synthetic. Natural latex comes from the milk of flowering plants, while the synthetic version is created from a chemical reaction (polymerizing) of small molecule compounds like styrene. In its raw form, it's the material used to create natural rubber. The purified form of natural rubber is the chemical polyisoprene, which is used to make synthetic rubber.

Latex and rubber are both relatively inexpensive, can be made to stick to bare floors and provide reasonable amounts of cushioning in all three mat types. It's a little more difficult to clean since it has to be sprayed, the solution left on to kill germs and a few minutes later rinsed off. The biggest downside is some people are highly allergic to them and they often retain a strong odor.

Microfibers are synthetic fibers generally made from polyester. They tend to be soft, absorbent and machine washable. Because a microfiber mat is too slippery for hardwood or solid floors, it's often made with a PVC backing to prevent slipping on yoga mats. Microfiber mats are found in all three thicknesses.

PVC or polyvinyl chloride is the third most widely made plastic in America. It's flexible, soft and an inexpensive material for mats. The downside is it takes more of an effort to clean like latex or rubber and often companies use phthalates (a known endocrine disruptor) to make the PVC flexible. PVC can be a reasonable choice if you're allergic to latex or want to avoid the strong smell of rubber; you just have to specify mats that are "phthalate free". While you're at it, look for PVC mats that use a closed-cell construction or closed-cell foam so they retain their bounce.

Avoid cheap mats that curl up on you! The last thing you want while doing a tricky pose is to have the edge curl up and throw you off balance.

Because exercise mats are so thick, bulky and heavy, they're rarely carried between a gym and home. Often you'll have to rely on the mats the fitness center provides. Before you use them, lay a towel down on top of the mat. That way you never actually make direct contact with the surface. If you're concerned, ask the gym about their cleaning schedule. At a minimum, they should treat them once a week with a spray that kills MRSA, and leave it on for 10 minutes. You should also be able to ask for disinfectant wipes to hand clean it before you put a towel on top. If your gym doesn't offer that, look for one that does, or bring your own mat.

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