The exercise mat may seem like a commodity product. Isn't a mat just a mat just a mat? At the most basic level, you need a mat to protect your knees, elbows and tail bone from the hard floor. There are, however, many other features that will determine the best mat for you. Options go beyond deciding whether the mat color matches your favorite yoga outfit.
Size Doesn't Matter
The size of the mat is not something you need to worry about too much. Most mats come in standard sizes based on their use. General exercise mats are about 23-inches wide and between 55- and 75-inches long. Yoga mats are wider and longer -- 22- to 32-inches wide and 47- to 75-inches long. Pilates mats are larger, at about 23- to 39-inches wide and 55- to 85-inches long.
Thickness is a main factor to consider when choosing the best mat for you. General exercise fitness mats are about 1/2-inch thick on average.These are good for situps, pushups and stretches.
The typical yoga mat is about 1/8 inches in thickness and the heavier ones are about ¼-inches thick. You’ll want to pick one thin enough to feel the floor during balancing poses, but not so thin that you bang up your limbs during other poses.
Pilates mats are thicker than most yoga mats: 5/8 to 3/4 inches. For Pilates rolling exercises such as Seal and Open Leg Rocker, you simply need the padding! A good Pilates mat is at least 1/2-inch thick. It should also be firm enough to support balance and alignment.
Material is a major factor in determining your ideal exercise mat. Your material choice impacts texture, environmental friendliness, stickiness and wear and tear. Most general exercise mats and standard yoga mats are made from closed cell PVC foam –- also known as vinyl -- making them smooth and easy to clean. In general, PVC has the most sponginess compared to other available materials such as jute and cotton. General exercise mats made from natural rubber may best be avoided by those allergic to latex. Earth-friendly materials -- not treated with synthetic processes and finishes -- include recycled rubber, jute and natural cotton. A common material for Pilates mats is thermal plastic elastomer, or TPE, a fairly new synthetic rubber that is decomposable and causes no known allergies.
The texture decision relates to how much slipping you do. Texture provides a physical barrier to sliding and affects overall comfort level. Texture can be man-made or dictated by the materials. Jute yoga mats have a natural roughness to them, while most PVC mats feel softer.
Think About Stickiness
Stickiness is something to consider if you need a yoga mat. A sticky mat keeps you from sliding all over the place and helps maintain your alignment as you move from one pose to another, as well as when you hold poses. PVC yoga mats have the highest stickiness factor among available materials. Yoga mats should be sticky on top and bottom, whereas Pilates mats should be smooth on top.
Earth Friendliness Factor
Eco-friendly mats are typically made from natural or recycled rubber, jute or organic cotton. If you want to protect the earth, avoid mats made of PVC, which does not break down in landfills and is difficult and costly to recycle. You may want to consider TPE as it decomposes.
Wear and Tear
Some mats are machine washable and most can be easily hand-washed. PVC mats can last a decade. If you want a mat to last a long time, select one that is moisture- and odor-resistant, and one you can wipe clean after each use.
Folding and Rollups
Many mats come in folding and roll-up styles. Yoga mats are often easy to roll and store and very light to carry, and some have straps for carrying. Folding mats are more expensive, and are larger and harder to store and carry. They are usually made of dense foam or rubber and are better for home studios.
Mary Werner has more than 15 years of corporate communications experience. She also writes about health and fitness for a variety of websites. Werner earned an M.B.A. from the Acton School of Business in Austin, Texas, and a B.A. in clinical psychology from Smith College in Northampton, Mass.