If you know what’s good for you, you would probably never choose to go for a run in sandals or wear a string bikini top for your swimming workout -- and you should give just as much consideration to your workout surface. Whether you’re exercising at home, outdoors or in the gym, using the proper exercise mat will keep you from slipping, tripping and turning your joints into a weak and achy mess.
Many of yoga’s asanas and sequences require you to balance your weight using just the tips of your toes and fingers. To prevent from slipping, sliding and smashing your face into the ground, you’ll need a mat that’s sticky. A yoga mat’s stickiness isn’t quite like a honey jar’s sugary stickiness -- instead, it gets its gripping ability from its texture. A good yoga mat provides traction against the floor and your skin, preventing a dangerous slip either above or below the mat. They are often 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick and 5 to 7 feet long. They are lightweight and roll up easily -- making them perfectly portable as you rush from yoga class to lunch with your favorite girls.
Pilates mats tend to be a bit thicker, slightly longer and much less sticky -- which works well for the types of movements required in a Pilates workout. Although they provide more cushioning, Pilates mats also need to be quite firm. If the mat is too squishy, you will have a difficult time maintaining proper body alignment during the workout. Look for a thickness of 1/4 to 1/2 inch and a length of at least 6 feet.
For higher-impact power workouts -- such as plyometrics or jumping rope -- you might prefer a thicker fitness mat. These types of mats are often found in gyms and fitness centers. They are several inches thick, made of PVC material and covered in vinyl, making them quite easy to keep clean. They aren’t very portable, however, so don’t plan on lugging them around from one class to the next.
Thin, nonskid mats are the ideal type of exercise mat to use underneath exercise equipment. Often made of durable rubber, these mats tend to be about 1/4 inch thick. They are not soft or cushioned -- rather than protecting you from the unforgiving floor, they actually protect the floor from you. Use them under treadmills, elliptical machines, stationary bikes, rowing machines, weight machines or any other heavy exercise equipment.
Krista Sheehan is a registered nurse and professional writer. She works in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and her previous nursing experience includes geriatrics, pulmonary disorders and home health care. Her professional writing works focus mainly on the subjects of physical health, fitness, nutrition and positive lifestyle changes.