Exercise mats are common sights if you spend time in the fitness world. Yoga class participants sit on thin plastic mats, Pilates work requires a thicker mat to protect the tailbone and hips, and gymnasts use mats so thick they sink to their ankles or farther while walking across them. Thicker exercise mats have a different structure and different uses than thin mats.
Range of Thickness
Thick exercise mats fall within a specific range. Martial arts coach Dave Coffman uses different kinds of mats for different activities. He identifies thick exercise mats as between 1/2 inch and 2 inches thick. Thicker mats qualify as safety mats, which serve a different purpose from exercise mats.
Benefits of Thickness
The thicker padding on an exercise mat provides cushioning in the event of a fall and as a pad for light impacts that occur during a normal workout routine. Comfort comes in the form of a soft layer between your bones and the floor. That is especially appreciated when doing tailbone sits in a hardwood gym. The nonstick coating on most exercise mats provides better traction than many workout surfaces, especially hardwood and concrete.
Thick Mat Not Always Best
Ironically, the same mat that protects you during a fall can make falling more frequent. Coffman reports that the pliable surface can trap feet or interrupt stepping, which can lead to an embarrassing or harmful fall. Toe sprains and even breaks can sometimes occur when working with thick exercise mats because the foot sinks just enough to catch your toe as you step. The softer surface also can make balance a challenge because your footing shifts when the mat compresses.
When to Use a Thick Mat
Thick exercise mats are best indicated for sports where falls are a hazard but won't happen from more than standing height. Wrestling, floor tumbling and martial arts are three good examples of when a thick mat is ideal. For exercises that require mobility and have low risk of falls, a thinner mat usually is sufficient. If you engage in exercises that risk a fall from greater than standing height, use a thicker safety mat to prevent injuries.
If you're environmentally conscious, examine the component materials of your thick exercise mat. According to workout resource website, Skinny Bulk Up, vinyl chloride, lead, phthalates and cadmium are all potentially harmful substances used in making mats, especially those made in China. Avoid that by buying mats that are labeled "green" or "eco-friendly." They also won't have the distinct chemical smell common with non-green mats.
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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.