Gym Mats – An Essential Piece Of Workout Equipment

The humble gym mat can seem like one of the most nonsensical and the most ‘unnecessary’ purchases when setting up your home gym, so it’s tempting to skip it and save the cash for machines and other equipment. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Supportive, sensible gym matting is an essential to any exercise space, and one that can cause extensive injury and downtime when absent.

Impact injuries aren't only for runners, you know.

 When you think of high-impact sports injuries, you tend to think of the many stresses and strains runners suffer from. The reason that this sport in particular tends to suffer from such high impact issues is because the bulk majority of the sport takes place on tarmac roads and hard athletic tracks. When the bones and muscles of the feet meet these unyielding surfaces, there’s no sharing of the force generated- it reverberates back into the foot. But have you stopped to consider why average gym-goers don’t suffer the same rates of impact injury?

If you've stepped foot in a gym recently, you’ll probably have noticed that almost all of the flooring is padded. Bulk rubber mats remain the favourite cost-effective way for gym chains to do this. Even if you were too busy concentrating on your workout to notice or care, chances are you will have seen or taken a class where you worked with your own personal gym mat- this despite the expensive flooring the gym installed. Even naturally low-impact exercises like yoga habitually use a mat to cushion and protect the body.

So these places use mats- but do they actually do something?

Of course, if you've handled the average yoga mat it can seem like an unlikely thing to protect you from injury. Most fitness mats are not supper-thick, spongy masses, but rather thin offerings. It can be easy to presume that they aren't doing much. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Perhaps you've wondered why most commercial gyms use matting under their machines? Again, given the weight and robust nature of a lot of these machines, a teeny mat underneath can seem to be there more to protect the floor then the machine, but in reality that little bit of shock absorption can make a big difference in the life of machines that are there to take a pounding. Think about the vibrations and knocks the average weight machine will suffer. You’d be surprised at the difference dampening out those micro-wobbles and shifts can make in enhancing durability and functionality and preventing stripping of the nuts and bolts and adverse pressure on the welds.

When you set up your own home gym, of course, it’s rather more exclusive and you won’t be subjecting your equipment to the same sort of stresses, but a sensibly chosen exercise matting will still preserve the life of your machine [and protect your floor from scuffs] though shock absorption and minimisation of vibration.

And what’s worth doing for a machine, no matter how expensive, has got to be more important to do right for your body.

 So, what will a good gym mat do for me?

Even though they may seem flimsy, a mat offers that same cushioning protection to your joints. In fact, you don’t want a big soft spongy gym mat- save the memory foam for your mattress; you’re there to work out. For maximum protection and function, you want your ideal gym mat to be dense and shock-absorbent- it may, in fact, not seem ‘supportive’ at all, if you’re confusing support with comfort.

A good gym mat will absorb those stresses of impact with your body, acting as a shock-absorber and minimising the impact that travels back to your body. In turn, not only will there be less likelihood of that same impact causing damage, stress and injury to your joints and muscles, it will also be less draining on the body, enabling you to work out harder and smarter.

Plus- and though it’s hardly essential to your workout, creating a great, fun environment can still go a long way towards making you workout consistently and well- modern innovations in matting mean you can find a colour, a style and a material for you. They’re also a great way to remain hygienic if you work out in public spaces, and so portable they can be taken anywhere without fuss.

So, any old mat will do, eh?

If you've shopped around in the fitness market lately, you've probably seen a plethora of mats available for all sorts of purposes. Again, it’s tempting to dismiss this as marketing- a mat’s a mat, right?

Not quite.

While, if budget is tight, one good general purpose mat choice will be endlessly better than none at all, those different mat designs are not all marketing hype. Subtle design differences aimed at each niche make them smarter choices for speciality use. Below, we look at some common types:

  •  General purpose fitness mats.

If you can’t afford to splurge on a function-specific mat, there’s no better investment than a general purpose fitness mat. It will take you through basic body-weight and cardio training, and can serve well enough for Pilates and yoga too. They won’t do for gymnastics or martial arts, however.

Yoga and other specialist mats.

You’ll find these are both flatter and denser then ‘normal’ fitness mats. They’re designed to be non slip on both sides, and aid stability. They’re not cushioning, but they do absorb impact. They’re not the best choices for body-weight exercises though. It’s worth noting that the Pilates mat is a little different again, being slightly more cushioned for floor work.

  • Heavy duty exercise mats.

These are designed for high traffic areas, so they’re bulky and space consuming. They’re probably not great for a home gym environment, though some home-suitable ones for martial art practices and gymnastics are available. They will occupy space, though.

  •  Interlocking Mats

These make nifty flooring if your home gym space is dedicated but you don’t want to customise your home to a gym floor, and can take some types of equipment too. It’s easy to add onto as time passes, as well.

  •  Dedicated equipment mats.

These will be specifically designed for use with machines, to prevent floor damage and cushion the machine. You’ll have to pick the nearest suitable size and cut the mat to fit.

What gym mats do we love?

There’s a huge market of great mats out there, but these mats all come top in their class according to Amazon reviewers.

York products offer a great range of mats for all purposes. Their Ultimate Folding Mat remains a firm general favourite, although some users wish it had a touch more support- it can’t be beaten for convenience, though. Their interlocking puzzle mats are consistently rated among the best in this genre, with an impressive 4.5/5 stars to their name, though users remind purchasers that interlocking mats are a light mat type and not suitable for heavy duty purposes. As with most puzzle mats, they recommend buying them in batches to prevent colour variation when possible.

Unsurprisingly, the Addidas training mat scores highly with users- and comes with its own straps for easy transport. It’s reversible, impressively non-slip, and fully padded, so it’s a versatile choice for most exercise. Again, if you’re looking for a mat that will do it all, the Hardcastle training mat will blow you away- it did most users. It’s versatile enough to be used for almost anything, and easy to roll and transport.

As a dedicate Pilates mat, you can’t go wrong with the Reebok Pilates mat. Users love it; even though it doesn’t ship with carry straps. As a great budget buy, the Fitness-Mad Deluxe aerobic mat topped the list, although nothing beat the Physioworld yoga, gym and Pilates mats; their 5 stars can’t be argued with!

Lastly, for those seeking a great gymnastic or martial arts practice space, Implay’s mats top the list. Their zipped covers will keep your mat looking stylish and can easily be replaced, while they offer superb cushioning. They offer a slightly different crash mat too, if you need a narrower fit. If you want mats suitable for your machines, consider the IDASS machine mats for a quality buy.

Whatever your needs and preferences, there’s a great mat for you out there- and you can find a quality buy to suit any budget. So make sure you don’t scrimp on your health and safety, and use the right gym mat to enhance your home gym experience.

Kelly is a personal fitness trainer and nutrition expert who has worked with clients all over the world. With over 15 years in the health and fitness industry she will be sharing her knowledge with the Fitness Fixation community.