All the secrets of the exercise mat
A faithful companion, confidant of doubts and observer of successes. And there is no overstatement in this. An exercise mat should be chosen like the perfect foundation for your face and tailored like your favorite dress. But does one even exist? You won't know until you find one, and to find one you have to start looking. Are you ready to explore the world of exercise mats?
Start by asking yourself - what exercise mat will be perfect for me?
An exercise mat is not just a nice to have or a side accessory. A well-chosen one can increase the comfort of exercising, which in turn will also affect the results. Imagine a situation when suddenly motivation comes to you and you want to start exercising here and now. You choose an instructional video, put on comfortable clothes and spread a blanket on the floor, because you do not have a mat. After all, if you've never exercised at home, you don't need one. But while you're exercising, the blanket is constantly shifting, slipping, and rolling, and it just makes you nervous. And instead of taking full pleasure in the controlled fatigue created by intense exercise, you focus on not hurting yourself. The only excuse for this situation is that everyone started out somehow. But finally it's time for a change - choosing the necessary mat for exercise. To make it easier for you, we've put together some questions you should ask yourself first:
- How often will I use the mat?
- How intense are the exercises that I will be practicing on the mat?
- On what base will I exercise most often?
- What level of adhesion does my exercise mat need to have?
- Is the look and design of an exercise mat important to me?
- Do I have any allergies?
- What budget can I use to purchase an exercise mat?
- How important is the issue of exercise mat durability to me?
Exercise mat types
You already know where to start, now it's time to learn about the types of exercise mats from which you will be choosing your one and only dream one. The wide range of exercise mats available on the market can sometimes make your head spin, but this huge selection means that there is something for everyone. And after all, for as many people as there are, there are also so many opinions, right? Some people will choose an exercise mat because of its color, others because of its price, and still others will believe its thickness should be considered. And everyone will be somewhat right, because after all, each of these aspects seems to be really important. However, choosing a mat should start with something completely different - its purpose, which exercises will you be performing on it.
When it comes to this mat, one of the most important features is the grip and this is what you need to pay attention to first. Yoga mats should be non-slip - so as to ensure full comfort during practice. It is also important to have adequate insulation from the ground, after all, yoga is often practiced outdoors.
Yoga mats are usually light, small and quite thin - their thickness varies between 2.5 and 3.5 mm. All this is so that you can easily take them with you anywhere.
As the name suggests, their primary task is protection. In this case, we are talking about protection of the floor against mechanical damage caused by the use of exercise equipment - steppers or orbiters.
Protective mats also have a stabilizing and anti-slip function, protecting equipment from slipping. As a result, they increase the comfort and safety of each user of such equipment.
And finally, they also take care of the noise issue, because they are soundproof, they minimize the sounds generated by sports equipment.
These are associated with gym class and are unlikely to become your number one choice. Gymnastic mats are much larger and thicker than the others. They are used for gymnastics training and their primary purpose is to protect against impact or injury. They are perfect for the gym, corrective classes or rehabilitation exercises.
The most universal, popular, available and ... you could go on and on. They are used practically everywhere - you will meet them at fitness classes or use them during Pilates training.
They have to fulfill many tasks at the same time - they protect from slipping, protect from abrasions and injuries. In addition, they insulate the body from the ground, taking care of comfort - both thermal comfort and the comfort of the practice itself.
They must not be too thick so as not to disturb the balance of the exerciser. But at the same time, they cannot be too thin to provide thermal insulation. That is why they must be made of the right materials and that is their biggest secret.
The material from which the exercise mat is made must also affect its mechanical strength - so that you do not have to replace it too often.
What to look for when choosing an exercise mat?
Exercise mats differ from one another - all so that among them you can choose the one most suited to the needs of the future owner or the type of exercises performed. So what are the properties of the mat you need to take into account?
In theory, the thicker, the better - more comfortable, cozy, soft. But there is a "but". A thicker exercise mat is less stable, and therefore will not work for exercises that require you to maintain balance. Instead, it will be ideal for those that need to be performed while lying down - on your back, stomach or side.
If you practice yoga, a thinner mat is a better choice as it will provide the necessary stability. On the other hand, if you opt for fitness or Pilates, go for a thicker mat, which will ensure your comfort during the most demanding and somewhat uncomfortable exercises at the same time.
The standard length of the mat is between 170-190 cm and perfectly fits the needs of most users. But most is still not all. Taller people will need a longer mat - a bit harder to find, but not impossible. There will also be something for decidedly shorter, finer people or children. Ideally, your exercise mat should be several centimeters (about 15-20 cm as a standard) longer than your body.
The width of an exercise mat can also be considered standard - the most popular ones are those measuring around 60 cm. Mats of specific dimensions were created on the basis of certain patterns - so as to best suit the majority of their users. Theoretically, the bigger the space of the mat, the more comfortable it should be to exercise on it. At the same time, a larger exercise mat also means more weight and less compactness. Some compromises have to be made in this regard as well.
How heavy an exercise mat will be depends on several factors - the dimensions, including length or thickness, and the material it is made of. Lightweight mats are ideal for travel and when you often exercise outside the home. The thicker ones will be definitely more comfortable, so if you can afford to exercise at home or you don't have to carry the mat on your back - bet on this choice and you definitely won't regret it.
It is worth looking for a mat that has a good balance between thickness and elasticity. It cannot be too thick, because then it will definitely be less flexible. It will be more difficult to roll it and its susceptibility to damage will increase. And as a result, its lifespan may be severely limited.
A mat surface that is too rough will not work well due to poor hygienic properties. Bacteria and dirt will penetrate its many pores and it will be difficult to get rid of them. An exercise mat can be completely plain and single-coloured, or the opposite - patterned. Some mats have a line drawn in the middle that runs the entire length and makes it easier to do certain exercises. Fancy patterns or vivid colors are not forbidden, but it is important that they do not distract you from what is most important - exercise.
An exercise mat is a piece of equipment that shouldn’t absorb water, but instead drain it to the outside. This is a very important aspect that will prevent sweat from seeping into the mat. This property will also come in handy when you take your mat on outdoor adventures.
Add-ons and accessories
They are not essential and not every mat comes with them. However, they make life easier and save from many adversities. Some mats are equipped with straps for easy carrying and storage. Some of them come with covers, which make transportation easier and protect from damage. Of course, any of these accessories can be purchased, so if your dream mat doesn't have them, there's still nothing to lose.
In summary, choose an exercise mat that:
- fits the size of your body;
- easy to clean;
- appropriate for your activity.
What material should an exercise mat be made of?
The material of which the exercise mat is made of is probably the most important factor determining its choice. It influences many other key issues that are related to its later use. It determines the durability of the mat, its anti-slip properties, the way (and ease!) of cleaning it, as well as its price.
PVC - polyvinyl chloride
Its name may give you the creeps, but fortunately PVC is a widely used material, and what follows - properly tested. You cannot deny its many advantages - it is exceptionally resistant to damage, exploitation or weather conditions. Depending on the model it is characterized by high or even very high anti-slip properties. Mats made of PVC are simple to keep clean - they do not require the use of specialist preparations. It is enough to use water and apple vinegar to clean them. The advantage of a mat made of PVC will also be its low price. At the same time, we cannot forget about the disadvantages - PVC is a completely synthetic material, which is not recyclable. If ecology is an important aspect of your life (we believe it is), PVC mats are a no-go.
TPE - thermoplastic foam
The name does not sound any better, but the advantages are a bit more than in the case of the previous material. TPE is an extremely lightweight material, which can also be praised for its high slip resistance. It is also durable, affordable and importantly, environmentally friendly as it is recyclable. A mat made of TPE will be more durable than one made of PVC and lighter than a rubber one, so it is definitely worth considering its candidacy. One problem may be cleaning it - by hand and in temperatures only up to 40 degrees.
Exercise mats made of rubber are the most... - the most durable, with the most grip, and fully biodegradable. They also have the most intense and characteristic smell, which effectively deters more sensitive potential buyers. And that's not all - rubber mats are extremely heavy, they cannot be soaked, exposed to sunlight or cleaned with chemicals. They are also not suitable for all outdoor exercise enthusiasts.
It is usually found in combination with another material - for example rubber. A mat made of cork is distinguished by its antibacterial properties. It eliminates odors, is natural and fully ecological. Due to its characteristic texture, it is characterized by a fairly good grip and is anti-slip. But at the same time it is quite rarely used and less willingly used. Perhaps this is due to its questionable durability?
Cotton helps prove that an exercise mat doesn't have to be "rubbery" at all! It is an excellent alternative to foam or the previously mentioned rubber mats. A cotton mat will take care of your thermal comfort, will absorb excess moisture and will not be unpleasantly "sticky". Its unquestionable advantage will be easy to carry - it rolls up easily, is thin and lightweight. Cotton is not a favorite when it comes to exercise mats, but this does not mean that it cannot be an interesting alternative, right?
PU - polyurethane
Actually it is PU and rubber in one. The core part of the mat is made of rubber and the polyurethane is the top layer. It has an exceptionally good grip and can be used on both sides. However, the PU layer is very delicate and difficult to clean. And unfortunately it gets dirty quite easily.
Let's start at the beginning, or what did our ancestors practice on?
Once upon a time...there was vast selection like we have now. The origins of exercise mats are believed to be animal skins, on which yoga was practiced by its representatives. Whether it was ethical is not for us to judge, especially in retrospect. But it is good that nowadays we do not have to use animal skins for this purpose anymore. Apart from one obvious disadvantage, they had much more - they were heavy, bulky and unstable. On the complete opposite side were mats woven from plants and covered with fabric on top. One thing is for sure - both of them were completely natural.
Universal or ideal - what should an exercise mat be?
What for one person will be a hit, for another may turn out to be a complete dud - this is also the case with exercise mats. There are no all-purpose mats designed for advanced users or, on the contrary, for beginners. An exercise mat has to do what it's supposed to do - keep you safe, provide proper grip and improve the comfort of your workout. By the way, every mat has its strengths and weaknesses.
A mat in the classes - a must for every fitness fanatic
Every workout studio has its own exercise mats, but exercising on the same ones as several hundred other people can be uncomfortable. Even if they are regularly cleaned and disinfected - we are not entirely convinced. After all, a fitness mat is, despite appearances, a very personal product - it is constantly in contact with our skin, absorbs sweat and bacteria on our body. Having a personal mat is not only convenient, but also a natural example of taking care of hygiene. You can do a series of sit-ups, plank, twine, but also practice yoga on it. A fitness mat will make the exercises more pleasant and comfortable for your joints. It will cushion the impact, reduce the load, and if you practice in a cool room, it will not let you get cold. Thanks to the exercise mat you will:
- avoid slipping of the feet or hands;
- reduce pressure on your knees and elbows;
- reduce stress on your spine;
- soften the impact of more vigorous exercises.
Yoga on an exercise mat
Choosing a yoga mat is quite a difficult issue, especially for beginners - it's hard to decide at the very beginning which kind we like the most. And in spite of appearances it is very important, because a bit different mats will work in case of dynamic yoga practice, and other static.
Intense styles such as Ashtanga and Vinyasa require the mat to be stable and have good grip, even when you start to sweat. In this case mats made of microfiber, polyurethane, cork, rubber or PVC are ideal. And it's still a good idea to bring a towel, just in case.
Hot yoga and Birkam yoga are even more dynamic and practiced in less favorable conditions - high temperature. During their practice sweat is pouring practically all the time and the mat must be ready for it. Therefore, the choice of material from which it should be made is very limited. In fact, there is only PVC, which is easy to clean, and such a mat can be washed in a washing machine.
A completely different kind of practice takes place during Iyengar yoga. It is characterized by gentle transitions and long stops in a specific position. In this case, it is important to have a reliable grip, which is provided by a mat made of polyurethane.
A mat and an exercise mat - they're not the same thing!
Has it happened once or twice that instead of a professional exercise mat you have had to use a foam pad? Relax, as they say - once is not always. Maybe your mat hasn't arrived yet and you already had a workout planned, or you suddenly felt like exercising during a short trip out of town. It happens all the time and such situations are justified. But...a foam mat and a fitness mat cannot replace or complement each other. The former is actually used for sleeping in tent conditions - it is supposed to increase comfort and provide thermal insulation from the ground. And actually that's where the similarities end. In case of a foam mat, there are no anti-slip or stabilizing properties.
Mistakes you may (or may not) make when choosing an exercise mat
Maybe just by describing them, you will be able to avoid them? Let's hope so J
- You don't match the mat to the activity
We will repeat this over and over - the mat must be matched to the type of activity you practice. One will be good for yoga, one for fitness. Of course, we are not encouraging you to buy several mats at once, depending on the type of training you want to do. Rather, we would like to draw your attention to the fact that dynamic activities require a mat made of durable material, which will not be prone to abrasions. The more static activities, on the other hand, focus more on a reliable non-slip mat that will make it easier to hold a certain position for a longer period of time.
- You forget how much an exercise mat can weigh
Heavy or light - this is a question you should definitely ask yourself. If you commute to fitness classes (or any other) by car, the weight of your mat doesn't matter that much. Likewise, if you work out at home rather than in a gym. But if you often throw the mat in a bag and run with it to the class or jump on the bike, the matter becomes a little more complicated. Or maybe not at all? In this case, you need to choose a mat made of synthetic materials rather than rubber.
- You choose an exercise mat material that does not fit your skin
An exercise mat is an object that your skin comes into contact with, and your skin can be more or less sensitive to certain materials and textures. Sometimes it just won't like something, but sometimes the contact between the mat and your skin can even end up in an allergy. Therefore, pay attention to the additives used in the production of synthetic mats, and if you are allergic to latex - avoid rubber mats, which often have it added.
- You're putting the mat cleaning issue to the back of your mind
And you often realize too late how much it matters. Improper care of your exercise mat can negatively affect its properties. It can change its grip, slip resistance and, of course, its durability. The subject of exercise mat care is worthy of consideration even before you buy it. If you're the kind of person who doesn't like wasting time manually washing the mat with the use of appropriate preparations, you should rather not choose the one made of cork or rubber. Opt for synthetic, which is easy to clean and maintain.
- You don't think about the fact that an exercise mat can have a distinctive smell
There's already been something about touch, now it's time for the sense of smell. The smell of the mat is probably the strongest in the case of rubber. Although it fades with time, it can be bothersome for more sensitive noses. This aspect is also worth taking into account beforehand to avoid unnecessary problems later on.
Tricks to make your exercise mat easier to use (and live with at the same time)
The practice mat is not slippery at all, on the contrary, you may feel like your hands are too dry for it. Take a spray bottle with water and use it before you start practicing. You can also add a few drops of essential oil to the water so that you can practice surrounded by a beautiful scent.
Or maybe you have the complete opposite problem - your mat becomes unimaginably slippery during practice? Sweat may be the main culprit, but there is a way to deal with this. Get a special non-slip towel or take a regular one with you, roll it up and lay it on the front of your mat. And then from time to time, place your sweaty palms on it - that way it can absorb the excess sweat.
Have you bought your dream mat, but feel that it is too thin? It doesn't provide you with the desired comfort during exercise? Try putting something under it - at home it can be a carpet, but only if the surface is not too convex and it does not slide on the floor. In the training room, use the mats available in the community and place yours on top of one of them. Remember that this solution is unlikely to work in the long run.
Whether you choose a mat made of rubber or PVC, whether it is plain or patterned, or what dimensions it will have, the exercise alone won't help you. But it can make them more enjoyable, and certainly safer and more comfortable. We know what we are talking about, because yoga mats are what we know best at Moonholi. See for yourself and discover their magic.
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