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What is a Pilates Mat?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 27 April 2018
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A pilates mat is an essential piece of equipment for people taking pilates matwork classes. Not all of this exercise program is done using mats and many people work out on pilates machines instead. Increasingly, matwork classes are offered and this has led to an increase in the available number of mats for this purpose.

It should be stated very clearly that it is not generally a good idea to use any old yoga mat for pilates classes. Yoga mats frequently require people to maintain contact with the floor through hands and feet and they are typically thinner than pilates mats. Matwork in pilates classes can involve considerable time spent on the back, and this can be hard for people working out on hard surfaces. Most recommendations for mats are that they be at least one inch (2.54 cm) thick to avoid strain on the back, and thicker if needed when a person has chronic back or hip pain.

For those who don’t maintain a normal yoga practice or who have back, legs, or neck problems, a pilates mat may actually be preferable. Some people find they get a more comfortable workout on them because they are thicker. However, yoga mats are typically stickier than pilates mats and may be better for certain hands and feet poses, especially when practicing Bikram or hot yoga. About the only time that a yoga mat can be substituted for a pilates mat is when working out on soft surfaces, like carpeting with a thick pad.

There are numerous pilates mat choices available and people should consider not only thickness, but also length and width of the mat when selecting one. Ideally the whole body should fit comfortably on the mat, and those who are taller may need to select slightly longer mats to fit this requirement. Some pilates instructors and gyms offering these classes sell mats, but more selection is usually available in stores devoted to exercise and especially to those focusing on yoga and pilates.

Many forms of the pilates mat are made of thick foam and they come in bright colors. Most can be rolled up and are very light to carry. Another form of the mat is more expensive and is called a folding pilates mat.

These mats are usually thicker and heavier than roll-up types, but some pilates instructors insist they are much more adequate to protecting the back while doing many of the exercises common in classes. Folding mats are usually far pricier, and it may be a good idea to invest in a much lower-priced mat if just beginning pilates classes. Those committed to practicing this exercise form regularly may be more interested in spending the $200 US Dollars (USD) or more to purchase a folding mat, but many are satisfied with less expensive roll-up mats that cost between $30-50 USD.

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