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What are Exercise Mats?

By Michael Giuffre
Updated May 17, 2024
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If you have ever exercised on a hardwood gym floor you know how uncomfortable it is. In order to allow your body to perform exercises such as sit-ups, aerobics, Pilates, or yoga comfortably, an exercise mat is almost always necessary. Gyms or workout rooms usually carry a supply of these mats, or you can purchase your own.

Many people want their own exercise mats for hygienic reasons, as gym mats may not be washed properly between workouts. Exercise mats can be purchased at your local sporting goods store for about $20-$60 (US dollars). Keep in mind however, that the more you spend, the better the mat will likely be. A more expensive mat will probably have superior padding and traction.

Padding and traction are the two main qualities that distinguish exercise mats from one another. Cheaper mats generally contain foam padding that will deteriorate and compress over time. They are good beginner mats but do not expect a long useful life of the mat. In addition, cheaper mats tend to have a slicker surface. The traction provided by the surface is an issue when using the mat to perform yoga, Pilates or any other exercise routine that requires you hold specific positions. A mat with little traction will allow the feet to slide, resulting in constant repositioning, which could lead to possible strains or injury.

More expensive mats tend to do a much better job of aiding your workout. Many of these mats contain air pockets that provide a superior cushion between your body and the floor. The air pockets do not deteriorate like foam, leading to a longer useful life. Additionally, the traction typically provided by more expensive exercise mats allows the user to exercise without sliding.

While these generalizations about cheap and expensive exercise mats are not always true, they should serve as guidelines when considering a purchase. It may be possible to find a comfortable, air-filled, sticky mat for only $30 dollars, or if very lucky, less. Regardless of whether you plan on purchasing a cheap or expensive mat--or whether you will simply use the exercise mats that the gym supplies--your muscles and bones will thank you. Exercise mats help to make your workout more enjoyable and less stressful.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By discographer — On Apr 03, 2014

@umbra21-- It's true that yoga mats used by everyone are usually full of bacteria. Thankfully it is required to disinfect them after each use. I have my own yoga mat but it's difficult to carry around. I do yoga at home as well. Otherwise, I would buy a yoga mat and keep it in the car for yoga classes.

An exercise mat for yoga is a must though. I tried doing it on the bare floor once and it did not go well. My feet kept slipping and it was very uncomfortable when I was lying on my back.

By ZipLine — On Apr 03, 2014

@ysmina-- Well it depends on the type of exercise you want to do. I suggest getting the correct mat. So if you are going to do yoga, get a yoga mat. If you are going to do pilates, get a pilates mat.

A pilates mat is thicker than a yoga mat and provides some cushioning for comfort. A yoga mat is very flat because you need to feel the floor while doing the yoga postures.

If you are planning to do other types of exercises such as push-ups and pull ups, then you can use a pilates mat. A foam mat would actually be best for these types of exercises, a pilates mat may be a bit too soft.

By ysmina — On Apr 02, 2014

I'm planning on getting an exercise mat for home. Should I get a yoga mat or a pilates mat? What is the difference?

By bythewell — On Apr 02, 2014

@irontoenail - I don't even use a proper exercise mat when I'm at home. I have a camping mattress that is essentially just a layer of foam and I use that when I need something to lie on. But usually a towel will do for me. I really don't like getting down on the floor, or getting up again, so I guess I try to avoid that kind of exercise anyway.

By irontoenail — On Apr 02, 2014

@umbra21 - In a pinch, my studio will usually let me get away with a towel, but it's really difficult to make it sit without moving all over the place, so an exercise mat is far superior.

I like using it at home as well. At first I thought I would just make do with the carpet and my bed for things like crunches, but the mat is so much easier on my knees and you really need a firm surface to do these exercises properly, so the bed is out as well.

Exercise mats are pretty cheap though. If I was going to make my own home gym I might shell out for a more expensive one, but at the moment my $10 mat does the job perfectly.

By umbra21 — On Apr 01, 2014

In my experience, quite a few yoga classes will only let you join if you either bring your own mat, or if you rent one of theirs and spray it down with disinfectant afterwards. Personally, I'd rather just spend the $20 and buy my own than muck around with one that every other person has sweated on.

Make sure you keep an eye on it though as they tend to go missing if you leave them unattended.

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