Do You Need an Exercise Mat?

Updated September 14, 2022
Woman working out at home

Classes in fitness studios and health clubs often involve the use of exercise mats. Mats aren't necessary, but many people prefer them, especially when the workout includes exercises that require you to sit, kneel, or lay on the floor. There are plenty of workouts you can do without a mat, but using one does have some benefits, especially for beginners.

If you're thinking of purchasing a mat, it might be helpful to try one first. Most gyms and yoga studios have some available for exercisers who prefer not to bring their own.

Key Benefits of Using an Exercise Mat

While many workouts, like walking, jogging, and cycling, don't require the use of a mat, there are some workouts where a mat is almost always used. For instance, yoga classes incorporate the use of a mat, and other workouts like mat Pilates, core workouts, and stretching classes generally incorporate the use of a mat. While mats aren't absolutely necessary for these workouts, they offer a few benefits that can enhance your exercise experience.

Cleanliness

Even though most gyms and fitness studios make cleanliness a priority, the floor of a workout studio is likely to get dirty throughout the day. While some people don't mind getting a little messy while they work out, others prefer a layer of protection between themselves and the ground. In that case, a mat makes a lot of sense.

Of course, if cleanliness is your reason for using a mat, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. If you use a mat supplied by the gym, you'll need to ensure that mats are cleaned and sanitized after each use. Many gyms provide antibacterial sprays or wipes and make wiping down the mats a part of the class experience. But if you work out at a gym that doesn't make these safeguards a priority, consider taking your own exercise mat so you know it is clean.

Comfort

Using a mat provides some extra padding between your body and the ground. Floor exercises, like plank, tabletop position, and pushups, are more comfortable when there is a layer of protection between your hands and knees and the ground. This is especially useful to people whose wrists, knees, or even hips are sensitive to hard surfaces, though anyone is likely to find a mat more comfortable than the floor.

If comfort is your reason for using a mat, keep in mind that mats come in a variety of different widths. Mats that are thinner are generally less expensive. Thicker mats and mats made from longer-lasting materials are generally more expensive. If your knees, wrists, or hands are sensitive to hard surfaces, consider investing in a thicker mat. If your gym provides mats that are thin, try using two mats to get the padding that you need.

Space

In most classes, an exercise mat serves as a separation between your personal workspace and the space of others. As a response to social distancing guidelines imposed during the pandemic, many gyms began providing marked spaces where mats can be placed six feet apart from each other. The mat provides a clear boundary for each exerciser in class.

Any equipment needed for the workout (such as weights, bands, or yoga blocks) can be placed tightly around the mats to make room for others in class. This can help ensure that people who attend group fitness classes have adequate space to exercise safely.

Support and Safety

If the floor in the area where you will be exercising is slippery, an exercise may provide some stability for you. There's nothing worse than a slippery surface when you're trying to balance or stabilize your body.

Some mats are made from material that helps prevent slipping. These "sticky mats" are particularly helpful in classes like hot yoga where you're likely to sweat quite a bit. The right type of mat will help ensure that your body stays put, no matter what position you're in.

When To Consider Using An Exercise Mat

Couple practicing yoga at home

Exercise mats aren't necessary for all situations, but they can be particularly helpful in some types of workouts. Examples of situations in which using an exercise might be the best option include:

Floor Work

Exercise mats are useful when a substantial portion of the workout is performed from the floor. This is common with core workouts where students are often required to lay on their backs or place their forearms on the floor. Whether you're on your hands or on your back, it's nice to have a cushion between you and the hard ground.

A mat is also helpful for beginners who need to modify exercises. For example, the modification for a pushup is performed with your knees on the ground, and the mat helps protect tender knees.

  • If you're going to work your core or you anticipate the need for modifications, consider purchasing a mat.
  • Any mat made for general fitness activities will do. If you prefer something with more cushion, your best bet is a Pilates mat or a thicker yoga mat.

Yoga

While types of yoga classes vary, your standard yoga flow needs a mat with a firm grip and stable surface. Many yoga mats tend to be on the thinner side. But thicker mats are widely available as well. Yoga mats are generally made of materials that provide a non-slip finish, essential for poses where your hands or feet might slide a bit.

  • The amount of grip a yoga mat has varies depending on the material the yoga mat is made of.
  • The right fit for you will depend on your needs and preferences, so be sure to do your research to check out your yoga mat options before you buy one.

Examples of Workouts That Don't Require Mats

Mats come in handy for certain types of exercises and workouts, but that doesn't mean they are essential to your fitness routine. In fact, there are types of training where an exercise mat isn't needed at all.

Standing or Seated Strength Exercises

There are hundreds of strength exercises you can complete without a mat. In fact, most exercises for the arms, shoulders, and back can be completed standing or seated on a bench. While some people stand on mats for standing exercises, doing so is generally not necessary.

Suspension Training

Suspension training has become a popular individual and group workout. Depending on the brand of suspension trainer, you attach it to a door, loop it around a tree or hook it to a supportive surface and you are ready to go.

Keep in mind however, that a mat can become handy if you use your suspension trainer to do exercises on the floor. For example, you might hold a plank position with your feet in the suspended straps and your hands on the floor. In this case, a mat or towel can provide a barrier for your hands. In addition, some people may prefer to stand on a mat when doing certain standing exercises, like lunges.

Cardio Workouts

Do you enjoy swimming, biking, walking, or running? These are all effective workouts that can be completed without a mat. If you'd prefer to perform a quick workout at home, a streaming dance fitness class or cardio kickboxing circuit might be a smart option.

If you have a carpeted floor in your home workout space, you'll already have a built-in cushion for your workout. Just make sure to vacuum before you get down there to avoid contact with germs or dust that may have collected. No carpet? Head to a nearby park. The grass is a natural cushion. Plus, you can get some fresh air and sun at the same time.

If you are on the fence about investing in an exercise mat, try a few workouts without one first and see how you feel. If you are starting a new workout program or are new to exercise in general, there are plenty of workouts that you can do that don't require that you buy any equipment at all. Whether a mat is right for you is based on the type of workout, your level of experience, and your location while exercising. Figure out what kind of workouts are best for you, then make a decision about investing in workout accessories

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Do You Need an Exercise Mat?