A good quality Pilates mat is an essential piece of equipment in order to perform many of the exercises. Of course there are numerous other pieces of equipment that are used that create more resistance, however, a mat is all you need to get started. With just a mat, you can start to enjoy the benefits at home or anywhere that is suitable to do it.
Whether you are new to Pilates and just want a mat to start with and to practice on, or whether you are an experienced participant who knows more about the types of mats that you are thinking about purchasing, the encouraging thing is that choosing a mat is really not that complicated.
It is true that there are hundreds of different varieties of mats made from a lot of different materials and in many colours and sizes but at the end of the day, the choice is down to your unique needs and desires.
For instance, if you want to take your mat around with you to use at work, the gym and home, you may want a smaller portable version. If your main objective is to remain eco-friendly, then you might want a mat made from a natural product or is made from 100% recyclable and biodegradable TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer) foam.
So, before you purchase the first mat that you see, you might want to go through the following list and consider which mat is the best fit for you.
Because of the very nature of Pilates, it is advisable to look for a thicker mat. Many exercises involve you rolling backwards and forwards from your tail, along your back and up onto your shoulders. Other exercises require you to rest on your elbows, wrists, knees and hips so a thick mat is necessary to provide a cushion and support for your sensitive areas or pressure points.
Mats come in a wide variety of thicknesses but I would go for one that is at the very least 10mm or 3/8 inch. The majority of enthusiasts seem to choose a mat that is 15mm or 5/8 inch as their preferred option.
Obviously choice is down to the individual but in general, the thinner mats are better suited for yoga as there is a lot more balancing involved and a more solid base is preferred.
You can buy mats in these common thicknesses although other thicknesses are available.
- 8mm or 5/16 inch
- 10mm or 3/8 inch
- 15mm or 5/8 inch
- 20mm or 6/8 inch
Is It The Right Size?
Many people don’t consider the size of a mat before they purchase one. They come in a whole range of different sizes though so there is bound to be one that is suitable for you.
Make sure that its length and width are both long and wide enough to contain and support your entire body. In most cases, a mat that has dimensions of 1.80m or 71 inches long and 0.61m or 24 inches wide is suitable. This is the most widely available size.
It is better to have one that is too long because if it is too short for your body, you could be doing part of the exercise on the floor. Imagine doing a beats on stomach or a swimming move without the mat under your forehead, or completing a rolling movement and finding that the back of your head is off the mat and hitting the floor.
The width of the mat shouldn’t really be such an issue but there are wider versions.
You can buy Pilates mats in these regular sizes although other sizes are available.
- Length 1.73m or 68 inches – Width 0.61m or 24 inches
- Length 1.80m or 71 inches – Width 0.61m or 24 inches
- Length 1.80m or 71 inches – Width 0.66m or 26 inches
- Length 1.83m or 72 inches – Width 0.71m or 28 inches
- Length 2.16m or 85 inches – Width 0.66m or 26 inches
Is The Surface Non-Sticky?
Many people get confused about whether to have a sticky or non-sticky mat. I think there is some confusion because Pilates is akin to yoga in some ways.
However, my belief is :
Pilates = Non Sticky or Non Grippy
Yoga = Sticky or Grippy
The reason is simple really; movement. When you are performing a routine, you are exercising and doing a lot of movement in certain exercises. If your mat is too sticky, you won’t be able to carry out the exercises how they should be carried out. It is just a distraction that you don’t need when your focus should be fully on the exercise and concentration. Having said that, it is up to the individual’s preference, but most people like it to be non-sticky.
Good mats tend to be smooth as they are usually non-sticky and they help with sliding movements and flow between exercises.
Also bear in mind that while you want the working surface of the mat to be non-sticky, the underside of the mat that rests on the floor should be non-slip in order to prevent injury. Textured or ribbed bottom surfaces of the mats are best for carpets for instance.
There are many different types of material that go into making mats, some have three different material in one mat. Some are denser than others, some are more durable than others, some are more stretchy than others, some are eco friendly and they come in different price ranges.
Below is a list of some of the more common materials that mats are made of –
Closed Cell NBR (Nitrile Butadiene Rubber) Foam –
Is a synthetic foam made from micro-cells that are non-porous so it doesn’t let the sweat in and is easy to clean. It is hard to recycle so not eco-friendly but less likely to cause an allergic reaction than natural rubber.
TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer) Foam –
Is also a synthetic micro closed-cell foam which makes it non-porous, easy to clean and is anti-microbial. It can be recycled so it is eco friendly.
PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) –
Is a synthetic open-cell foam which makes it porous. This means that it retains sweat and oils making it difficult to clean which can produce bacteria. The open cells structure makes it grip well. It is a recyclable material so is relatively eco friendly.
PU (Polyurethane) –
Is a synthetic material and mats are made from a combination of PU and natural rubber. They are waterproof so are very easy to clean and they don’t produce bacteria. PU is recyclable and rubber is a natural product so these mats are eco-friendly.
Rubber (Latex) –
Is a natural product and therefore a very eco-friendly mat. Rubber mats are made from a sustainable, renewable resource as it is tapped from rubber trees. It is easy to clean and also has antibacterial properties. The downside is that latex can cause an allergic reaction in some people.
Is a natural plant making it a sustainable resource and very eco-friendly. These are normally made in combination with another material such as PVC.
The above features are the main features that you should look for in a mat but there are other things that you might consider before you buy a Pilates mat.
Is it lightweight and easy to carry?
Obviously, the thicker and larger the mat is, the heavier and bulkier it is going to be. If you are going to be taking your mat to work, or the gym or to a friend, is it going to be a struggle for you?
Is it comfortable?
Generally, most of the materials that are used are going to be comfortable. If you find that your sensitive areas are hurting, maybe you could purchase a slightly thicker mat or try one of the other materials.
Is it durable?
Different materials wear out at a different rate. Some might degenerate quicker than others and some might lose their bounce or cushioning. One brand might be made from a similar material as another brand but might simply be not as good a quality.
Although Pilates and yoga are similar, Pilates mats are slightly thicker and should be at least 10mm or 3/8 inch thick. This is because you spend a lot of time on the floor resting on pressure points and supporting your full body weight.
Get a mat that is big enough for your whole body as you don’t want to be banging your head on the floor.
Choose a mat that isn’t too sticky because you need to move with freedom within each exercise and between exercises.
Get a mat that you are comfortable with. Is it eco-friendly? Is it easy to clean? Does it harvest bacteria? Are you allergic to natural rubber?
As in all parts of life, you pay for quality. As a rule the more you fork out, the better your mat will be. Get a good one though because your spine is very precious to you. Consider how much a monthly payment to a gym costs and a mat is going to cost less than that.
If you are using your mat in different locations, try and find one that comes with a bag or a carrying strap. You will find these very useful.