Are All Martial Arts Mats the Same?
The market provides a large and interesting variety of martial arts mats, but while this offers great freedom to consumers, it also makes choosing quite a challenge. So how exactly do martial arts mats differ from one another, and in what ways do these differences translate to actual advantages or disadvantages to users?
High-quality martial arts mats are usually made of EVA foam, a combination of ethylene and vinyl acetate that produces a soft yet durable polymer with a long list of benefits, including sound absorption, excellent grip and cushion, moisture resistance, and eco-friendliness. On the other hand, some noteworthy martial arts mats are also made of polyurethane (PU) foam, an expensive open-cell foam that provides remarkable cushion, especially for grappling and other ground-based disciplines.
While EVA foams are known to provide more energy return (the amount of energy the foam retains as force is applied on it), PU foams are noted for their resilience. The good news is EVA and PU foams may be combined to produce the desired final properties, depending on the EVA/PU ratio and blending techniques used, without affecting density and other performance-related qualities.
Most martial arts mats are 20mm to 40mm thick, but thicker isn’t necessarily better. For example, striking arts, such as Muay Thai and Taekwondo, require mats no thicker than an inch to protect against light and low falls while staying tough enough for stand-up techniques and maneuvers. For Judo, Aikido and other ground-based or throw-oriented arts, mats should be two inches thick for optimal protection during slams and falls.
Shore A hardness is a measure of the hardness of materials used to make martial arts mats. A higher score indicates a harder material, and a Shore A rating of 50 to 55 is considered ideal. Mats rated under 50 are too soft for most combat and stand-up martial arts and make the “teeth” in jigsaw mats easier to rip apart during training. On the other hand, mats rated higher than 55 are too hard to absorb impact and likely to increase injury risks.
When considering mat hardness and thickness, do consider environmental factors such as weather variances and lack of insulation, which can both cause mats to expand or contract. Also, if the mats will be frequently moved around or transported, aim for a 55 Shore A hardness or a thicker mat that can endure the wear.
While often mistaken for thickness, a foam’s density is a separate value altogether. It refers to mass per unit of volume expressed in kilograms per cubic meter or pounds per cubic feet. The higher the foam’s density, the greater its impact resistance and the safer a fall will be. Density is also inversely proportional to compression, which means denser mats are likely to maintain good quality for longer periods. A foam density of of 100kg/cbm is advised but anywhere between 80kg/cbm and 120kg/cbm is fine depending on your preference and chosen discipline. Thickness is also a crucial issue, for example if throws common 20 mm is not enough, 40 mm is recommended especially if no head protection is worn.
Jigsaw mats are slightly pricier compared to other types of martial arts mats, but they offer superior comfort and safety during high-impact falls, kicks and slams. Rolled foam mats are the cheapest but must never be used alone as they are strictly intended to add cushion under stronger, more reliable matting.
While the benefits of martial arts are given, there is no taking safety for granted at any time. This begins with choosing the right martial arts mats based on the right knowledge of the most crucial aspects that make every mat unique from the rest.