When it comes time to purchase floor mats, there are several things to consider. Not all mats are created equal and it’s important to think about what the mats will be used for before purchasing.
Who will be using the mats and how?
Mats make use of a few different materials to do their duty of cushioning falls. Ethylene-vinyl acetate, or EVA, is a dense substance that can deflect even hard hits from close vicinity. You might be familiar with this material from swim noodles or other foam floating devices. EVA can provide its high impact resistance thanks to its structure of closely packed, closed cells. Just like the name foam suggests, it’s a lot of closed plastic bubbles pressed together, side by side. Since they’re closed, when they get hit, the cells can’t collapse, they just stretch and deform, spreading the energy from an impact over a much greater distance as each cell pushes and pulls on all the others around it.
This “hardness”, or maybe better to think of it as softness in this case, is measured with a system called shore c hardness. A standardized tool is used to press a pointed instrument into a material for a specific time and then the resulting indent is measured to see how the material redistributes energy. Foams with smaller, denser bubbles have a higher shore c hardness, which means that they can absorb harder impacts, but it also means that they’re harder. An easier rating to understand for martial arts mats is kg/cm2 This is how many kilos it takes to compress one square centimeter all the way to the floor. Higher numbers mean it takes a heavier weight, or a harder hit to compress them.
Because of EVA’s density, it’s great for protecting martial artists from bone breaks and serious injury, but since it’s harder, it’s used in thinner mats that aren’t suitable for falls from heights which require a longer impact time to absorb their energy.
For this, Polyurethane foam is more appropriate, a material that you might be familiar with in specialized packing materials, thin mattresses, or seat cushions. It’s a softer material that, when used in thick layers, does a great job of absorbing and spreading out impact force. Pure polyurethane mats are more suitable for users who will be practicing throws and tumbling since it breaks falls over a longer period of time. But since it’s softer, it doesn’t provide as firm of a surface to step on. Eva, because of its higher density, is better suited to stand-up activities and grappling, since it provides a firmer surface.
This brings us to the feet. Just as important as how firm the surface is, is how it’s patterned. How much grip will users get? Mats come with a variety of patterns including tatami imitation, and dimple pattern. The dimple pattern provides a better grip for fast footwork, but this grip also equals friction which can cause damage when skin is dragged across it.
Lastly, it’s important to consider the simple physical dimensions of the space where the mats will be used. If you already have mats, it’s important to make sure that the jigsaw pattern on your current mats will lock together with the pattern on new mats. Or maybe you’ve had mats where the jigsaw locks broke easily or got damaged, in which case it could pay to get mats with a bigger, stronger locking pattern.