Outfitting your gym is an enormous investment. Not only are you pouring your time into researching the best mats, but you’re also putting your money on the line, hoping to find durable, long-lasting mats for a decent price. But with every new decision, as you weigh the pros and cons of different sports flooring, you’re forced to spend valuable time and effort to get your dream up and running. This article is going to help lift that burden off of your shoulders by helping you to figure out the best choice of gym mats for your specific needs.
One of the most important purchases you can make for your gym is what sports flooring to buy. The right mat is a form of protective equipment for the members of your gym, cushioning falls and limiting impacts. If you own a MMA gym, you’re going to need mats that are the proper thickness to provide the best protection for high-intensity martial arts training. On the other end of the spectrum, the right mat for a CrossFit box is something that protects against barbells that have been dropped after compound Olympic lifts.
Whether you’re looking for ideas for a home gym, gym flooring for a school, a commercial workout centre, a dance studio, or a fitness centre for your employees, British Martial Arts Mats has you covered.
Your Guide to Sports Mats
Gym mats are the unsung heroes of the gym world, and in this guide to sports mats, we’ll dive into all the characteristics for you to find the perfect mat. Although most athletes who go to your gym may never notice what’s underneath their feet, sports flooring is one of the most important things to keep them protected when training new martial arts techniques or complex Olympic lifts. With one purchase, you can create a solid foundation for your athletes to train on.
Also, choosing the right mats can help to improve grip and protect your floors or subfloors from any scratches, dents, or gouges from working out. As a result, picking the right mats made from the correct materials can help you to build your gym the right way. Below, you’ll find the top ways that gym flooring can help to enhance your gym experience and protect your floors and equipment:
- First form of PPE– Just like sparring gear, the mats that you put underneath the feet of athletes are their first form of personal protective equipment. If you train elite athletes in martial arts, you want to have mats that can cushion impacts and protect against falls. If you’re involved in a combat sport which involves throws and falls from critical heights over 1.5 m, like jujitsu, consider purchasing mats that help to reduce the risk of injuries.
If you have a home gym or commercial gym that caters specifically to strength training, the sports flooring can help make you and those you train feel a lot more comfortable testing personal records. Consider purchasing rubber mats which are at least 17mm thick to protect against impact. Knowing that they can push themselves further, athletes can train harder and crush any barriers in their way. But in order to get in the mental headspace to squash all obstacles, they need to feel safe and able to push themselves.
- Protect your Floors– Whether you’re training a new throw technique or lifting 150 kg off of the ground when dead lifting, you want to make sure that you have something protecting the floors under you. Foam mats, like EVA and XPE, can create a barrier between the athletes and the floor, helping to protect them and protect your floors. When lifting heavy weights, even concrete floors can be damaged by dropped weights. Rubber mats come in handy under workout equipment or for spots in your gym where you plan to lift free weights. In fact, you may want to build a special platform for heavy lifts like deadlifts, to help dissipate the force of the weights when you put them down.
- Dampen sound-Your workout flooring can also help to dampen sound, giving you the ability to turn your flat into your own training centre. Dampening sound is also important when owning a commercial gym because nobody really wants to train in a gym where there’s a constant grinding sound of metal on concrete every time a barbell drops. This is the same principle as rubber coated weights and bumper plates, which help to deaden the sound and limit the concussive effects of dropping weights. If you’ve ever dropped metal plates on concrete, the sound of the force reverberates throughout the entire room.
- Protect your equipment-You spend a tonne of money on buying the finest bumper plates, benches, sparring gear, and squat racks, so you want to protect the investment that you made in your workout equipment. Over time, plates and dumbbells can chip when dropped on concrete or wood, and rubber feet on the bottom of benches can be torn and broken on hard surfaces. By putting some rubber mats underneath, you can help lengthen the life of the equipment that you have, whilst also making an investment in quality flooring.
- Provide grip- The best gym flooring will also provide traction, allowing you to make quick, complex movements easily. If you train combat sports athletes, you know that traction is important to gain the upper hand and to perform swift takedowns, perfectly timed blocks, or laser focused strikes. The foam mats offered at British Martial Arts Mats are available in several different surfaced textures, giving you the ability to choose one that works best for you. The tatami surface style modelled off of natural Japanese flooring provides great traction. Rubber mats offered on British Martial Arts Mats also come in different surface textures, ranging from stud dot to amoebic.
Two Factors that Determine What Type of Mats to Use
Before looking into the different mats available to you, you’ll need to decide what type of mat that you’d like to use. Knowing what suits you best allows you to discover the needs that you have, and buy gym flooring according to your needs. That’s why it’s best to consider the amount of money you have available, whilst also considering the use of the equipment. During the planning phase, you can think of different ways to best utilise the space you have available, tailoring it to fit your needs.
Having a budget gives you a set of parameters to work in, and this gives you the ability to take control of your money. It may be best to have a high and low figure of what you’re willing to spend, as this allows you to be more flexible when purchasing.
From creating a stellar training environment for elite level combat sports athletes to creating a space of your own to burn calories, there are many uses for sports flooring. Take some time right now and ask yourself what you plan to use the space for. Are you planning on setting up a recreational training spot at home or create a full sized ring to train clients? Taking time to write down the goals that you have for your training space, and the best ways to reach them, will help you as you create your gym.
Types of Gym Flooring
One of the most common types of gym flooring is a simple concrete floor. Concrete is the building material used in production of homes and in basement foundations. Many who create their own home gyms choose to not put any athletic flooring down, and instead just use concrete floors. But concrete is not ideal for your workouts, and can be unforgiving when you drop weights or uncomfortable to stand on for extended periods of time. Overtime, working out on concrete floors can have a harmful effect on your joints and ligaments.
Putting rubber or foam mats underneath you can help reduce the strain on your joints and allow you to work out for a longer time. Having sports flooring can help to protect your floors and provide traction, as concrete floors are notorious for being slippery. Once you begin to sweat, concrete floors can become almost like ice, limiting your ability to train.
Carpet is a step up from concrete, as it may provide a bit more traction and minor cushioning from falls. However, carpets can easily become frayed and worn down after training on them. It also offers minimal support from falls, trips, and slips. Most carpets are less than 4 mm thick and may not provide the best traction. Carpets run into the same problem with moisture that concrete floors have because carpets can become saturated with sweat and water easily, making it slippery and not conducive to a good workout.
Carpets also run the risk of causing rug burn, as the fibres in the carpet can cause friction with skin. This makes rugs and carpets less than ideal for any athletic activity, apart from stretching before your workout. Last, carpets offer minimal impact resistance when weight training. Weights that are dropped on carpets easily damage subfloors.
Wood floors are durable, but provide limited impact absorption and cushioning ability. If you’re training with weights over 25 kg, you may damage the wood floors or equipment that you’re using. Most wood floors are finished with a topcoat that prevents against moisture absorption, and this could leave puddles, water, or sweat on the floor when working out. Best to avoid working out on wood floors.
Foam mats are some of the best gym flooring options. With foam, you can easily cushion falls and train complex and quick combinations of movements. Foam mats are incredibly durable, springing back to the original shape time after time. Foam mats are offered in three different types: jigsaw puzzle mats, rollout mats, and flat mats. The only disadvantage that foam has is that it can be easily dented, scuffed, and torn by heavy materials, like weight plates and strength training equipment. Foam mats are not ideal to put underneath workout equipment like treadmills and ellipticals, as over time they will be dented from the machines.
Thickness Vs Density
Thickness and density are two separate but similar qualities which should be kept in mind when purchasing mats. Thickness is the physical height of the mat, and density is the amount of material packed into one cubic metre of space. Mats with a higher density can resist compression better than mats with lower density, making them ideal to take the regular impact of throws and takedowns. Some mats of different thicknesses may have the same density, so they offer the same amount of material inside the mats.
Different Thicknesses of Foam Mats
Thickness is a great indicator of what a mat can be used for. Foam mats are offered in three different thicknesses: 20mm, 30mm, and 40mm. Below, you’ll find the most common uses for mats that come in these three different thicknesses:
The thinnest type of mat, 20 mm mats, are great for standup combat sports that primarily involve kicks and strikes from a standing position. Some of the most common forms of striking sports include boxing, karate, and Taekwondo. You can also use these mats for breakdancing and other forms of dancing. 20mm mats are typically more rigid, offering a harder surface to fight on, which is ideal if you need to set your feet and make a lightning-fast strike.
Considered the middle ground between 20 mm and 40mm mats, 30 mm mats are ideal for martial arts disciplines which involve equal parts striking and groundwork, like jujitsu, BJJ, and MMA. 30mm mats offer the best cushioning ability for the price on the market. Many 30mm mats rival thicker mats due to increased density, which allows more protection for athletes. 30mm mats are also perfect for training centres which employ many styles and backgrounds in their cross-disciplinary training technique. The XPE Tatami Mats offered by British Martial Arts Mats comes in a 30 mm size, and is considered one of the best mats available on the market. Featured in WUKF 4, an international Karate competition held last October, these mats have lived up to the scrutiny of the international community, with even elite athletes training on them.
40 mm mats are highly sought after by owners of training centres which train martial arts disciplines that use throws, trips, and grappling techniques. These mats are especially great to use if you have athletes training throws at shoulder height, over 1.5 m from the ground. Some sports that use 40 mm mats include judo, jujitsu, and Olympic style wrestling. The XPE Tatami rollout mats come in a 40 mm size, making it ideal for large training centres which need lots of coverage. Another great 40 mm Mat is the Judo Mat, which is made of polyurethane foam, wrapped in a nonslip vinyl coating.
Rubber mats are one of the most widely used materials in training centres. Made from recycled rubber tires, rubber mats offer an eco-friendly workout material which is inexpensive for covering sizeable areas. Rubber mats are offered in three different types: rubber puzzle tiles, rubber mats, and rubber rolls. Rubber mats are ideal for sports flooring in weight training centres.
The best rubber mats have a little bit of “spring”, allowing you to almost feel the weights bouncing back. As someone who has dropped 150 kg of weight on a deadlift platform covered in rubber mats, I can attest to the fact that rubber mats help to absorb the impact from the weight and disperse it throughout the floor. When paired with bumper plates or even rubber coated weight plates, you may even notice that the barbell may pop off the ground when it bounces.
Another thing that’s great about rubber is that it provides traction in wet and icy environments. This makes rubber mats extremely useful for farmers, who use the mats for stable flooring and high traction flooring for walkways for cattle and horses. Rubber mats absorb stress on your joints and come in handy in situations when you are standing in the same place for long stretches of time. The major disadvantage of rubber mats is that although they can absorb impacts, they provide little cushioning for falls.
Vulcanised and Non-Vulcanised Rubber
There is a significant difference between vulcanised and non-vulcanised rubber, as vulcanised rubber is more water resistant and protects against moisture. Vulcanised rubber is ideal for situations where there is a lot of moisture, dirt, and debris, like cow stables are dog runs. Non-vulcanised rubber can become saturated with moisture, and if left outdoors in cold weather, it may freeze and crack. The rubber mats offered at British Martial Arts Mats are made from vulcanised rubber, and are incredibly durable and able to last even in harsh winter weather.
4 Key Categories When Choosing a Sports Mat
We’re going to touch on four major categories to help narrow down your choices to find a sports mat: Cushioning Ability, Mobility, Surface, Coverage.
1. Cushioning Ability
The first metric which you should look into when you’re purchasing mats to kit out your gym is how much impact absorption will you need. If you’re involved in a high-intensity combat sport, you’re going to need mats that will cushion a fall from 1.5 metres high.
There is a “Cushioning Continuum” in the world of gym mats: Open Cell Foam PU >Closed Cell EVA> Closed Cell Foam XPE > Rubber. Open cell foams like polyurethane have the most cushioning for falls, followed by the closed cell foams like XPE and EVA. The last mat listed, which is also the most durable and resilient, is rubber mats. One of these mats is the perfect fit for your gym, but it’s important to know how each mat is produced to know which one will suit you the best.
The Anatomy of A MMA Mat
There is an excellent article on our blog “The Ultimate Guide to XPE Mats” which details the manufacturing processes of different MMA Mats. Without rehashing too much in that article, let’s dig into how each of the mats are manufactured to understand their ability to absorb impact.
Rubber mats are formed in a crucible of pressure and heat. Large chunks of rubber are shredded and ground, almost to a powder. The rubber chunks are bonded through a polyurethane binding agent and then heated and mixed. This crumbly mixture is poured into a mould, and a hydraulic press presses it to 31.5 Mega-pascals, combining it to one solid piece. To put this into perspective, this is enough pressure to crush some hardwoods like redwood.
Rubber is the most durable mat on the market. It’s non-porous, so it’s resistant to the weather. If you’re looking for something that will protect your floors, limit the impact from weightlifting, then take a look at our Blue Fleck Rubber Gym Mats. It might be the perfect fit for your workout space.
Leaning more towards rigidity than cushioning, XPE foam makes some of the best martial arts mats on the market. Through a chemical process, a mutual cross-linking occurs between polyethylene particles, creating an intricate net-like structure. XPE is incredibly strong, dense, and durable, but it’s also great for cushioning falls. It is great for absorbing the shock of critical falls over 1.5m.
Unlike rubber and other foams, XPE foam also doesn’t have an unappealing smell. Other materials off-gas noxious gases when they’re first put in a home or training centre, and it may take months before the smell goes away. But XPE foam is odourless.
For larger competition settings, large XPE roll out mats provide the perfect balance between grip and shock absorption. Shop 40mm rollout mats to get a better idea of the price and your needs.
Another great XPE product is the Wall Pads, which has a core of cross-linked polyethylene and is wrapped in flame resistant polyester PVC. We have it available in five different colours and three different backing options, including a plywood backing.
Ethylene-vinyl acetate is the most inexpensive option for workout mats. Also, a closed-celled foam, EVA is non porous and waterproof, so it’s easy to clean. EVA is a brilliant choice to cushion falls from grappling.
The key problem with EVA, and XPE also, is that they’re not meant for continuous pressure, like workout equipment, treadmills, and weight plate stands. EVA and XPE will eventually conform to the shape of heavy objects, and this pressure causes an irreversible indent.
If you’re looking for a mat which cushions against falls, look at these Jigsaw Mats which are 30mm thick.
An open celled foam, PU is more commonly used in landing mats, 20cm thick mats to cushion against falls greater than 1.5m. This type of mat is most often used in large gymnastic or cheerleading competitions where there is a risk of major injury from a fall. PU is a semi-porous foam which is filled with air, which can help cushion a fall. Although extremely helpful as a sparring aid, PU mats make poor gym flooring because fighters sink into the mat, offering very little traction.
At British MMA Mats, we offer a more mobile version of a PU mat, a 40mm Judo Mat which perfectly cushions falls from critical heights. The centre core of the mat is made from crushed PU foam which is rated for high shock absorption properties, and then it’s wrapped with a welded PVC cover, with an anti-slip coating bonded to the underside. This would be the perfect mat to help protect inexperienced fighters or those learning advanced grappling techniques.
Now that you’ve thought through what level of cushioning you need in your gym, the next question is, do you need a mat that’s easy to move? Or is it going to be permanent flooring in your gym space? If it’s a permanent fixture of your gym, storage space will not factor into your decision, and neither will the weight of the individual mats.
Rollout mats are some of the most convenient mobile mats on the market. With the help of one volunteer, you can roll up the mat into an easy to carry cylinder. Rollout mats come with different connectors, but the easiest to use is the Velcro connectors.
Martial arts jigsaw puzzle mats are perfect for mobility because of their easy-to-pull-apart, interlocking puzzle edges. When using it for large competitions, it’s likely that jigsaw puzzle mats might pull apart, leaving gaps between the mats. Always make sure the mats are connected before training on them.
Permanent rubber flooring can be the perfect fit for your weight room. Rubber hardly ever moves, which means there will be minimal readjustments.
An often-overlooked aspect of purchasing gym flooring is what kind of surface you need on your mat. If you’re purchasing MMA mats for competitions, it’s important to think about the main fighting style that most fighters will use. At your gym, do you focus on a martial arts discipline that is primarily standing up, either striking or grappling? Then you’re going to need a mat with a high traction dimple effect, commonly referred to as T-Pattern, which will give the participants grip for lightning quick movements.
However, this dimple grip can be abrasive for groundwork. If the martial art discipline you practise involves a lot of groundwork, consider purchasing a mat with a tatami grip, which will limit the amount of mat burn.
Also consider the surface that you’ll be placing the mat on. Are you putting it on carpet, concrete, or hardwood? You may want to put a thin underlayment underneath your mat to protect the flooring.
How much space are you going to need to cover? This is where the price directly factors in because some types of mats are significantly more expensive for larger rooms. XPE rollout mats are probably the most economical choice for large rooms (30m squared). These mats can be rolled out over wooden or concrete floors, while protecting both the floor underneath and the participants involved.
If you’re looking to outfit a medium to large commercial weight room, rubber tile flooring is your best choice. It’s the most durable flooring option because of its ability to absorb large amounts of kinetic energy from a fully loaded barbell.
Different Mats for Different Sports
Just as there are many types of materials which mats can be made from, there are also several uses for sports flooring. Mats that are used for combat sports, such as jujitsu or judo, will differ from those used for yoga or working out. Also, as mentioned above, portability and ease-of-use may also factor into what you’re using the mats for. Take, for example, purchasing a mat for yoga. You want to have a mat that is easily portable, preferably one that rolls up into a small cylinder. Alternatively, if you’re looking to outfit a training centre with large equipment like treadmills and ellipticals, then you’ll looking into mats that can be permanently kept on the ground and which will not move or slide. Let’s look at the best mats to buy for each sport:
Martial Arts Training
The type of mat that you used for your martial arts training centre primarily depends on whether you need them to be portable or if they’re going to stay in one spot. Rollout mats, long rolls of foam, come in handy in training centres which need to have portable mats. With the help of one other person, you can quickly deploy the mats and create a large training space for multiple athletes to train on. If you’re looking for a more permanent solution, 1 m x 2 m judo mats are perfect for any training centre. These mats are easy to fit together, they can even be cut to fit into a large training space.
The best match use weight training centres are rubber mats between 17 mm and 20 mm in thickness. These mats are ideal for your gym because they’re incredibly durable. Consider pairing foam and rubber mats to diversify your workout space. This helps to create a better use of the space available, whilst also providing separate spots for different activities.
Mats for underneath equipment
Rubber mats are also incredibly useful for putting underneath training equipment, like treadmills, ellipticals, and rowing machines. Unlike foam, which can be easily dented, scuffed, and cut, rubber mats are incredibly durable, and can hold heavy weights for long periods of time.
Very few other sports can help improve mobility and flexibility like yoga can. When training for yoga classes, you’ll need a roll that you can carry around, and also provides enough cushioning when you’re down on the ground. Consider purchasing a thin foam role, which is lightweight and best for you to move around.
The most important purchase that you make for your gym might be one of the first purchases you make. What gym flooring you choose is incredibly important because you want the mat you choose to fit the sport you train at your gym. Rubber mats are perfect for weightlifting, but lousy for cushioning falls in a MMA gym. As you consider what mat to purchase for your gym, keep an eye out for the level of cushioning, firmness, and the impact absorption you’ll need.
Author: David Van Kooten