Mention the sport of wrestling in the UK and what usually comes to mind is professional wrestling from the United States. But there is very little in common with what we see on our television screens as professional wrestling, like the WWE, and the sport of Olympic freestyle wrestling that we witness every four years at the Olympics. Although gaining traction among athletes in the UK, Olympic style wrestling has had a storied history in the UK since ancient times. Some styles of wrestling that evolved in the UK include the ‘Lancashire style’, ‘Westmoreland and Cumberland style‘1, and several others. In recent times, the prevailing form of wrestling in the UK has been Olympic freestyle wrestling.
If you’re interested in equipping a training center or your home with mats to perform Olympic freestyle wrestling, this article will address considerations you’ll need as you look into outfitting a space for wrestling. I also suggest reaching out to the British Wrestling Association2 for more information on clubs in your area, as the sport of wrestling is one of the most physically challenging and fun grappling sports you will ever take part in.
Olympic Wrestling History
Wrestling is a sport that has been practiced since ancient times and is the most natural form of attack and defense among human beings. Wrestling was one of the founding sports in the first Olympic games in 778 BC. In ancient times, they used either straw or dirt for a wrestling surface.
Modern Wrestling Mats
In more modern times, before the invention of PVC wrestling mats in the 1950s, competitors wrestled on canvas tarps filled with compressed horsehair. These tarps were impossible to keep clean, and the athletes wrestling on them were susceptible to matt burns, scrapes, and the threat of infections.
Then came a revolution in athletic mats with the introduction of PVC mats. In the late 1950s, PVC rubber nitrile foam mats were introduced, and they featured a PVC vinyl surface which offered improved traction. They were more resilient, lighter, and safer than old canvas mats. They became a staple of athletic clubs, school wrestling clubs, and martial arts training centers.
Recently, cross-linked polyethylene (XPE) foam has made waves in the athletic industry because of its ability to keep it’s compressibility even after reaching “zero”, the point at which a mat compresses all the way to the floor. XPE is incredibly durable and resists degrading after repeated impacts. The closed cell structure does not break down like lesser quality foams and continues to provide cushioning for falls.
The Commonness of Injuries in Wrestling
Combat sports in general are known for being rigorous and hard on the joints and muscles of athletes who compete. But wrestling is especially arduous because the whole point of the sport is to use leverage and mechanical advantage to outperform your opponent, with the goal being to either take their back or to pin your opponent. This means that athletes end up getting themselves into precarious situations where they could hurt themselves. A recent article from Brazil, “Musculoskeletal injuries in wrestling athletes,” found that the most common areas for injuries in teenage wrestlers were in their joints: knees, ankles, wrists, and shoulders. Muscle strains and lesions were the most common injuries, with 9% of muscle lesions being serious enough to have surgery3.
Another study out of the United States, where Olympic freestyle wrestling is popular in high schools and university level sports, found that middle school aged wrestlers (between 11 and 13 years of age) have a higher chance of injury than high school and collegiate wrestlers. Therefore, the younger the athletes that are training, the more likely they could see serious injuries. Most common injuries were strains (23%), contusions (21%), and concussions (7%) 4. Therefore, if you’re considering building your own home wrestling gym, then there are few safety considerations to have in mind.
Considerations for Wrestling Mats
Impact Resistance and Shock Absorption
One key to outfitting your home with wrestling mats is to purchase a mat that offers proper impact resistance and cushioning ability. According to United World Wrestling (formerly the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles), which handles regulations for international competitions including the Olympic Games, a mat can be formed of one or several elements, and these mats must between be between 50mm and 70mm thick5. For a home gym, 40 mm mats would be the perfect setup for you.
Rollout mats are the perfect mats to create your own wrestling ring at home. Rollout mats are made from cross-linked polyurethane (XPE) foam, which, as mentioned above, provides superior impact resistance and cushioning ability from falls. The final surface of these mats is anti-slip, allowing athletes to gain traction when performing difficult manoeuvres. These mats are also rated to cushion falls from 1.5m.
They’re also incredibly easy to set up and tear down. With Velcro strips that make for easy assembly, all you need to do is roll the mats out, match them up to eliminate gaps, and push the Velcro tabs together and you have a mat surface that won’t break apart. With help from one or two training partners, in a matter of minutes you can have a full ring set up. Then, just as easily, roll the mats up and stash them away.
Another great choice to create your own wrestling ring at home is to use foam jigsaw mats. Also made from XPE foam which, unlike EVA foam, has no initial acrid odour nor initial slippery surface. The XPE Tatami line of mats are the signature mat of British Marital Arts Mats. That’s because they offer superior cushioning and have much better bounce than other mats offered on the site. These come in handy in grappling sports like wrestling, where falls, slips, and trips are common.
These mats are also incredibly easy to set up and tear down because of the interlocking jigsaw connectors, which fit into one another, creating a gap free mat surface.
Another consideration is how much available space you have, and whether you’ll need to tear down and set up the mats every time. According to United World Wrestling, an Olympic freestyle wrestling ring must be 12m x 12m square, with a circle of 1m in diameter drawn in the centre of the mat, and 7m of wrestling area outside. There should also be a 1m ‘passivity zone’ and a 1.5m protection zone on the outside. However, if you’re limited in space, you can set up your mats touching the wall. If you have less than 2m of room between the wrestling area and the wall, it’s advisable to purchase wall mats to prevent against injuries, like if an athlete was to be thrown into the wall.
Boasting a thick 50mm foam pad which is 1.2m x 61cm in size, these wall mats add the added level of protection to any room that they’re placed in. Constructed from a lightweight XPE foam, which is incredibly efficient at cushioning blows and incredibly resilient.
In addition, these wall mats are covered with a heavy-duty flame resistant polyester PVC fabric. This PVC outer shell is incredibly useful in preventing friction burns. This fabric is durable, with the ability to resist gouges, scrapes, and divots. They’re also easy to install, as they are backed with chipboard which can be easily hung and affixed to any wall surface. Whether you have timber stud walls or concrete walls, just find the right fasteners and you’ll be able to install these wall pads on any wall.
Sports that are primarily focused on grappling and groundwork are the best to practice cardiovascular strength and conditioning. Wrestling is a sport that involves mental toughness, flexibility, and strength. Many mixed martial arts competitors from around the world have incorporated wrestling techniques into their skill set because wrestling teaches proper body placement and fortitude. If you are looking to add it to your arsenal of martial arts disciplines, be sure to check out a local club in your area and consider setting up your own ring in your home. Rollout mats, jigsaw mats, and wall mats are the perfect mats for a home MMA gym and are incredibly useful in creating a space that allows for training.
Author: David Van Kooten
- Barroso BG, Silva JMA, Garcia AC, Ramos NCO, Martinelli MO, Resende VB, et al. Musculoskeletal injuries in wrestling athletes. Acta Ortop Bras. [online]. 2011;19(2):98-101. Available from https://www.scielo.br/j/aob/a/c3dSQJJHYsbmkNqrPLvPF9s/?format=pdf&lang=en
- The Epidemiology of Injuries in Middle School Wrestling Between the 2015-16 and 2019-20 School Years, Fleming PR, Hacherl SL, Kelshaw PM, Erdman NK, Martin J, Dunn R, Lincoln AE; Caswell, SV. Available from https://www.nata.org/press-release/062421/middle-school-sports-have-overall-higher-rate-concussion-reported-high-school