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I want to buy an exercise mat. I just did a quick check on Amazon and it was like I expected, you get mats in all different price ranges.

What are possible differences between cheap and expensive mats?
What should I look for, when I intend to buy a high quality mat?
Are there possible pitfalls or features that sound useful but no one really needs?
Are there fitness mats for different exercises (some are called yoga or pilates mat)?
How long and wide should a mat be, considering my height and the types of exercise?

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Note: This is not intended to be a shopping question. You can of course use examples to support your answer, but please bear in mind, that I am not looking for the best mat on the planet. –  Baarn Nov 11 '12 at 11:08
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Consider the mat grip on both sides. For the bottom side, check to see if it will grip to your floor/rug, or will it slide from underneath you (can be remedied with an anti-slip insert). For the top of the mat, check that the mat doesn't grip or stick to your body. When you are doing yoga, you don't want the mat to be constantly sticking to you and being lifted up every time you raise your hand or foot. –  Moses Nov 21 '12 at 20:43
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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted
+50

I'm thinking about buying a mat myself so I thought I'd share my research so far. As expected different the price is determined by material, thickness and size. Different mats are appropriate for different types of exercises.

If you want to do some general exercises like sit-ups a 'general' exercise mat will do. The thickness of these mats varies between 1 and 1.5cm and are made of pvc/foam.

If you want to do some pilates, guess what, a pilates mat is what you want. These tend to be 1.5 to 1.9 cm thick and made of Thermal Plastic Elastomer (TPE).

For yoga you'd want a yoga mat. These mats are like pilates mats but thinner, around 0.3/0.6cm. These tend to come in roll-up models, I guess for people who bring them to a yoga class or something.

Then there are heavy-duty mats, the one you find in gyms. These are available in thicknesses up to 5cm (I've seen such mats with a thickness of +30cm, but these are not made for general fitness).

As for the length, this is dependent on what exercises you want to do. For sit-ups you'd want support for at least your tail bone, back, shoulders and head. I can't realy think of an exercise that requires the mat to be as tall as you are.

Be sure to check how to clean the mat (as you eventually will need to do this) and how/where to store the mat. Checking for user reviews (if available) is generally a good idea.

Some mats also have special features such as anti-slip, anti-bacterial, anti-odor, easy to clean, able to roll up the mat, etc. These may effect your choice so I thought I'd mention this.

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I'd recommend to buy the mat in a store so you can touch and feel a sample mat.

How will you have to carry it? The thinner the mat, the easier it'll fit in a single bag together with your other stuff.

Some considerations in case you sweat a lot:

For yoga/stretching/pilates/... you sometimes have to roll up the mat to a very specific height (less than brick height) to facilitate certain twisted poses. Buy a mat that is not damaged by sitting on it (mat in partly rolled-up state).

Also check it out if the mat still feels right with sweaty palms (or sweaty bare feet). Is it slippery? Does it soak up the sweat like a sponge (and do you want this?) How difficult will it be to remove the sweat, or to wash the mat? If a towel is put on the mat as a second layer, how does the towel move?

If the mat is too thin the temperature of the floor will pass thru. If the mat is thicker it'll insulate better.

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Read the reviews and then compare them to what you're needing it for. For instance, if I needed a mat for jumping barefoot, one thing I would keep in mind is whether the reviews speak of how comfortable the mat is, easy to jump on, etc. When I briefly looked up exercise mats, I noticed that the top ones had tons of reviews so in a sense, depending on what you need it for, your work is done for you in terms of what users write about it.

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One problem with online reviews is that you never know who wrote them. –  Baarn Nov 23 '12 at 19:31
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