With yoga’s growing popularity, just about everyone these days has a yoga mat at home—whether it’s used daily or gathering dust in a corner. If you’re interested in yoga, the chances are good that you’re also interested in other forms of exercise. If you don’t want to buy specific equipment for each activity, you might be wondering if you can use a yoga mat as an exercise mat.
Can you use a yoga mat as an exercise mat? Yes, you can use a yoga mat as an exercise mat, as long as the mat is thick enough to support the type of activity you’re doing. High impact exercises and exercises in which you might fall are best done on a thicker exercise mat.
In short, whether you can use a yoga mat as an exercise mat depends entirely on the mat you’re using and the exercise you’re hoping to do on it. Below, we’ll break down which activities can be done on yoga mats and which require a thicker exercise mat.
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The Difference Between Yoga Mats and Exercise Mats
As we mentioned, whether or not a yoga mat will be sufficient for the exercise you’re doing will depend partially on the mat you plan to use. Yoga and exercise mats come in varying:
It’s more important that you get a feel for the mat you’re using and get an idea of how well it will support you in your activities than to worry about whether it’s labeled for yoga or exercise.
That being said, both mat types will generally possess specific characteristics, so knowing which activity a mat is intended for can give you a good starting point.
Let’s take a quick look at the differences between yoga and exercise mats to give you a better idea of whether you need to buy an exercise mat in addition to your yoga mat or if you can use one mat for everything you want to do.
Yoga mats, which are essentially a type of small, thin exercise mat, are designed for practicing yoga on.
These mats are usually ⅛” thick, with extra thick yoga mats being ¼.” You can sometimes find yoga mats at 1” thick, but this isn’t very common. These mats are usually 24×68”, but longer and wider sizes are also available.
Yoga mats give yoga practitioners a clean, cushioned surface to practice yoga on, while a grippable surface provides stability. Although it’s essential to have some cushion while practicing certain poses, such as camel pose, too much padding can make balance poses, like tree pose, more difficult. Yoga mats provide a good balance between the two, facilitating safe, comfortable yoga sessions.
An important feature of yoga mats is their portability since many people travel to yoga studios to practice. For this reason, they’re usually made out of ultra-lightweight materials such as:
Because many yoga practitioners are concerned about the environment, yoga mats are increasingly coming out in natural, eco-friendly materials.
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Exercise mats are often called gym mats since they’re the type you’d typically see in a gymnasium.
These mats serve much the same function as yoga mats, but they’re intended for a wide variety of higher impact sports. As such, these mats tend to be thicker and firmer than yoga mats, so they cushion more impact force. They’re also usually heavier to prevent them from sliding during workouts, making them much less portable than yoga mats.
Another essential function of exercise mats is protecting the floor underneath them, from dropped weights, for example.
Gym mats are usually found in thicknesses between 1”-3” and come in sizes small enough to carry or large enough for multiple people to practice on. The larger sizes are perfect if you’re planning on using your mat for a home gym and don’t plan on taking it anywhere.
Exercise mats are usually made from one of the following:
- TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer material)
- EVA foam (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate)
Now that you know how the two types of mats differ, let’s get into what exercises are best done on which mat.
What Exercises Can You Use a Yoga Mat For?
Because yoga mats are the thinner of the two mat types, they withstand much less impact than exercise mats do. For this reason, it’s essential not to use them for high impact exercises or activities with a high chance of falling.
Yoga mats are intended to provide a little bit of cushioning to joints during lower impact exercises and reduce slipping. They’re not meant to protect you from falls or save your floor if you drop heavyweights.
Here are some common exercises that you can safely do on a yoga mat:
- Light weights
- Barefoot bodyweight exercises
- Tai Chi
- Foam rolling
As a general rule, if you try a mat out and feel like it’s enhancing your comfort or protecting you from injury, it’s probably a good fit. If you’re experiencing joint pain during workouts, you might consider whether you need to move to a thicker mat.
It’s also worth considering whether you plan to travel with the mat or whether you’ll be leaving it at home. If you need a mat to bring to the studio, a lighter yoga mat is definitely the better option.
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When Do You Need an Exercise Mat?
Thicker exercise mats naturally provide more protection (for you and the floor) from impacts. This can be the impact of your body from jumping or falling, or it can be the impact of heavy weights or kettlebells that may drop or get slammed down with force.
You might want to upgrade your yoga mat to a thicker exercise mat if you’re planning on doing any of the following:
- Acrobatics or gymnastics
- Cardio with shoes on
- Jump Rope
- Heavy free weights or equipment
A good rule of thumb is if you usually wear shoes when you exercise, an exercise mat might be the way to go since they hold up to damage much better than yoga mats do.
These mats are heavy to keep them from sliding around during exercise, which is an excellent safety feature. However, this also makes them much more of a pain to carry around, so they’re not really suitable for taking around town with you.
Dangers of Using the Wrong Mat
For the most part, you should be able to determine which mat will work best for your workout routine without too much trouble. To help you decide, make sure to:
- Read the manufacturer’s suggestions for use
- Test it out if possible
- Read customer reviews
Finding the right mat isn’t difficult, but it does take a little bit of thought on your part. It’s essential to find the right mat for any physical activity you’re participating in; otherwise, the mat may actually increase your risk of injury rather than reduce it.
The wrong mat can:
- Affect your balance, increasing the risk of falls
- Fail to cushion joints
- Increase risk of slipping
» MORE: How to Keep Your Yoga Mat From Slipping on the Floor
As you can see, there’s not a clear-cut answer to whether you can use a yoga mat as an exercise mat or not. The best thing to do is consider what type of exercise you plan on doing and whether the mat will provide the proper amount of cushioning to keep you safe.
As long as you take the time to evaluate the mat and even try it out to see how it feels, you shouldn’t have any trouble. Don’t be afraid to try out a few before deciding, since each one feels a little different.