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When the pandemic forced us all into our homes, it took me a while to find the best home workout setup. Before the pandemic, I either went to the gym or worked out outdoors — even then, though, I always wanted a way to work out at home. I had weights, medicine balls, jump ropes and a rowing machine, but I needed some kind of a mat for calisthenics and to protect my floors from scratching. I tried thin yoga mats, but they weren’t comfortable to do ab exercises on and they didn’t have enough mass to prevent slipping. I needed a mat that was thicker, more comfortable and easy to store in my small New York apartment.
When I was still living with my family in Virginia, my aunt moved in with us and brought with her this exercise mat resembling the ones used in elementary school gym classes. Those mats are typically old, dirty and covered in rips, but it’s hard to deny their utility: They’re thick, soft and heavy-duty enough to withstand years of use by hundreds of people every day. When I first tried some sit-ups on my aunt’s mat, I knew it was what I was looking for. At over 1 inch thick with dense-feeling foam, I felt both adequately supported and cushioned during any workout. When I moved to New York, my aunt bought me one as a housewarming gift, and it has become the anchor to my home gym setup.
Since the mat is heavier and more substantial than a typical yoga mat, I haven’t had any issues with it slipping underneath me. And because this mat is so thick, I can use it to pad the floor when I use my rowing machine, jump rope or lift heavy weights, knowing that I won’t damage the floor or annoy the people living below me. The smooth, non-spongy material makes it very easy to keep clean — all I have to do is spray it down with water and wipe off any dust that collects when I’m not using it. If I want to clear out the room, the mat is made of panels and easily folds up — it neatly fits in a closet or leaned up against the wall.
It’s not necessarily the most versatile mat, though. Even though you can fold it up and store it away, it’s not as easy to transport it for use outside the house. And since it’s long and rectangular, it can’t fit in rooms with less space — if I want to work out in the smaller room in my apartment, I have to fold the outer panels in and only use the middle ones. Still, given that I don’t plan to take the mat elsewhere, I can live with those flaws, especially when the mat delivers so well on comfort, support and thickness.
Other exercise mats to consider
If you want something more portable for use outside the home and don’t mind using something a bit thinner, this mat from AmazonBasics may be a good option. It’s only one-half of an inch thick, but it’s easily rollable and comes with a carrying strap for easy transportation.
This high-density foam mat is made of interlocking tiles that each cover 2 square feet, and you can use however many tiles you need to cover your workout area. You can purchase the tiles in three different options: one-half-of-an-inch thick, three-quarters-of-an-inch thick and 1-inch thick.