Exercise Mat vs Yoga Mat: What’s the Difference and Which One Do You Need?
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I thought that “yoga mat” and “exercise mat” were synonymous for the longest time. I had a yoga mat that I used for everything, and it was only last year when I realized that there is a whole world of exercise mats out there that are specifically for home workouts.
I know I can’t be the only one who didn’t realize this, so today, we’re going to take a look at the exercise mat vs yoga mat. Why? Because it’s important! After all, a proper mat protects your joints and floors, helps you maintain proper alignment, and helps you feel stable during your workout. We’ll cover what the difference is, how decide which type of mat is best for you, and my favorite brands.
Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post which means that if you make a purchase after clicking on one, I may earn a commission. Full disclaimer here.
What’s the Difference Between a Yoga Mat and an Exercise Mat?
At first glance, yoga mats and exercise mats may seem fairly similar. Both are typically made from antimicrobial materials, such as PVC, foam, or rubber, and designed to cushion the body during physical activity.
However, there are a few key differences.
What Defines a Yoga Mat?
Yoga mats are typically thinner than exercise mats, which provide extra stability during yoga poses that require balance. In general, the yoga mat thickness is between 1/8 and 1/4 of an inch. (Check out my guide to extra thick mats if you have sensitive knees!) There are even ultra-thin travel yoga mats that are about 1/16 of an inch thick.
Mats designed for yoga are also usually long and narrow. They are usually just 2 feet wide and anywhere from 68 to 72 inches long.
In addition, these mats often have a textured, “grippier” surface, which helps to prevent slipping – a key concern for yogis, especially for those who practice Bikram.
Finally, most mats made for yoga are designed to be easily transported; they are usually lighter and often come with carrying cases or straps.
Can You Use Yoga Mats as Exercise Mats?
A yoga mat works as an exercise mat in a pinch – I used one for years.
But it depends on what kind of workout you’re doing. If you’re just doing some light calisthenics or low-impact exercise, then you shouldn’t have any issues.
However, if you’re looking to do a more intense workout, such as HIIT or weight training, then it may not have enough cushion, in which case you’ll want to choose a mat that’s specifically designed for exercise.
Because yoga mats are usually thinner and less cushioned than workout mats, they might not provide enough support for your joints during high-impact activities like plyometrics. Also, the narrow width of a yoga mat can be a problem if you’re doing exercises that require a larger surface area.
This was my biggest problem with using a yoga mat for exercise. I was always worried about scuffing my hardwood floor anytime I did a jump or a lunge that took me off the mat – not to mention I had to be really careful not to drop or scrape my weights on the floor!
When to Buy Yoga Mats
If your primary form of exercise is yoga, pilates, bodyweight workouts, and other floor-based exercises, then a yoga mat is ideal for you. You can also get by with a yoga mat if you have a small space and need something portable that you can easily roll up and move out of the way.
What is the Best Yoga Mat?
My favorite yoga mat is the Everyday B Mat. At 4mm thick, it’s a well-rounded mat that suits most people. It also has the best non-slip surface out of all the mats I’ve ever had. It doesn’t matter how sweaty you get in down, dog you will stick like a honey-coated fly in a spiderweb!
They also have thinner yoga mats if you need something lightweight and ideal for travel.
I also like that they’re made from eco-friendly and anti-microbial materials. I’ve had mine for five or six years now, and it is showing signs of wear, but I think that is mostly because I was using it for my workouts with running shoes, and it’s not designed to hold up to that kind of beating.
What is an Exercise Mat?
An exercise mat is designed to provide extra cushioning during workouts. They come in various sizes, thicknesses, and colors, but they tend to be thicker and cover a larger surface area than yoga mats.
For instance, most exercise mats are generally between 1/4 to 1/2 an inch thick. The extra thickness helps absorb shock and protect your knees when jumping, kicking, or doing other high-impact movements in your workout.
And while they are often the same length as yoga mats, they are usually much broader – 4-5′ or wider.
Can You Use an Exercise Mat for Yoga?
You can, but you may wish to invest in a yoga mat instead – especially if you go to a yoga studio for your vinyasas. Since exercise mats are larger and heavier, you might have a harder time lugging them to and from your yoga classes.
The other problem is that the exercise mat may not have sufficient grip, especially if you do a lot of hot yoga and floor exercises.
I haven’t done a whole lot of yoga in the past couple of years, but even when I’m doing V pushups or dive-bombers (for which the starting position is very similar to downward dog pose), my hands start to slide if I’m a bit sweaty.
When to Buy Exercise Mats
If you want something that can stand up to more intense workouts, you’ll want something specifically designed for exercise. You’ll also want to go with fitness mats for martial arts training, dancercise, kettlebells workouts, or any high-impact exercises that require more space.
The thicker padding will help protect your joints, and the larger size will give you plenty of room for moving around and dropping barbells without worrying about scuffing up your floors.
What is the Best Exercise Mat?
My number one recommendation for a general exercise mat is the Yo Gorilla Mats. They are very durable and are one of the thicker exercise mats on the market. I’ve had this mat for almost a year, and it still looks the same as the day I bought it – and it’s undergone countless sessions of shoe stomping by this point!
I got the 6′ x 5′ mat, and although it covers an adequate amount of floor for my workouts, I almost wished I had sized up to their larger one.
This mat is a bit expensive, but trust me when I say it really is the best exercise mat, especially for high-impact workouts. (You can also check out my full review on the Gorilla Mat for a more in-depth look!)
Yoga Mat vs Exercise Mat Conclusion
The two mats offer many the same benefits. However, there is a significant difference between a yoga mat vs exercise mat.
In short, you want to stick with fitness mats for high-impact workouts or exercises that take up a lot of space, and yoga mats for yoga classes, bodyweight exercises, low impact exercises, or any situation where you need a non-slippery surface.
Finding the right mat for your studio, gym, or workout area can enhance your workout sessions and provide the best possible support for your body. I named my favorites for either type of mat, but if you need more options, you can check out this list of the best exercise mats for hardwood floors (or any hard surface).