Before You Buy a Pilates Exercise Mat

Woman doing pilates on mat
Westend61/Getty Images

Most dedicated Pilates studios have Pilates mats which are crafted from wood bases and upholstered artfully.  Unlike yoga, in such studios Pilates students do not arrive to workout with their own mats. So what do Pilates practitioners do when they want to work out away from the studio? A yoga mat? Not quite. They use at home exercise mats are specifically suited for Pilates. 

Before you load up your shopping cart, read on to find out what styles, specifications and materials are appropriate for a Pilates workout.

If possible test-drive a mat before making a commitment.

THICK OR THIN

Pilates and yoga mats are similar in size by the primary difference is is the thickness. A standard Yoga mat is one eighth of an inch thick. For Pilates, it is imperative that the mat is thicker and/or denser than a yoga mat.  Yoga employs many more standing exercises which require a think mat that supports better proprioception and balance. Pilates, on the other hand, uses the mat for a larger volume of exercises on your back and your stomach. Pilates also requires students to perform a significant amount of spinal rolling exercises.  Try those on a thin yoga mat and you'll say one word. Ouch! Yoga mats also make use of a sticky finish which helps prevent slipping.  Pilates exercises don't rely on this feature and many exercises benefit from a slicker surface area. 

  • Select a mat that is one half inch thick. Newer mats that have very dense foam may provide suitable cushioning at just three eights of an inch. Any lower than that and you may feel the effects of a bruised spine after performing your mat. 

    HOW BIG IS TOO BIG?

    Standard fitness mats are roughly two feet wide by six feet long.  A full Pilates mat routine can certainly be accomplished on a standard yoga mat. However, you may have more options as your practice advances on a slightly wider mat. If space is not a limiting factor, search for an old school gymnasium mat where you can stretch out and use the full surface available.

    • Select a mat that suits your personal space. If possible, a variety of industrial size fitness mats are available in many sizes. A four foot by eight foot mat is perfectly viable for a home Pilates mat. 

    DENSITY OPTIONS

    I mentioned that some newer materials are successfully combining density and cushioning in a lower profile, thinner mat. What's most important is that you physically test the mat. You have two options with respect to density.  A thick dense mat that provides enough cushioning for your spine in a very firm mat. But you can also choose a gymnast mat which is much thicker yet far less firm. The softness of a gymnastics mat means you'll get less support and that can actually provide a bigger challenge to the body. 

    • Select a mat that is dense enough to pad your spine but select cushioning according to preference. Firm mats have their place and softer mats are also very useful for Pilates at home. 

    GO PRO?

    If space and budget are not an issue and you are looking for an authentic at home Pilates experience, consider going pro level.

    Pilates manufacturers sell to studios as well as individuals. Studio style mats have options like wooden dowels for your hands, accessories like small boxes and straps that hook on for your feet. Price out your favorite, customize your color and wait for the huge crate to ship your mat directly to you. Professionals outfit their studios from a few key suppliers including: Gratz Pilates, Pilates Designs by Basil, Balanced Body and Peak Pilates. You can also find plenty of used Pilates equipment online if you take some time to investigate.

    *Edited by Alycea Ungaro, P.T., M.S., Verywell Pilates Expert

    Continue Reading