Yoga Mat vs Exercise Mat: Which Should You Buy?


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A Yoga Mat and an Exercise Mat on the floor side by side.

Let’s talk about a question I get asked a lot as a yoga teacher: Yoga Mat vs Exercise Mat.

Are they similar? What are the pros and cons? Both have wonderful things that they are useful for.

Having had lots of experience with both of these types of mats, I want to shed some light on the subject. Like any mat, both have their places in the world of yoga and exercise. And so if you’re looking for your home workouts or yoga sessions, let’s have a look at the basic differences between these different mats.

As a side note, if you’re looking for the best mat for yoga, be sure to check out my article Choosing the BEST Yoga Mats in 8 Steps.

#1: Price

As a general rule, you can get both gym mats and yoga mats from anywhere in the region of $20-$40. However, a good yoga mat is going to be more expensive. A good quality yoga mat will generally cost anywhere from $50 upwards. And if you want a mat that ticks all the boxes (good grip, cushioning, long-lasting) then it will be $110 and upwards.

I would suggest that you buy a good-quality yoga mat if you are interested in both yoga and exercise, such as the Manduka Pro which even comes with a lifetime guarantee.

If you are a yoga beginner and want to also do more types of exercises like pilates or workout sessions, and you are on a budget, then go for fitness mats. That will probably fit you better. I have many yoga beginner students who start off with an exercise mat and then if they want to progress with their yoga practice, then move on to a more expensive and specialized yoga mat. However, for yoga and exercise beginners, an affordable mat like the Gaiam Essentials will do the job.

Yoga mat vs exercise mat - The purple yoga mat (on the left) is much thinner than the green exercise mat (on the right).
Yoga mat vs exercise mat – The purple yoga mat (on the left) is much thinner than the green exercise mat (on the right).

#2: Thickness

Yoga mats and exercise mats can vary in thickness and this is the main difference between these two types of mats. Ideally, you want to stay away from a thin yoga mat in order to protect your joints, especially if you practice on a hard floor.

An exercise mat is a much thicker mat when compared to a standard yoga mat. And this makes sense. Additionally, thicker exercise mats tend to be made of high-density foam, meaning that they have very good cushioning to protect your joints, especially if you practice on a hard surface. And this is why yoga beginners with sensitive joints are sometimes recommended to practice on thick exercise mats rather than thinner yoga mats.

YOGA MATTHICKNESS
Gaiam Dry Grip5mm
Manduka Eko5mm
Manduka Pro6mm
EXERCISE MAT
Gaiam Essentials 10mm
BalanceFrom GoYoga12mm (plus 15mm)
Folding ProSource Fit38mm
yoga mat vs exercise mat (thickness)

Practicing yoga on a soft and thick surface may be great for the joints, however, it may limit how dynamic your yoga practice can be. And so if you want to practice a dynamic form of yoga, like Ashtanga or Vinyasa flow, then an exercise mat may be too thick for you. However, if you aim to practice grounding practices like Yin yoga or Restorative yoga, then an exercise mat may be fine! It really depends on what type of yoga you are going to be doing.

On the other hand, a yoga mat may be too thin if you mainly focus on workouts rather than yoga.

Thickness for Beginners

If you are just starting out with yoga, I would suggest a yoga mat that is at least 5mm thick, like the Gaiam Dry Grip. Why? Well, for one, the thickness. It is 5mm thick, meaning it has a very good thickness for a yoga mat and is thick enough to also exercise.

As a side note, I wrote an article about yoga mat thickness and how to choose the perfect thickness for your practice.

If you are just starting out with exercise, I would suggest an affordable mat that is at least 10mm thick, like the BalanceFrom Mat. Why? Well, it is 12mm thick, plus it has an extra pad that is 15mm thick that can be used for bad knees or wrists.

#3: Grip

Simply put, for any yoga practitioner out there, you want to practice on a non-slip surface. And so if you are aiming to mainly be practicing yoga, then go for a yoga mat with a good grip.

And so as you will see from the table below, the yoga mats offer excellent grip, something which will help prevent you from sliding all over the place, like in yoga poses such as downward dog.

On the other hand, grip is not such an important issue with an exercise mat, especially if you won’t be practicing yoga. And so you can perhaps see that as yoga mats tend to be more expensive than exercise mats, the grip really does justify this price difference.

YOGA MATGRIP
Gaiam Dry GripExcellent when wet (good for hot yoga)
Manduka EkoExcellent
Manduka ProGreat grip (once broken in)
EXERCISE MAT
Gaiam Essentials Good
BalanceFrom GoYogaOK
Folding ProSource FitOK
yoga mat vs exercise mat (grip)

And so based on grip alone, if you are going to be mainly practicing yoga, I would recommend you go for a yoga mat. If on the other hand, you are mainly going to be exercising, then go for an exercise mat.

I compared the grip of the best yoga mats on the market, so if you are looking for a mat with good grip with dry and sweaty hands, then check out my article Yoga Mat Grip: I tested 7 of the most popular mats.

My handing pressing the exercise mat and showing how good the cushioning is.
Excersie mats tend to be thicker, more light weight and have better cushioning.

#4: Weight

The weight of a yoga mat and an exercise mat can be important if you are planning on traveling with your mat. Now, traveling can be going on a plane or going on a yoga retreat somewhere. It can also simply mean traveling to your local studio or your local gym.

And so if you are going to be traveling with your mat, then it is important to check the weight. Too heavy and it will be exhausting to move around.

That is something to consider. What are you willing to be okay with? Maybe this is not even a worry for you. If you think this will be an issue, then this is something to consider.

YOGA MATWEIGHT
Gaiam Dry Grip4.25lbs
Manduka Eko7lbs
Manduka Pro7.5lbs
EXERCISE MAT
Gaiam Essentials 3.11lbs
BalanceFrom GoYoga2.2lbs
Folding ProSource Fit4.2lbs
yoga mat vs exercise mat (weight)

As you can see from the table above, the exercise mats tend to be a lot lighter than the yoga mats. Of course, there are also much lighter yoga mats, such as the Manduka travel mat which weighs only 2.4lbs. And so if you are looking for a portable yoga mat, then aim for the Gaiam Dry Grip.

#5: Durable

Other things that will cost you money are if you will have your mat for a long time and whether you will have to replace it. And so it is important to find durable mats that you won’t be replacing too often. The most expensive yoga mat on the list (the Manduka Pro) actually comes with a lifetime guarantee. This means that you will only have to make the investment once and you get to have your mat for life.

YOGA MATGUARANTEE
Gaiam Dry GripDoesn’t say
Manduka EkoNo
“Most durable natural rubber yoga mat on the market”
Manduka ProLifetime
EXERCISE MAT
Gaiam Essentials Doesn’t say
BalanceFrom GoYoga2-year Warranty
Folding ProSource FitLimited lifetime
yoga mat vs exercise mat (guarantee)

Of course, as you can see from the table, two of the much cheaper exercise mats also come with some guarantee. And so keep this in mind when making your decision on what yoga mat or exercise mat to buy.

#6: Size

Are you tall and looking for a slightly larger yoga mat? This is something you need to consider before buying a yoga or exercise mat.

As you can see from the table below, both yoga mats and exercise mats tend to come in similar dimensions. The only one that seems to offer a larger version is the Gaiam Dry Grip.

YOGA MATSIZE
Gaiam Dry Grip68″ or 78″ x 24″ or 26″ x 5mm
Manduka Eko70″ x 24″ x 5mm
Manduka Pro71″ x 26″ x 6mm
EXERCISE MAT
Gaiam Essentials 72″ x 24″ x 10mm
BalanceFrom GoYoga71″ x 24″ x 12mm
Folding ProSource Fit72″ x 24″ x 38mm
yoga mats vs exercise mats (size)

#7: Portability

Having a lightweight yoga or exercise mat would make it way easier to move around with.

As you can see from the table below, the yoga mats tend to be on the heavier side, meaning that a good quality yoga mat may be hard to travel with.

On the other hand, the exercise mats are not only lighter, but the Folding ProSource Fit has the added benefit of folding into 3 squares. This means that it makes for easy storage and transport.

Of course, this also means that it will be hard to roll up and put in your bag. And so keep this in mind when choosing your yoga or exercise mat.

YOGA MATPORTABLE
Gaiam Dry Grip4.25lbs – yes
Manduka Eko7lbs – slightly heavy
Manduka Pro7.5lbs – slightly heavy
EXERCISE MAT
Gaiam Essentials 3.11lbs – yes
BalanceFrom GoYoga2.2lbs – yes
Folding ProSource Fit4.2lbs – yes plus it folds
yoga mats vs exercise mats (weight)

I would suggest going for a good quality yoga mat, especially if you can keep it in one place, like in a home gym, or home yoga studio.

#8: Eco-friendly

As you would probably expect, more expensive yoga mats are most likely to be made from better and higher-quality materials. More specifically, eco-friendly yoga mats are generally made from biodegradable natural tree rubber, while non-eco-friendly yoga mats are made from PVC.

And yet, even if a yoga mat is not listed as eco-friendly, it may still be the greener option. Why?

Well, something to point out is that in the case of Manduka at least, is that their non-eco-friendly yoga mats are “made from the highest quality PVC on the planet, manufactured emissions-free and guaranteed for life”. This means that you will only have to buy one mat for the rest of your life and this is something that could offset the fact that it is PVC made and in turn, makes it less harmful for the environment as it will never be thrown out.

YOGA MATECO-FRIENDLY
Gaiam Dry Grip“PVC material. Latex-Free.  6P Free: Free of DEHP, DBP, BBP, DINP, DIDP, and DNOP phthalates.”
Manduka Eko“Made from biodegradable, non-Amazon harvested, natural tree rubber with non-toxic foaming agents and non-azo dyes”
Manduka Pro“Responsibly crafted in an emissions-free facility Tested for harmful substances to STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX, meaning it’s safe for you and your kids to touch”
EXERCISE MAT
Gaiam Essentials “Non toxic and 6p free: PVC yoga mat is a healthier choice for you and the planet and free of DEHP, DBP, BBP, DINP, DIDP and DNOP”
BalanceFrom GoYogaDoesn’t say
Folding ProSource FitDoesn’t say
yoga mats vs exercise mats (eco-friendly)

And so as you will notice, if you want an eco-friendly mat, then look into rubber yoga mats.

#9: Colors

A big thing for many people choosing their yoga or exercise mat is having the option of many colors.

As you will see from the table below, both yoga mats and exercise mats come in a variety of colors. From the chosen mats used in this table, the exercise mats come on top with more options. However, if you are looking for more colors and even patterns, then the Gaiam Premium Extra thick might be the option for you.

Why? Well, it comes in a beautiful pattern. And so if you are looking for a good and thick yoga mat that also looks pretty, then this may be your best option. It is 6mm thick, meaning that it can offer great cushioning. Additionally, it’s lightweight, durable, and even comes with access to a full online video library!

YOGA MATCOLORS
Gaiam Dry Grip4
Manduka Eko1
Manduka Pro7
EXERCISE MAT
Gaiam Essentials 7
BalanceFrom GoYoga7
Folding ProSource Fit5
yoga mat vs exercise mat (colors)

I will say that I have had the black Manduka Pro and it is of such good quality that the fact that it is solid black is the least of my concerns!

Yoga Mat vs Exercise Mat – Conclusion

What it really comes down to is what are you looking for? Do you want something with good cushioning that is mainly for exercise? Do you want something with good grip that is mainly for yoga?

  • If you want a good-quality yoga mat that you can also exercise with, then go for the Manduka Pro. This is the ideal mat in my opinion.
  • If you are a yoga beginner and you also want to exercise, then go for the Gaiam Essentials
  • If you are interested in an eco-friendly mat, then go for the Manduka Eko
  • If you only want to exercise, then go for the BalanceFrom GoYoga or the Folding ProSource Fit depending on if you want to roll up your mat or fold it away.

Costs vary and there are many different things to keep in mind. I was impressed at how much thought I had to put into research to write about this. I hope that I gave you some solid, logical information about yoga and exercise mats that you can benefit from. Good luck hunting for a mat!

Is there a difference between a yoga mat and an exercise mat?

As a general rule, an exercise mat is thicker than a yoga mat and offers superior cushioning for the joints. On the other hand, a yoga mat offers exceptional grip, thus preventing sliding in poses like downward dog. Good quality yoga mats are more expensive and heavier than exercise mats.

Can yoga mats be used for exercising?

As a general rule, yoga mats can be used as exercise mats. However, keep in mind that yoga mats tend to be thinner than exercise mats, so aim for a thick yoga mat to protect your joints. Exercise mats can also be used for yoga, however not for dynamic forms of yoga where you will want good grip.

The last thing you want is to be sliding all over the place making your yoga practice more challenging than it needs to be. Keep in mind that a yoga mat can also be used as a pilates mat (as long as it isn’t too thin).

I will point out that this may not be important for those with a soft, more restorative-like practice. However, from experience, I have noticed that if you practice Ashtanga, Vinyasa, or any physically demanding variation like it, well, in the long term you will want to invest in a good quality yoga mat.

Is it ok to workout without a yoga mat?

As a general rule, you can work out without a yoga mat. However, make sure you are wearing good quality shoes, or that the surface you are working out on is safe enough for your joints. And so if you are going to be doing many sits ups, aim for a carpet so as to protect your back.

Which mat is best for exercise?

As a whole, the best exercise mat is a good-quality yoga mat. And so I would recommend the Manduka Pro. The reason beating that it is thick enough to protect your joints, it has a closed-cell meaning that it won’t absorb your sweat and dirt, and lastly, it comes with a lifetime guarantee.

Why are exercise mats so expensive?

Expensive exercise mats are expensive for a reason. They are built to last and so they are the only mat you will ever need to purchase. Additionally, as a general rule, the more expensive the mat, the better the materials used are, meaning that it tends to be more eco-friendly with better cushioning.

Is it ok to workout on carpet?

As a general rule, you can work out on a carpet, especially if you don’t have an exercise mat. It really does depend on the form of exercise you are doing. And so if your exercise involves sit-ups and push-ups, a carpet may ok as it will be thick enough and offer enough cushioning to protect your joints.

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Alexia Koletsou

Alexia Koletsou is a Level 1 Authorized Ashtanga Yoga Teacher with a Ph.D. in Science Communication. She received her blessing to teach Ashtanga Yoga in 2019, from the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India, where she has had the honor of practicing with R. Sharath Jois multiple times over the years. She is the owner of her own Shala in Greece and now shares her knowledge on yogamyoldfriend.com and her YouTube channel Alexia K Yoga.

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