Choosing Between Roll-out Mats, Flat Mats and Puzzle Mats

There are three types of martial arts mats that are commonly used by facilities: There is the classic roll-out mat, known best for its use in wrestling. There is the flat mattypically rectangular in shape and of varying thicknesses. Then there is the puzzle mat, the most economical option that is often found in karate and taekwondo dojos. What are the differences between the three types, and are there pros and cons of using each one?

Roll-Out Mats

(Almost) as long as there have been wrestlers, there have been roll-out mats. Roll-out mats range from smaller surfaces for home use to mats that cover much larger spaces. Gyms may often have several roll-out mats taped together in their training rooms. Standard wrestling mats are typically quite large, with a standard measurement of 40’ x 40’, and often come with several wrestling rings outlined on the vinyl surface.  

Pros of Roll-Out Mats:

  • Roll-out mats are more economical due to their construction materials, which are less expensive than standard rectangular flat mats.  
  • The vinyl surface covering makes cleaning the mats easy and prevents them from retaining moisture and dirt. 
  • They can be rolled up and moved out of the way for other activities or when not in use.  

Cons of Roll-Out Mats:

  • Roll-out mats are typically made of a closed-cell foam, which offers a firm surface with little give for cushioning takedowns. 
  • The size of the mats make them difficult for one person to handle, and putting them down and taking them back up requires several people for effective handling. 
  • Mats in a larger area must be taped together, which requires re-taping as sweat and grime loosen the tape from the surface. They may be difficult to fit tightly to walls, causing the mats to shift and create gaps.  
  • The large vinyl surface is often slippery when sweated on, and may slide around on top of the foam, making dynamic movements trickier and potentially dangerous.

Puzzle Mats

These interlocking mat sections are a simple way to mat a room and are often used in traditional martial arts and other stand-up fitness activities requiring a lightly padded floor.  

Pros of Puzzle Mats:

  • Due to their economical construction, puzzle mats are more affordable than most mats, and have been a go-to for martial arts gyms for many years.  
  • Puzzle mats often come in more colors, allowing gym owners to customize a color and design to fit their facility.  

Cons of Puzzle Mats:

  • Puzzle mats can be challenging to keep clean. With all the interlocking edges, germs and grime have many places to hide. 
  • The foam used in puzzle mats is porous, meaning germs and grime not only end up in the seams, but can also be ground into the mat itself.  
  • They break down much quicker than a roll-out mat or flat mat due to the economical foam that is used. The upfront cost may be less expensive, but you can expect to pay the same to replace your puzzle mats every 2-3 years.  

Flat Mats

Rectangular in shape, these mats usually come in two sizes. A full mat is 2 meters x 1 meter, or roughly 6.7’ x 3.3’. Half mats are 1 meter by 1 meter (3.3’ x 3.3’). These mats have become increasingly popular due to their durability. 

Pros of Flat Mats:

  • Due to their construction of foam wrapped tightly by vinyl, these mats can be cut to allow them to fit tightly to the walls of most spaces, ensuring less shifting and gapping.  
  • They come in varying thicknesses and surfaces, allowing for a more customized training area. The 2” thickness and smooth finish is common in MMA training, where mat burn needs to be reduced and throws and takedowns are common. 1.5” thickness in a tatami, or textured, surface, allows enough cushion for grappling while also providing more grip.  
  • Flat mats are more durable and often come with long-term warranties. Zebra offers a 10year warranty on its mats due to their proven ability to withstand years of training.  

Cons of Flat Mats:

  • They are the most expensive option up front. However, while a gym owner can expect to pay a larger up-front cost for these mats, the cost over time is very economical, as they can be expected to last a decade or more.  
  • They are heavy, making them less mobile for spaces that don’t want mats down full-time. However, they can be used for many different activities, including yoga and fitness.  

Making the Right Choice

While Zebra recommends using flat mats because of their quality and longevity, every facility is different. That’s why we work with you to help you choose the right option. We want you to be happy with your purchase. Contact our team for a custom quote on your facility today.