The Foam Mats That Help Me Exercise More

Finding the motivation to exercise this past year—when gyms were closed, childcare was spotty, and most of us were trying to accomplish the bare minimum without collapsing in a pile of existential dread—was a challenge. I love my daily dose of endorphins, but as the father of a toddler, I am also just as likely to fall face-first into a nap when I have a free moment or to choose playground time over a circuit workout. I savor those moments with my daughter and appreciate my rest days, but I find that it’s all too easy to let one day become two, then three, and pretty soon I’m off my regime and feeling lethargic. 

To minimize excuses that might get in the way of sweating, I place as few barriers between myself and exercise as possible. If I’m going for a big run on Saturday, I pack my vest the night before. I keep my mountain and gravel bikes ready to ride, with repair kits attached to each. And just on the other side of my home desk is a multipurpose space my family uses as a sunroom, kid play area, and workout zone. Beneath the wooden blocks, yoga mat, counting books, pillows, and cat hair, the floor is lined with these EVA foam mats (roughly $1 per square foot), which keep the room ready for whatever our bodies need at any time of the day. 

The mats—you’ll probably recognize them from your high school gym or a yoga studio—come in 24-by-24-inch squares with puzzle-like edges that fit together, so you can fill floor spaces in your home as needed, and we like the straight edge on the pieces, because the border looks neat. Our room is four feet by eight feet, which is a great size for spreading out a yoga mat and having extra space off the sides for floppy knees or elbows. We inherited our mats from my in-laws, who, much to this gear editor’s chagrin, were using them as camping pads before they made a much needed upgrade to cots. They’re a mix of blue, red, yellow, and green, which our 21-month-old daughter loves. But if I had bought them, I would have stuck to a more refined palette of black.

The 0.4-inch-thick foam is high density, but not so much that it hurts your feet when standing for long periods of time, or your joints when you’re in kneeling poses. Our daughter has her Montessori rocker in there, as well as various books and toys. The padding ensures that when she takes a spill—which is often—the damage is minimal.

When our daughter’s not using it as a playroom, my wife and I use the area to tend to our bodies. This is where we do circuit workouts, yoga flows, and foam-rolling sessions. If I’m feeling stiff during the workday, I step in and perform a few quick dynamic stretches. We have dumbbells, TRX straps, massage balls, blocks, and kettlebells on a high shelf that our daughter can’t reach but are still accessible to us. 

Thanks to these mats, our whole family uses this area daily—including the cat, who loves lying on the pad, baking in the sun, and coughing up the occasional hairball (the mats easily wipe clean with disinfectant). Having a safe, comfortable space that’s ready for us at any time, save moving a few toys, means we utilize it that much more. And for two busy parents and one busier toddler, that’s been crucial to staying healthy and in shape.

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Lead Photo: Ijubaphoto/iStock (Man), Boston Public Library/Creative Commons (Cactus Beds), Graphic: Petra Zeiler

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