The Lowdown on MMA Mats: All You Need to Know
It is important to choose the correct flooring for your dojo or home practice space, and there are many different factors to consider, including thickness, texture, and shock absorption. Striking arts require different types of matting than grappling arts. Here’s what you need to know when shopping for different MMA mat options.
What is Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)?
Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a full-contact combat sport that combines elements of multiple different fighting styles from around the world. Most MMA fighters begin their training in one of these combat styles and then learn other styles. Some of the fighting styles that have influenced MMA include boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, karate, taekwondo, Judo, jiu jitsu, Muay Thai, and kung fu styles.
Boxing and Kickboxing
Boxing is one of the oldest sports in human history, dating back to Mesopotamia in the Bronze Age. Modern boxing standards have their roots in the 1867 Queensbury Rules. Boxing traveled with British fighters to the US in the 1830s, and by 1904 was added to the roster of sports at the modern Olympic Games. The early 20th century saw the introduction of standard weight classes. Boxing is a striking art. Boxers use a combination of four different punches to defeat their opponent: jabs, crosses, hooks, and uppercuts. They block incoming punches by bobbing and weaving, rotating their bodies, or using footwork to evade punches. Boxers typically adopt a personal style: some prefer to stay light on their feet, while others use raw power. Fighters can choose to stand close to their opponents when they attack and open themselves up to return hits, or they can keep a distance and make it easier to dodge incoming blows. Kickboxing also incorporates leg strikes in addition to punches.
Wrestling as an organised sport has its roots in Ancient Greece. Wrestling is a grappling art where the objective is to pin an opponent’s shoulders onto the mat. There are two wrestling styles included in the modern Olympic Games: Greco-Roman and Freestyle. Greco-Roman wrestling prohibits grappling an opponent below the waist. Freestyle permits the use of legs for both offense and defense. Various cultures around the world also have their own folk wrestling styles. Because MMA is a combination of various grappling and striking fight styles, fighters are allowed to incorporate below-the-waist grapples as in Freestyle wrestling.
Karate originated in Japan. “Kara” and “te” translate directly to “empty hand.” It is a striking fighting style that does not use weapons. Though closed-fist, weaponless martial arts have been practiced in Japan for centuries, modern karate was introduced in Japan by Gichin Funakoshi in 1917. Karate primarily focuses on hand strikes, but there are also elbow strikes, knee strikes, and kicks as well. Some students practice kata, meaning they perform a series of attack and defense techniques against an imaginary opponent to perfect their form and discipline. Kumite is the practice of actually sparring against an opponent, making it more like MMA.
Taekwondo is a striking art from South Korea that can be practiced for self-defense or as a competitive sport. It combines kicks, strikes, blocks, and stances. At more advanced levels, locks and takedowns are also taught as part of self-defense. Those who choose to compete may compete either in Poomsae or combat. Poomsae refer to pre-set patterns of movements. There are standardised Poomsae that students must learn at each level to progress. At high levels, students can compete in Freestyle divisions where they choreograph their own sequences to music. Kyorugi, or Sport Taekwondo, refers to the combat sport. Specific clubs that focus on Sport Taekwondo help students develop the skills, tactics, and techniques to spar against an opponent.
Like karate, Judo is also a Japanese martial art. However, Judo is a grappling art as opposed to a striking art. The goal of Judo is to subdue an opponent without harming them. Judo is comprised of the characters for “gentle” (ju) and “the way” (do). It emphasises control—applying just enough strength to overpower your opponent without hurting them. Competitors will attempt to grab their opponent by their judogi (uniform) and throw them onto their back from standing. From the ground, the aim is to apply chokeholds and joint locks to pin the opponent to the ground and subdue them.
Jiu jitsu is closely related to Judo in many ways. Originally spelled “ju jutsu”—Japanese for “gentle” art—it also focuses on non-violently subduing an opponent through the use of grappling techniques like chokes and joint manipulations. Today, most jiu jitsu practitioners practice Brazilian jiu jitsu, or BJJ. Jiu jitsu was brought to Brazil from Japan in the early 20th century by Mitsuyo Maeda, and the distinct practice of BJJ was popularised worldwide by a group of his students: Carlos Gracie, Helio Gracie, and Luiz França. One of the main principles of BJJ is to help smaller practitioners overpower larger, heavier attackers not through brute strength but by strategically manipulating body weight, balance, and leverage.
Muay Thai, also called Thai boxing, is the national sport of Thailand and a striking-based martial art. Muay Thai uses the whole body and is sometimes called the “Art of 8 Limbs”: two fists, two elbows, two knees, and two legs. Some styles of Muay Thai may place more emphasis on one style of striking than the others. The five most popular styles of Muay Thai include Muay Femur, Muay Khao, Muay Mat, Muay Tae, and Muay Bouk. Muay Femur is sometimes considered the most complicated fighting style, while both Muay Mat and Muay Bouk are considered the most aggressive. Muay Tae favors kicks, Muay Khoa favors knee strikes, and Muay Mat favors heavy punches and knockouts.
Kung Fu is a style of martial arts originally from China. It traces its roots back to the Buddhist Monks of the Shaolin temple in the 4th century. The Eagle Claw System, perfected by General Yue Fei in the 1100s, is still considered the most complex Kung Fu system and serves as the basis for the international practice of Kung Fu today. Grand Master Shum Leung, one of the only practitioners qualified to teach the Eagle Claw System in its entirety, brought Kung Fu from Hong Kong to the US in the 1970s. From there, the practice spread worldwide. Kung Fu is considered a comprehensive martial art as it employs striking, kicking, grappling, throwing, locking, and joint manipulation techniques. Kung Fu provides a good foundation for MMA as it prepares practitioners to counter all different types of attacks.
Why should you use a Mat for MMA?
MMA is a high-impact, high-contact combat sport. As a result, it comes with an increased risk of injury. Mats can help keep fighters safe. First, they help provide shock absorption. This is especially important when practicing a grappling or throwing style that focuses on pinning or throwing opponents to the floor. It also adds extra cushioning for stand-up style fighters to reduce strain and impact on joints. Mats also provide proper traction to prevent slips and falls. Fighting on a hard or slippery surface can lead to sprains, bruises, broken bones, and concussion.
What are MMA Mats made out of?
When purchasing matting for mixed martial arts, you want to look for padding and traction. The most popular materials for MMA mats provide both. Traditionally, many martial arts were practiced on traditional woven mats made from rice straw. Today, man-made materials like foam, rubber, and vinyl are more common.
Foam matting is a popular choice for high-impact activities, including martial arts, cheerleading, and gymnastics. Ethylene-vinyl acetate, or EVA foam, is a type of memory foam used in a wide variety of sporting equipment. It is sturdy, durable, and provides excellent cushioning. Not only will it prevent injuries in the event of falls, but it also reduces the stress on joints that can occur after long periods of standing during an exercise class. There are both open and closed cell foams. Closed-cell foams trap air bubbles, creating a firmer mat. However, this also means that they don’t bounce back quite as readily and don’t offer as much shock absorption. Open-cell foams let air pass through their cell walls when they are compressed, giving them more spring. This helps disperse energy and decrease the risk of injury. Mats are available in a wide variety of textures designed to improve grip, prevent friction burns, and make pivoting and turning easier. For example Tatami foam mats have the traditional basketweave/cross hatch design on the surface to optimise traction and assist in overall performance.
Rubber flooring is also a popular material in MMA disciplines and often rubber and foam hybrid mats are used. Rubber is ultra durable, easy to maintain and offers excellent shock absorption. However, many MMA athletes prefer a more resilient surface such as foam for training on. Rubber mats are a good option for MMA and will provide the protection and durability needed although they may not be as comfortable to perform on as softer options.
Vinyl is often used to cover foam or rubber matting. Vinyl is a highly resistant, waterproof material that is easy to clean. Since vinyl can be welded together, it creates flatter seams that won’t impact an athlete’s footing or stability. You can order custom vinyl floor covers for your dojo, or some foldout or rollout mats may include a vinyl covering. Vinyl tends to be the most expensive surface option for MMA and can be costly to repair or replace if they become damaged.
Tatami mats originated in Japan. They are traditionally woven from rushes and cloth. They were used in martial arts as their woven design provided extra traction. Now, it is rare to find a traditional tatami mat made from organic materials used in a martial arts facility, but foam mats may be designed to replicate the texture of tatami and provide a better grip for fighters.
Different types of MMA Mats
Roll Out or Folding Mats
Roll out and folding mats are easy to set up, take down, and store. They are usually made from some type of foam with a non-porous vinyl top for easy cleaning. When you are not using them, you can either roll them up or fold and stack them. Roll out mats tend to be heavy and are ideal for wrestling and other grappling-based fighting styles. You can place multiple folding or roll out mats together to cover a larger area. Many roll out mats can be taped together to ensure they stay in place. However, this is harder to do with folding mats, and they may come apart from each other under heavy use, exposing the floor underneath. Whereas you can outfit your entire dojo or gym in roll out mats, folding mats may be a better idea for practicing in a contained space. There is also a limit to how thick these mats can be. Otherwise, folding or rolling becomes difficult or even impossible.
Flat mats are usually made of foam wrapped tightly in vinyl, but you can also get flat rubber mats as well. Flat mats tend to come in various shape and thickness options so are flexible with a number of different venues. One of the main appeals of flat mats is that they are very durable. You can expect them to last up to 10 years or more. However, they are a more expensive investment upfront. They are not easy to move around either as they are designed as a permanent floor solution.
Interlocking mat tiles are usually made from closed-cell EVA foa or as rubber puzzle mats. Interlocking tiles are very affordable and easy to install. They are lightweight, easy to configure to fit your space, and come in a variety of colours to customise your gym space. Many dojos, use these mats either with a flat surface or with a textured size surface for additional grip. Perhaps the best benefits of this type of mat is that they are portable but can also be set up as a permanent floor solution which will not move around while you train. This gives users the option to change their setup, use the mats in different venues and easily replace tiles if they become damaged. If well maintained, these mats have a relatively long lifespan of approx 6 years +.
Crash Mats & Air Tracks
If you are training students to do throws or takedowns, or any other skill where they might fall from a considerable height, it is good to invest in a crashmat. Crash mats usually range in thickness from 50mm to 30 cm—other mats we have mentioned are usually between 10mm and 40mm. They are designed to provide an extra level of padding in addition to your normal gym flooring and come in foam and vinyl options with some being inflatable. Usually, crash mats are made from open-cell foam and mesh to provide superior shock absorption. When purchasing a crash mat, it is generally better to buy thicker than you think you need. The more advanced skills students will be performing, the thicker their crash mats should be. Crash mats are usually a minimum of 1.25 metres wide and 2.5 to 3 metres in length. Some crash mats may fold, while others will need a designated storage space meant to accommodate their size. They are often too heavy for a single person to move on their own.
How much do MMA Mats cost?
The cost for MMA matting varies depending on what type of matting you are using. For jigsaw mats, you may expect to spend as little as £14 to £25 per 1 metre by 1 metre tile. Many retailers offer a discount per tile when you buy in bulk. For roll out mats, you may pay a little more than £200 for a mat that is 1.5 metres wide by 3 metres long and up to £100 for a mat that is 12 metres long. Crash mats can range from over £100 to just under £700. Before you start shopping for mat options, measure the space you need to mat and set a budget. This will help you narrow down your best options.
Cleaning and caring for MMA Mats
Dirt, sweat, and other bodily fluids can all build up on your MMA mats, putting students at risk of contracting skin infections and other diseases. You can help prevent the spread of illness by offering hand sanitiser and cleaning mats both before and after use. Vinyl, rubber, and foam gym mats are all relatively easy to clean. Start by removing any dirt or debris with a broom or vacuum. Then disinfect with a non-toxic, skin-safe soap. Wet a cloth in a solution of cleaner and water, then wipe down the surface of the mat. If you ever feel like your mats need more extensive sanitizing—for example, a student has bled or gotten sick on it—use a solution of 5% bleach in water and wipe the mat down with a cloth, then let dry.
Which MMA Mat should I get
Both rubber and foam are excellent choices for MMA mats. If you are focusing on grappling arts, you might specifically choose an open-cell foam to provide enhanced shock absorption during takedowns. For striking arts, closed-cell foam or rubber provides cushioning while still being firm enough to give fighters a sturdy foundation.
In general, flat mats or roll out mats are going to be better for more advanced fighters as they are less likely to come apart when a student is executing more intense moves. For rolls, takedowns, and throws, it is a good idea to have a crashmat in addition to your normal flooring.
Grappling arts require mats that offer maximum shock absorption. Thicker foams, especially open-cell foam, are preferred. For striking arts, rubber and thinner closed-cell foams can still provide enough shock absorption to protect against falls while still offering a firm surface to maneuver on.
Tatami-textured foam mats mimic the texture of traditional rice straw mats. During grappling matches, this can help prevent friction burns. Leather or smooth-textured mats are preferred for striking stand-up arts like karate, taekwondo, and Muay Thai, as they make it easier to pivot and spin. If students are wearing shoes or boots, thatch mats provide the best friction while also being resistant to scuffing and damage.