What Does an Ab Mat Do?
An ab mat is a simple piece of equipment to protect the back and make sit-ups more comfortable. They can also help improve your sit-ups by taking the movement out of the hips and placing more focus on the abdominal muscles. They’re also sometimes called sit up pads.
Ab mats are usually found in CrossFit gyms, where sit ups are performed in large sets. This is one of the reasons that they’ve gained so much popularity, but they’re great for you and can help you build stronger core muscles.
Today we’re going to discuss ab mats, how ab mat sit ups compare with the regular kind, and discuss top ab mats on the market. Read on if you’re looking for a simple piece of kit to improve your core training!
- What Does an Ab Mat Do?
- What Are the Benefits of an Ab Mat Sit-Up?
- Top 7 Ab Mats On The Market
- How Do You Use an Ab Mat?
- Variety: Placement for Different Movements
- Final Words
What Are the Benefits of an Ab Mat Sit-Up?
The point of an ab mat is to take a sit-up away from the muscles of the hips and make sure you’re using your abdominal muscles.
In a regular sit up, it’s very easy to over-stress the hip flexors and cheat the movement. They’re also short-range, since the bit of your body you’re moving (extending through the spine) is usually stopped by the floor on your back.
When you use an ab mat, however, you get to move through a longer range since it increases spine movement. In addition to this, the increased focus on spinal extension/flexion means you take the hip flexors out of the bottom of the movement.
These two changes can make a sit-up considerably more effective, but they also reduce your risk of injury. Over-using the hips and poor range of motion are two of the biggest problems with sit-ups but the ab mat solves both.
Hip Flexor Cheating/Risks
One of the big mobility and posture problems in the 21st century is dysfunctional hips. We sit too often, which causes weak hip extensors and tight hip flexors.
The problem with a regular sit-up is that they often contribute to this problem. You can cheat a regular sit-up with the hips, and this can place too much stress on these tissues, which are already dysfunctional.
The ab mat makes this far more difficult. Cheating the hips won’t help you move from an extended spine to a flexed spine – you can’t cheat that part of the movement. The addition of the sit up pad thus makes the sit up more effective and less harmful.
Performing a sit-up on an ab mat is far more ab-focused than a regular sit-up. Expect better results and less hip soreness/tightness!
Longer Range for Core Movements
One of the best things about the ab mat is how it extends the range of motion for the sit-up. This is really useful for making extra gains, but specifically because it allows you to build strength for more advanced core movements.
The regular sit-up moves you from a “neutral” position to a crunched, rounded over position. This isn’t much use for things that require core control since you’re usually not trying to get to a rounded-over position.
However, when using an ab mat you begin in an extended position and end in the crunched position. This is great because strength to pull into – and past – neutral positions carries over really well to strength and gymnastic movements.
Strength is very specific, and a regular sit-up probably isn’t going to be much use for performance or longevity. However, the ab-mat sit-up is a great choice for improving core control and spinal health through a nice, long range.
Top 7 Ab Mats On The Market
This is the AbMat model that started it all through their work with Rogue and CrossFit boxes around the world. This product is also stocked on the Rogue official store, so you know it’s the experience you’re likely to get in competition/at your local box.
This is also the standard for a balance between firmness and softness when it comes to CrossFit ab mats. This is a great product that has proven its usefulness over a decade, now. It’s fair to say that this is the standard by which other products are measured.
There are occasional complaints about ab mats, but these tend to be individual problems with spinal mobility/positioning. If you’re not familiar with the official ab mat, it can also be quite hard – so be sure to keep this in mind if you want a softer mat.
The only real problem is that this is a more expensive option, despite being the original. There’s no real benefit to the original, patented design over the cheaper alternatives!
2. Rogue AbMat 2
While this claims to be the Ab mat 2, there’s really not much difference in the models. What you are likely to find is that the high-density foam in this product takes away some of the discomfort mentioned above.
This should be a slightly softer product, but it is still marketed as a firm ab mat. Again, if you’re looking for a soft ab mat then this might not be the product for you, but it does seem like a worthwhile upgrade from the original ab mat.
The price is even higher for this product, but it does come with a small user-friendly upgrade. We’re just not sure this makes sense when there are cheaper alternatives on the market that never had the problems of the original ab mat.
This is obviously a premium product, but when an ab mat is just a piece of high density foam on top of a stiffer piece of plastic, we’re not sure if the mark-up is worthwhile just for the brand name!
3. Elite Sportz Ab Mat
This is a much cheaper product and represents just how easy it is to make an ab mat alternative on the market. This is significantly cheaper than the Rogue/AbMat alternatives.
The size and stiffness of this product are concerns for some – as with the original ab mat. This is a concern for those looking for softer support, but equally, this doesn’t make it bad as a product. It’s just important that you match the product to your preference.
The size of this product can also be a concern so, if you’re a smaller person, this might not be the right product for you. Alternatively, if you’ve struggled to find an ab mat on the larger side, this could be a great choice (especially at the price)!
4. Synergee Abdominal Sit-Up Mat
We really like how this product fits the niche for a smaller product, as well as the attached lower back support. This seems like a nice little addition to the product without a significant hike up in cost.
The folding under-back support also allows you to adjust the height of the overall arch if you need to. It’s only minor, but this versatility is a nice step up on the market and could really benefit you if you’re not happy with a certain height.
There seems to be very little ‘give’ to this product, however, so you’re going to have a very firm ab mat. We’d much rather see it finished with a high-density foam for comfort.
5. Rep Fitness Supportive Ab Mat
Right off the bat, rep fitness have put together the most stylish ab mat on the list so far. Functionality aside, the understated appearance of this ab mat is great, and we hope it lives up to this first impression!
This product comes with the option of a “tailbone protector”, too, like the previous product. This can be useful if you find the ab mat puts too much pressure through the coccyx.
There’s also a 60-day guarantee which means you’ll definitely have some extra peace of mind when it comes to buying/using/returning this product. It also has a high density foam upper which means you’re going to have a slightly more comfortable time using this product.
If you’re looking for a slightly softer ab mat that protects the tailbone, the RepFitness choices are a great place to look. This is definitely the leading product so far!
6. Iron Bull Strength Ab Mat
Following the trend of excellent design, the bull strength ab mat also looks very cool. The carbon/red finish is really nice looking and we’re big fans.
The high-density foam inner also means that this is likely to be one of – if not the – softest ab mat on our list so far. It’s an effective firmness, but will have more give to it than the original AbMat.
The durability and design of the product are also great when you consider that this is one of the cheapest products on this list. Overall, it’s an excellent product and we’re happy to tie this with RepFitness’ product for the best.
The only difference is that this product doesn’t offer a tailbone support, so if that’s an essential for you, this might not be the right choice.
7. Athlos Fitness Tailbone Protecting Ab Mat
This product comes somewhere in the middle of the road on price, functionality, and features. It’s a good – but not outstanding – choice.
The one year warranty is absolutely brilliant, but the finish of the product is very stiff and there are significant quality control issues. The main problem tends to be that this product is reliably stitched the wrong way around.
The higher side is meant to be attached to the mat, while the pad from Athlos has the lower side stitched to the tailbone support. This means that the whole product is, pretty commonly, upside down and misses the point.
This is an idea that seems very poorly executed and we’re not tremendously impressed by such a fundamental oversight – whether deliberate or just ignorant!
How Do You Use an Ab Mat?
Setting up with an ab mat is a really easy process: pick a spot on the floor and place the ab mat down. If you’ve got a tailbone protector with your ab mat (as we’ll discuss below) this can be laid down.
From here, make sure that the thicker, higher part of the ab mat is at the hips (not the upper back). Find a comfortable resting position that fits with the curvature of your spine.
If you’re struggling, we recommend really warming up the hips and spine through a series of movements and stretches. These should focus on hip movement (such as the cat-cow stretch) and rotation/movement in the spine (such as the rotating lunge).
From this resting position, leaning backwards over the mat as much as you can comfortably maintain, perform a regular sit up. Focus on closing the space between the bottom of your ribs and your hips by curling up.
Variety: Placement for Different Movements
One of the great things about an ab mat is the versatility it can introduce to your training. While the name says ab mat, there are a bunch of ways you can use variety to make the most of these products.
We’re going to briefly discuss some of the key uses that can add value – above and beyond improving sit-ups!
While the ab mats main focus is on spinal flexion and extension, it’s totally possible to get these same range-boosting effects laterally. For example, side bends from the ab mat are much easier to perform than without.
Training with isometric bodyweight side bends is a great introduction to gymnastic core strengthening. Bodyweight training is great for the core and this is one example we like for developing hanging oblique crunch strength.
Spine Positions for Things Like T-Flexion/Extension
Even when using the ab mat for its intended purpose, you can change the effect by adjusting the position in the back. Moving an ab mat up or down the spine can be useful for moving to crunches further up the spine, for example.
We also really like using the ab mat for movements like the prone back raise. This can improve the range of the exercise and improve postural strength in the upper back.
This is a common problem with 21st century “desk posture” and is a way of strengthening a common weak link. Ab mats lengthen this movement and improve the effectiveness and control you can build in these important postural muscles.
Use for Yoga and Other Softening Bits and Bobs
You can also use the ab mat – especially the softer ones – for reducing impact during lunges and mobility work. These movements often place knees on the floor which, when weighted, can be very uncomfortable.
An ab mat is a useful all-purpose soft surface for this kind of activity. You can reduce the stress and pressure through the knees, make positions more comfortable, and al without any extra spends.
A yoga mat is okay, but an ab mat is a much thicker and more cushioned surface for your knees. Equally, the ab mat can be used to elevate a foot for deficit movements or improving the ‘depth’ of stretches.
For example, try elevating your front foot in a kneeling lunge or the front leg/foot in a pigeon stretch. These allow increased range in stretches, which is great for continued mobility progression!
Ab mats are a great little piece of equipment for improving some of the most commonly poorly-performed movements.
Improving the quality of your core training is one of the best ways to get a little extra bang for your buck. Improvements will carry over to everything else you do, as well as reducing injury risks and helping you strengthen your core more effectively.
We think the Iron Bull fitness ab mat is the best choice for a simple, cheap product. Meanwhile, the RepFitness mat is the best choice if you’re looking for a product with a built-in tailbone protecting mat.
Either way, the softer finish and great designs are all it takes to turn this simple product into a fantastic addition to your home workouts!