This article was updated June 2023.
Ab mats (also known as sit up pads) are useful in guiding the spine to perform a full range of motion in a safe and comfortable manner. Workouts that contain big number of reps such as Crossfit WOD’s or ‘Throwdown’ style workout challenges have sparked a growing popularity in ab mats over recent years. Here’s what you need to know if you’re thinking of adding an ab mat to your home gym set up…
What is an Ab Mat?
Ab mats are a small, firm cushion that is used to support the lumbar spine and allow the user to extend backwards past neutral before performing a sit up. It is useful for guiding the spine in a safe and controlled manner and improves form when performing sit up exercises. It’s common (especially when performing large numbers of reps) for people to start pull on their necks or relying on hip flexors to complete the movement. An ab mat helps to keep you honest and safe, plus it forces you to work your abs through the full range of motion, so you get more bang for your buck with every repetition!
What are the benefits of an Ab Mat?
Everyone who is trying to improve their body composition is seeking a flatter, more defined stomach. You probably know that the biggest part of having great abs is losing the belly fat on top , so if you haven’t done so already, it’s time to cut the carbs, my friend. Like any muscle group, however, if you want more definition and strength, it’s reps, reps, reps that target the area you want to improve.
In order to gain maximum strength through any body part, the key is to work it in it’s full range of motion. Just like it’s better to use resistance bands to perform pull ups in a full range of movement, an ab mat is a tool to allow your spine to extend backwards and switch your abdominal muscles on for longer. A regular sit up with your back flat on the floor only requires you to contract your abs for the end range of movement. Once your back extends over the ab mat, you will be working your core even to get your spine back to the neutral point, where you regular sit ups begin!
Another benefit of using an ab mat is that is alleviates some of the load that can be taken on my your hip flexors. Pretty much everyone I know has tight hip flexors (myself included),l which is largely due to the amount of time we spend in a seated position (working at a desk, driving etc). When your hip flexors are tight, it’s common for them to switch on and compensate for your abs during sit ups. Its the reason why I don’t recommend having a friend hold your feet when performing sit ups or locking them under a barbell. Doing this only encourages you to use your hip flexors to get you up there, instead of your abdominal muscles. If you can’t do as many with your feet planted on the floor unaided, that’s fine, do less. if you can’t do any that way, do a smaller crunch and keep working on it!
How do you use an Ab Mat?
Ab mats aren’t complicated to use, but the main thing to remember is which way is around it goes. To be honest, it’s pretty obvious when you have it wrong because it’s not comfortable if it’s the wrong way round!
Place our ab mat underneath you lumbar spine or lower back. The higher arching side should be facing towards your butt. Lay back with your back pressed against the pad. You should feel like your back is slightly extended, but supported comfortably. I suggest doing your sit ups in the ‘butterfly’ position, that is with your knees bent and soles of your feet together. It’s a great way of keeping your hip flexors out of the exercise and really forcing your abdominal muscles to do the work!
When you do your sit ups, you can increase the difficulty depending on where you place your hands. Beginners are best with their arms straight out in front of their chest as they come up, but if you’re nailing this, you can try crossing your arms over your chest. If you really want to feel the burn, do sit ups with your arms extended straight above your head!
You can use an ab mat to do more than just sit ups too. You can target your obliques by placing the pad under your side and performing side crunches.
The Best Ab Mats of 2023
There are a lot of abdominal mats available to buy, and it can be hard to know where to start. To save you time, I’ve narrowed down some of my favorite ab mat products available right now. Here’s a quick summary, but keep scrolling for a more detailed buying guide of each of these items.
Full disclosure, as an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases that result from the information I’ve provided here.
|Why I Rate It
|BalanceFrom Ab Mat
|15" x 12" x 2" (large)
10" x 12" x 2" (small)
|Super affordable and comes in 2 sizes
|Athlos Fitness Ab Mat
|14.7" x 12.6 " x 3.3"
|The tailbone protector is a nice feature.
|Power Guidance Sit Up Mat
|13" x 9.84" x 2.76"
|It has 4 times as many good customer reviews as its' competitors.
|Yes4All Ab Exercise Mat
|14.45" x 11.8" x 2.68"
So, what is the best ab mat for your needs?
As with all fitness equipment, there are factors to consider such as how much you want to spend, how much space you have, your size, weight and ability level and how much use the piece of equipment is going to get. Ab mats are pretty simple pieces of gear, so there isn’t as much to weight up as there might be with something like a treadmill or a pull up bar, but even so, there are differences between brands.
The BalanceFrom Ab Mat is as basic as they come, but that’s not a bad thing. It means that it’s pretty much the cheapest ab mat you’ll find anywhere. There are some items I recommend investing good money into such as quality running shoes, but ab mats aren’t a complicated piece of equipment. The main point of difference with abdominal mats is sizing and that’s where I think BalanceFrom has nailed it, by created 2 different size ab mats. If you aren’t an ‘average’ size person, you might consider this product because you know that the mat you choose is more likely to be comfortable for you. A lot of brands just make one size fits all, which might cover 80% of the population, but not quite cut it for those at either end of the spectrum. If you’re particularly tall or petite, maybe you should consider an ab mat designed for a specific size category. The larger size BalanceFrom abdominal mat is more of a standard ab mat size – my friend is 5’2″ and finds the small one really comfortable.
One thing to note is that the BalanceFrom ab mat is quite firm, definitely made of firmer stuff than some other brands I’ve tried. This isn’t a huge issue, but means you might feel a little more instability than with a more flexible version.
#2. Athlos Fitness AbMat with Tailbone Protector
I really like the inclusion of the tailbone protector with this product. It doesn’t really take up extra storage space as it folds neatly back on itself, but it does make for a more comfortable experience if you’re doing high repetitions on a hard floor. There are a few other brands that offer abdominal mats both with and without tailbone protection too. If you do buy a product with the built in tailbone protection, it’s important to make sure there is an anti slip surface on the underside of the mat. It’s super annoying when your ab mat keeps sliding around while you’re exercising!
The tailbone protection is such a nice padded surface for using during other movements too, such as headstands or stretches where you are taking a lot of weight through your knees. If you have a particularly long torso, beware that the tailbone protector may possibly feel uncomfortable if it just doesn’t align with your body. If that’s the case though, you shouldn’t have any trouble arranging a return.
The Power Guidance sit up mat is a really safe bet when it comes to choosing an ab mat. Available both with and without the built in tailbone protector, it’s an affordable product with overwhelmingly positive feedback according to Amazon customers. The high density foam inside this product is more on the firmer side of abdominal mats, but it does soften a little once it’s been broken in and used a bit. A local Crossfitter friend of mine compared the Power Guidance mat to the ones used at his Crossfit gym and confirmed it is quite a bit harder. It comes down to personal preference I guess – I think if you’re a leaner individual, or a more petite frame, you might find the harder ab mats more uncomfortable when compared to a slightly softer brand. A quick eyeball over Amazon customer reviews show that the main dissatisfaction by far with this product is it’s level of firmness. With more than 74% five star reviews though, I wouldn’t be quick to write it off. It’s extremely well prices and the non-slip surface underneath should keep you from sliding around on smooth floors too.
With a 30 degree arch, the Yes4All ab mat aligns nicely with the curve of your lower back. It’s a budget friendly option for a basic piece of equipment. You can buy the Yes4All ab mat with or without tailbone protection.