Selecting Rubber Gym Mats for Weight Training a rubber gym mat buying guide

Selecting Rubber Gym Mats for Weight Training

Selecting Rubber Gym Mats - A Rubber Gym Mat Buying Guide

You may be currently shopping for rubber gym mats for your home gym or even your commercial gym but aren't quite sure where to begin. Do you go with the cheapest rubber mats or maybe the thickest mats? Unless you've already got experience with purchasing weightlifting mats you may not know where to begin.

Whether you're purchasing your rubber mats for your home or commercial gym, there are some things you need to know to make sure you get the best mats that match your equipment and lifting needs, not to mention your budget. There are also a few pitfalls we'll alert you to that every consumer should know about rubber mats before they make their purchase.

What is the best rubber mat thickness I should consider? The best rubber mat thickness should be dictated by the type of gym equipment you have and what type of lifting you will be doing on top of the mats. If you let pricing dictate the thickness or rubber gym mats you purchase you can often end up with insufficient impact protection that can damage your floors and your equipment!

Here is a simple rubber mat thickness guide that will help explain the different thicknesses that are available and how they might best apply to you:

1/4" Thick Fitness Mats or Rolls - These are only recommended for home gyms and training studios where there is little to no impact caused by dropped free weights. 1/4" can be used under cardio machines, selectorized strength machines and even under utility benches where only very light dumbbells or barbells will be used. If you are protecting wood or ceramic tile floors underneath a utility bench, we recommend jumping up to at least a 3/8" thick mat.

1/4" rubber fitness mats are typically made from crumb rubber harvested from used car and truck tires but are also available in other materials such as vinyl, foam rubber and Tire/Plast which are more commonly used as cardio mats. 4' x 6' x 1/4" is a common size for recycled rubber fitness mats and can be purchased in black or with color speckles including gray, blue, green, red, yellow and more.

3/8" Thick Workout Mats or Rolls - A 3/8" thick rubber mat is the next step up from 1/4" thick and therefore offers much more impact protection to your floors and your equipment. This thickness is recommended for underneath cardio equipment, selectorized equipment and under some strength equipment. If used in a free weight area, 3/8" thick mats can absorb shock and impact from lightweight dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells. However, if you are a heavy lifter that uses heavy iron and performs deadlifts or other Olympic barbell lifts, we recommend a 1/2" or 3/4" thick mat for maximum protection.

3/8" thick workout mats, just like 1/4" mats, are usually cut from recycled rolled rubber into 4' x 6' sizes. These mats are smooth on both sides and are available in black and speckled colors. The speckled colors will cost more but look great and help camouflage dust and dirt.

1/2" Free Weight Mats - 1/2" thick rubber mats are great at protecting your floors when using heavier dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells. This thickness is much more robust and versatile than the thinner 3/8" and is recommended for use under strength equipment such as squat racks, power cages, bench presses and utility benches. This thickness can handle just about anything you can throw at it and is a more affordable option for those that don't need 3/4".

1/2" free weight mats are available in recycled rubber and vulcanized recycled rubber. The most common sizes are 4' x 6' and 4' x 8' and just like the thinner sizes can be purchased in all black or with color speckles for enhanced aesthetics and dust control.

3/4" Heavy-Duty Deadlifting Mats - For the ultimate sub-floor insurance policy, 3/4" heavy-duty rubber mats give you peace of mind for any situation and take the guesswork out of deciding which thickness is best for you. Purchasing rubber flooring is a "big picture" purchase. If you're deadlifting 135 lbs. now but your ultimate goal is 500 lbs., purchasing 3/4" lets you grow into your flooring and will prevent you from having to upgrade from a thinner size later. Plus, it will give your floors and your equipment maximum protection from the very beginning.

3/4" rubber mats are commonly seen in horse stalls where they have to hold up to steel horseshoes with 1,100 lbs. bearing down on them. These are the toughest rubber mats you can buy which is why they are perfectly suited for the darkest, dirtiest, chalkiest, meanest commercial gyms you can find. 3/4" makes the best deadlifting mats and are cut into 4' x 8' sizes for use in Olympic weightlifting platforms. For those that may not have room for a 4' x 8' mat, the 4' x 6' x 3/4" makes a good short deadlifting mat for some, especially those that lift in their garage gym. If those sizes don't work for you, custom sizes can be requested too.

Just like the 1/2" option, 3/4" rubber mats are available in black or speckled recycled rubber and recycled rubber that has been Vulcanized for increased strength and longevity.

What size rubber mats are best? The larger the mat, the fewer seams you'll have throughout your workout area. However, the size you purchase often depends on the shape of your room, the square footage, equipment and the type of lifting you will be doing. This is also something an IRON COMPANY flooring specialist can help you determine.

Recycled Rubber Mats vs Vulcanized Rubber Mats, what's the difference? Both recycled mats and Vulcanized mats are made from crumb rubber that comes from car and truck tires that would have otherwise ended up buried in a landfill. Recycled mats are made from a mixture of this crumb rubber and a polyurethane binder that holds it all together. This mixture forms a thick "batter" that is spread out on a large screen and then run through an oven to bake and cure. Once cured and cooled it is then cut into different size mats. Ultimate RB Rubber, aka RB Rubber, makes a good quality recycled rubber mat at an affordable price for garage gyms, commercial gyms and for use in horse stalls.

Vulcanized rubber mats are produced from mixing crumb rubber, or rubber "buffings," latex, sulfur and oil. They are then baked at a very high temperature (usually 300-500 degrees) under extreme pressure (between 500 and 1,000 PSI) until done. This high heat and pressure, also known as "Vulcanizing," is what gives the mats their extremely high tensile strength, which is between 800-1,000 PSI. This is easily twice the tensile strength of regular recycled mats. A vulcanized mat will tend to have a smoother "non-porous" appearance than a crumb rubber mat. A vulcanized mat is much less likely to tear or have the individual crumbs of rubber begin to wear away after a few years of heavy commercial use like a recycled mat can. Humane Manufacturing manufactures high quality USA Made vulcanized rubber mats for garage and commercial gyms, the equine industry and they can even be found underneath elephants at the zoo.

There is also a third version of commercial rubber mat that is made from virgin rubber. Virgin rubber mats are similar in strength and performance compared to vulcanized but will cost a bit more. Virgin rubber mats are known for having unique surface designs with a smooth finish and color that runs completely through the material, not just on the surface. Mitchell Rubber makes a high quality virgin rubber diamond plate mat that is very popular for home gyms and commercial gyms. These diamond plate rubber mats are available in a 4' x 4' x 7/16" size and are great for underneath cardio, selectorized and freee weight equipment.

Rubber Mat Gaps? If you're purchasing multiple horse stall mats that will lay side by side in your gym, you may find that you end up with many gaps. While some people don't care about these gaps, many people do and have no idea what's coming until they install them. Horse stall mats make good weightlifting mats but are known to have gaps while the cheapest mats can have a slew of other quality issues.

To avoid large gaps between any type of rubber mat, make sure to ask your IRON COMPANY sales person if they are "trued". Truing the mats is an extra step in the manufacturing process that squares all four edges perfectly so that they fit together without any gaps. Truing usually costs a couple more dollars per mat but is well worth it if you care about the aesthetics of your rubber floor.

Why do some rubber mats smell so bad? No matter if you're referring to tires, dumbbells, weight plates or flooring, all rubber products have some initial smell when you first purchase them. But the smell between one kind of rubber mat and another can be quite different. Low quality mats that include high amounts of sulfur additives, usually vulcanize and virgin rubber, are usually the worst offenders and these mats, although very attractively priced, can stink up a room so bad it will make you dizzy. Not something any home gym enthusiast wants in their spare bedroom! Quality rubber flooring manufacturers such as Humane Manufacturing and Mitchell Rubber use "odor mitigates" as an additive to their rubber that kills this bad odor. Humane uses a pleasant smelling vanilla scented odor mitigate. And good quality recycled mats have that faint hint of "tire shop" when you first get them but soon dissipates.

What are best installation and maintenance practices for your rubber mats?
You've done your homework, decided on the best mats for your needs and have had them delivered. Now what?

Can rubber mats be cut or trimmed? With a little guidance, yes, rubber mats can and sometimes have to be trimmed to make way for equipment or other obstacles. But before you cut, make sure that you acclimate your mats in the area where they are to be installed for a minimum of 24 hours. Unstack them, lay them out and let them warm up or cool down on an individual basis. This will bring them to room temperature and make sure that they have finished expanding or contracting before any cuts are made.

What tools are best to use when trimming rubber mats? A very sharp razor knife, some sort of steel straight edge and/or a chalk line. A little known trick in the flooring installation business is to occasionally coat the knife blade with WD-40. This will cut down on the friction between the blade and the mat and make for easier cutting.

Do rubber mats require adhesive? Rubber mats are extremely heavy. 1/2" rubber weighs approximately 3 lbs. per square foot and 3/4" weighs approximately 4 lbs. per square foot. Rubber mats will not require flooring tape or liquid urethane adhesive to hold them down, especially if multiple mats are laid together.

What is the best way to clean rubber mats? In a garage gym or commercial gym with nothing more than average foot traffic, there is minimal maintenance required for your rubber mats. Black mats will show dust and dirt a lot quicker than speckled but for both a vacuum is the best tool to use. If you need to remove chalk or ground in dirt or mud, a mild solution of soap and water can be used with a mop. For cleaning up spills or general freshening up, a neutral PH flooring cleaner can be used to clean and deodorize.

Choose your rubber gym mats wisely! Rubber matting is no exception to the old adage "you get what you pay for." With a little education you can avoid the most common pitfalls that can accompany purchasing rubber mats that are the biggest causes for buyer's remorse.

IRON COMPANY has been in the rubber flooring business since 1997. It's our passion! Let us help you design the perfect flooring solution for your space. Contact an IRON COMPANY fitness flooring specialist today at 1-888-758-7527 or email

About the Author

J.P. Brice founded IRON COMPANY in 1996 and is currently President and CEO. He began weightlifting in 1984 at the age of 14 and by the age of 25 turned his passion for bodybuilding, powerbuilding and fitness in general into one of the webs first and leading gym equipment suppliers for residential, commercial and Military buyers. He holds numerous Patents and Trademarks on various gym equipment products and is the lead designer of IRON COMPANY branded free weights and strength training equipment. J.P. is responsible for much of the main product page content as well as several in depth gym equipment and flooring articles. Today he works extensively with the US Military in providing the equipment necessary for combat readiness.