In gymnastics, athletes routinely launch themselves into the air to perform complicated twists and flips. These skills require countless hours of training to perfect and they are physically demanding. In order to practice safely, gymnasts use various types of mats to reduce the impact on joints, especially wrists and ankles. Gymnastic mats come in a range of shapes and sizes, from the thick landing mats surrounding the vault to the small sting mats thrown over the balance beam.
Folding Panel Mats
Folding panel mats are the most common type of mat found in a gym, in part because of their versatility. These rectangular mats are between 1 and 2 inches thick and often feature panels of alternating colours. Folding panel mats can be laid flat and joined together with Velcro strips that run along their edges or folded, accordion style, and stacked on top of each other. The mats can be used for tumbling, training drills or as teaching aids when gymnasts are learning new skills. For example, a gymnast might practice splits with one leg resting on a folded panel mat for leg flexibility greater than 180 degrees.
Landing mats are thick, soft mats that are used in training and in competition to protect gymnasts during dismounts or in the event of a fall. They are made from polythene or polyurethane foam that is usually covered in vinyl, and are designed to absorb shock and cushion hard landings. Landing mats come in a range of shapes and sizes, although those used in competition must be between 12cm and 20cm thick. They can be placed under the uneven bars, on the spring floor, beside the balance beam, and at the end of the vault.
Sting mats are thin mats made with a dense foam core that provides shock absorption and slight padding. Unlike landing mats, which are coated in vinyl, sting mats have soft fabric coverings that prevent gymnasts from slipping or injuring their ankles when landing short. They are 1-1/2 inches thick, which means they are thin enough to be slung over top of the bars or balance beam to provide extra protection when a gymnast is learning a new skill. Although primarily used for training, sting mats are sometimes permitted for use in competitions, usually for landings on floor exercise or vault.
Beginner and intermediate gymnasts use wedge mats, which are firm, triangle-shaped incline mats. They are made from high-density polythene or polyurethane foam and covered in vinyl. Wedge, or “cheese,” mats are especially useful for teaching walkovers, handsprings and rolls because they provide a downhill slope. This slant often makes it easier for young gymnasts to perform moves that they might not be strong enough to perform on a flat surface.
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