This kids' exercise mat helped me start a workout routine I actually like
Running in place on this tumbling mat helped me lose 60 pounds last year.
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I remember my doctor’s words like it was yesterday: “Lose weight, or we’re going to have to make some changes.”
But it wasn’t yesterday. It was almost exactly one year ago—April 13, 2020. I was having a checkup with my gastroenterologist and, like so many others, the visit was being conducted virtually due to the rise of the coronavirus pandemic.
Right away, I knew I wanted to make those changes on my own. I took a deep breath and began my weight-loss journey in earnest. I started minding portion sizes and cutting back on snacking. I also started to exercise more. I've never been an athlete, but I felt good about lacing up my flimsy green tennis shoes and taking walks half an hour up, half an hour back between my house and a neighboring development.
But in the then-new era of staying at home, I sought exercise that could be done inside the safety of my house. And that’s how my routine of running in place happened.
What are the benefits of running in place?
I was starting this weight-loss journey from scratch, with only my doctor’s words to go by. I landed on running in place because it seemed like a suitable activity to ease me into working out regularly—it was something I felt like I could do, and it didn’t require too many rigorous or odd motions that my body was not used to. Several years ago, I developed chronic back pain and since became hesitant to work out. My orthopedic doctor advised against activities like yoga, but running involved straightforward motions, not any bending or twisting that made me wary. With running in place, I could control my speed and impact and eventually ease my way into going faster at a pace that worked for my body. I liked taking walks, so this seemed like that, just more fast-paced. Equally importantly, running in place did not call upon any special equipment. It enabled me to use what resources I had around the house (at the time, I had none). As I was starting from a beginner fitness level, I didn't need a treadmill; my main goal was just to trot where I was. Finally, I did not need to rely on going to a gym—and at the time, I could not, with more gyms shutting down every day and my local Planet Fitness grand opening postponed indefinitely.
Studies also suggest that running in place can improve posture. You can run in place in 10-minute increments throughout the day to achieve the 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day as recommended by the CDC. As for the benefits to which I can personally attest, I’m now down just shy of 60 pounds and am working to maintain this weight. Four days a week, I go into the guest room/workout room/little room (I’m still working on what to call it) for an hour of moderate-intensity motion, with rest days interspersed in between. The first half of my workout is always half an hour (specifically 31 minutes, based on the amount of time it takes for me to get through the songs I want to listen to) on the mat, followed by a series of exercises like lunges and squats.
To run in place, I think of it as running on a treadmill without the treadmill. I found an illustrated guide that helped me out when I was just getting started. I stand straight, facing forward, feet shoulder width apart, and alternate lift my knees. I make sure to land on the balls of my feet and repeat to run.
What to use when you run in place
When I first started exercising last year, I would run (OK, more like lightly jog) in place for 10 or 15 minutes at a time—the length of about three or four songs on my iTunes library. I had to stop for a breather after every song because my body was simply not used to being in motion for that long.
After a few weeks of running on hardwood floors, I got stronger, but hit a (metaphorical) hurdle: I needed some cushioning beneath my feet. I wear my sneakers when I run, but I still wanted extra support (and something to muffle the noise on the hardwood floor.) I had to get resourceful in my search for a mat—remember how hard it was to find toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic? That shortage also applied to workout equipment (and it still applies, if you’ve tried to buy dumbbells online recently). I wanted a mat to provide basic cushioning underneath my feet, but it was tough to find one that worked for me. Looking around online and at different stores was a bust until, out of curiosity, I decided to check the children’s recreation equipment at Target. There I found a collapsable, multicolored thick foam mat from a brand called Antsy Pants for $46. This mat looked durable (it’s supposedly strong enough to withstand the twists and tumbles of children’s play, after all), and the multicolored appearance made the prospect of running in place a little more appealing.
I bought the mat and tested how it would work at all angles: I ran in place in one spot, ran up and down the mat forwards and backwards. Soon enough, I realized that using padding in the form of a mat under my feet while running in place would minimize the strain on my body. I felt better having stable cushioning underneath my feet from the moment I ran on my mat for the first time. I laid the mat out horizontally until I discovered that running up and down it lengthwise worked the best.
What I like about running in place on my mat
The mat is made of durable material: a polyester fabric cover with foam fill. The 1.2-inch thick layer of foam yields a high level of support, ensuring that my knees and calves feel good when I run in a way that thin quarter-inch yoga mats do not. Its outer cover also feels more durable for repeated footsteps than the squishier half-inch foam mats that are usually used for Pilates. After the workout, the mat, which covers an area of 77 inches by 30 inches, doubles as a space for cool-down stretches, providing a nice cushion when I lie on my back. And when that’s done, it’s easy to fold up and store in a package that's about nine inches tall place.
The multicolored design, for me, also makes running in place more fun. The mat is red, orange, yellow, green, and purple—one block of each color, in that order. I feel like I’m running on a rainbow, and I like jumping from color to color to the beat of the music. The first time I ran on the mat for three or four songs. Then I eased my way into more. One day, I remember saying “I want to run to six songs,” six being my favorite and therefore go-to number for as long as I can remember. Six songs turned into 30 minutes’ worth. Cumbersome jogging became solid running. Starting and stopping every five minutes led to a polished routine. As I became more adept at running, my workout evolved and a routine developed. I could run faster, lift my knees up higher, and run for longer without needing to stop. The mat was a source of steady footing through it all.
What I don’t like about my mat
Durable as the mat is, it is meant for kids, so it might not entirely match up to professional-grade workout equipment for adults. I’ve found that it slowly scoots across hardwood flooring with repeated running motions. When I first discovered this, I placed a five-pound weight on the handle loops on either side of the mat to try to steady it. That didn’t help as much as I thought it would, so once every 10 minutes or so, I need to hop off the mat and straighten it back out. But this shortcoming can be forgiven on the basis that it is de facto a piece of children’s equipment meant for tumbling and not the intensity of back-and-forth running. And there’s a workaround. I nestle my mat in the space between two rugs for a little extra friction when I set it up before every workout. For those not folding up and storing the mat every day, a flat non-slip rug gripper or corner gripper may help make the mat part of a permanent workstation.
If you want a mat that's more likely to stay in place while you run, look for a yoga mat that touts an ability to stay in place during vinyasa flows. One great option is the Lululemon 5 mm Reversible yoga mat—it's not as thick the kids' tumbling mat, but it's incredibly grippy and stays secure during various intense movements.
The mat I use has minor, and I mean minor, cosmetic changes from extended use. There is a slight dent in the red block and faint smudges on the yellow block from use over time. But considering I’ve been running on this thing for going on a year, if that’s the worst that happens, I’ll take it.
Should you run in place?
On my doctor’s warning, I began running in place simply as a means of getting me moving, and bought a mat that I figured would make that activity easier.
And now it’s fun. When I get a burst of energy, or conversely when I’m looking for something to amp myself up, I unfold it and hop on for some mat time. What began as a prescription became a passion, and the Antsy Pants mat has provided solid footing the whole time. It’s seen the evolution of a newbie’s workouts from a rudimentary concept to a defined routine. In time, I can see myself investing in specialty equipment or even (gasp!) a treadmill, but I am grateful that this mat got me off of the ground. It supports much more than my feet. In fact, I’d say this mat sticks the landing every time.
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