In our last blog we discussed the importance of a good anti fatigue mat as a key to having a great standing experience. We discussed how an anti-fatigue mat can improve your standing compliance, enable you to stand comfortably for longer periods of time so that you can realize the benefits of standing, and how it can reduce stress on your musculoskeletal system, thereby extending the life of your joints, ligaments, back and soft tissue. Today, we’ll offer some pointers on what to look for in an anti fatigue mat and how to choose a mat that is right for you.
Choosing a high quality mat is really important to ensure that you will have a good standing experience. As with most other products, there is a wide range of quality and price points from which to choose. Our suggestions are based on our personal experience as committed standers for more than 5 years. We use standing desks and stand for 10-12 hours a day so we’ve logged a lot of standing hours and therefore have developed some strong opinions on what to look for in a standing mat. We have also purchased and tested many brands of mats so we believe we have a broad perspective of the choices that are available in the market.
A lot of mats are purchased online which makes it particularly difficult to ensure you are picking the right mat. Most mats look pretty similar online. Most are black and rectangular in shape. The descriptions often have a lot of common language so many people make a decision based on the picture, the price and customer reviews. Some of that information can be helpful, but remember that reviews can often come from people who received free product in exchange for a positive review.
So let’s look at some of the key factors to consider in selecting the right mat for you:
- Comfort- This is a really important criterion for mat selection. It’s a little bit like selecting the right running shoe or tennis racket. It’s generally a matter of personal preference. The comfort of a mat depends not only on the materials used in the mat and the structural design of the mat, but it also depends on how much you weigh, how much you stand during the day, how much you move around, etc. There is no substitute for trying a mat to make sure you like it. Be sure to try it with shoes on, with bare feet and just with socks. This will help you gauge the comfort from different perspectives. Also, it’s important to note that the comfort of a standing mat can change over time. Most mats get softer over time in the same way that your flip flops get more comfortable after you break them in.
- Thickness- Most anti fatigue mats on the market are ¾” thick. Generally, ¾” mats are adequate for most people and most standing applications. This thickness was originally determined to be optimal for kitchen mats, which was one of the primary original applications for anti-fatigue mats. Most people use kitchen mats for maybe 15-20 minutes per day so people are not standing on them for long periods of time. However, as the research has emerged regarding the dangers of sitting, more people have begun to use standing desks at work and are standing for much longer periods of time than the time it takes to do your dishes. When you are standing for the majority of the day, the thickness of the mat suddenly becomes a huge differentiator. Most ¾” mats started as kitchen mats and were then re-marketed as standing mats for office use. These manufacturers have generally not invested in the expensive molds required to make thicker mats. Although we are admittedly biased, we think the optimal thickness for office workers who are standing for long periods of time is 7/8”. In our view, the Standee Mat is the highest quality 7/8” thick mat on the market. A 7/8” mat is 15%-20% thicker than a ¾” mat, and over the course of a day, that extra 1/8” makes a huge difference in comfort and standing endurance. Unlike other mat companies who started in the kitchen mat market, Standee Co. was a pioneer in the anti-fatigue mat market for the office, and the company has made the significant investment required to create the mold for a 7/8” mat.
- Materials- Most mats are made of polyurethane foam or some other composite foam material. As a consumer, it is difficult to know if the polyurethane foam used in a mat is high quality, but like most products, there is a range of quality in these core materials. Some mats on the market use rubber as the core material instead of polyurethane foam, but most rubber-based mats lack the “give” required to offer a maximum comfort standing experience. Note that some mats have leather tops while others use rubber or similar materials. It’s not clear that one type of top material is better than another. It’s more a matter of personal preference and comfort.
- Beveled Edges- Beveled edges are an important safety feature to prevent tripping but not a huge differentiator since a lot of mats on the market have them. Make sure you choose one that has them.
- Anti-Slip Backing- It is more expensive to manufacture a mat with an anti-slip backing, but there are 2 important reasons to select a mat that has one: (1) It is safer to stand on a mat that doesn’t move around, and (2) It is more convenient if your mat stays in one place since it has to be adjusted less often. For larger mats, an anti-slip backing is less important since they tend to move around less because of the extra weight they carry.
- Size- It’s not true that bigger is always better. The size of mat that is right for you depends a lot on the available space in your work area, the configuration of that space, and how you will be using it. Most mats are 20”x30” or in that general size range. This size is adequate for most standing applications. If you have a sit-stand desk and are alternating between sitting and standing throughout the day, sometimes a standard-sized mat can be an advantage since it is easier to move out of the way. It’s impractical to think that you will be able to roll your chair over most mats unless they are thin, cheaply made mats. There are some longer mats on the market, like the Standee Mat-XL which measures 24” x 70”. If you have the space and the budget, these longer mats are ideal for encouraging movement throughout the day. With almost 6 feet of runway and over 3 times the surface area of most standard mats, you can actually pace back and forth or move side to side without having to step onto your carpet or floor.
- Does a Warranty Matter?- The conventional wisdom is that warranties matter and that the longer the warranty, the better the product. However, we’ve found this not to be the case. In fact, our observation is that most warranties are nothing more than marketing gimmicks. Some anti-fatigue mat companies offer lifetime warranties knowing their products will never last that long. They do this because they know that the majority of consumers forget about the warranty after they purchase the product or don’t bother following up. These companies also know that products become obsolete over time, and most consumers want the latest and greatest products rather than products that were invented many years ago. So we are not saying that warranties are bad or that you should not buy a mat with a warranty. But, you should recognize it as a marketing strategy that is used to try to get you to buy a mat.
- Price- As with any product, price is a directional indicator of quality but not a definitive indicator. Our general guidance is that mats that sell for less than $50 tend to be lower- end mats that are likely to be made of lower quality materials and are not likely to stand the test of time. There could be some decent mats under $50, particularly if they are kitchen mats, but these are generally not made for standing for long periods of time like you might be doing in an office environment. Mats that sell for between $50-$100 are more often likely to be of better quality and more durable, but again this is just one indicator and there will undoubtedly be exceptions. Mats that sell for over $100 tend to be on the expensive side and raise the question of whether or not you get the bang for your buck. The general rules of thumb that we are outlining here apply to standard sized mats. For longer mats like the 24”x70” or a mat that is 3’x5’, for example, you should expect to pay over $100 for a good quality mat.