Open and closed cell foam are terms you might hear when shopping for mats for your MMA or martial arts facility or yoga studio. While mats made with closed cell foam will provide some protection to your students, the most protective martial arts mats in the industry are made with open cell foam.
What is Open Cell Foam?
As its name implies, open cell foam is classified as foam that contains a majority of cells that are “open.” What do we mean by “open?” In the simplest terms – and avoiding the chemistry lesson – it just means air can pass through the majority of the cell walls when compressed, leaving the foam itself to carry the load and not relying on trapped air (think of squeezing a sponge).
In all practicality, it makes the foam durable, more flexible, and more breathable, allowing the foam to act as a spring does; it can be compressed, and then return to its normal state. You can say it’s like memory foam, however some memory foam can actually be classified as closed-cell.
How it Differs from Closed Cell Foam
Closed cell foam has cells that are contained within their cell walls and are trapping air (think of it as microscopic bubble wrap). The air trapped between them gives the foam a lot more initial firmness than open cell foam. It’s firmer but doesn’t bounce back as well as open cell foam, making it less comfortable to land on and less durable once the cell walls weaken and release the trapped air.
Why is Open Cell Foam Important in Martial Arts Mats?
You will find closed cell foam in less expensive martial arts mats options like puzzle mats and roll out mats. That’s why these mats are firmer, yet less comfortable and durable to train on. The tournament mats used by the ATA, IBJJF, and IJF are made with open cell foam because they are better for:
Closed-cell foam mats aren’t as good at absorbing the energy of impact as open-cell foam mats. When bodies hit closed-cell mats, a lot of that energy is returned to the athlete, increasing the risk of injury due to the shock placed on the body. Mats that use open-cell foam absorb and disperse impact energy throughout the foam core, allowing energy to escape elsewhere rather than returning to the athlete. This allows for a lighter impact on the body and a significant reduction in injuries.
Overall, you will have a much more comfortable training experience and longer life of your mats when made with open cell foam. You will also be able to train harder while reducing your risk of injury.
Heat Expansion and Contraction
Closed-cell foams are subject to expansion and contraction in high temperature areas. They do not hold up well in high humidity or extreme temperature changes. Open-cell foam mats, on the other hand are not subject to expansion and contraction when the temperature or humidity reaches an extreme level. This makes open-cell foam mats better for facilities where temperatures run high, especially hot yoga facilities.
Don’t You Need Firmness in Mats?
Yes, mat firmness is essential for striking and stand-up martial arts, but don’t let words like “soft” and “comfortable” fool you. The martial arts mats made by Zebra Athletics feature recycled, rebonded open-cell foam that provides protection against falls and slams, but they also provide plenty of stability for standup martial arts like TKD, Kung Fu and Karate. If you practice these arts at your facility, take a look at our Combo Mats. They are thinner than our Grappling Mats, providing slightly less protection against takedowns, but they allow for ample stability and are tatami textured for better traction.
If you need help deciding which mats are right for your facility, get in touch with Zebra Athletics today.