Safety Mats and Aerial Arts
For many of us, embarking into the world of aerial arts means excitement, challenge, hope, and inspiration. But when you begin on a journey like aerial arts, you also assume a certain degree of risk. Perhaps the same can be said for life in general, but when flying, the stakes are quite a bit higher.
Do safety mats completely eliminate that risk, acting as a catch-all savior ready to act as you ascend to the heavens? The thicker the mat, the safer it is, right? Maybe, maybe not. The answer may be less clear than one might expect.
Photo by @angelonsilks
Let’s take a look at some of the varying schools of thought regarding the use of mats in aerial arts and aerial yoga, and how mat requirements can change dramatically between disciplines:
There are some aerial groups that believe in using 8”+ thick crash for all aerial disciplines. Mats are always required. Given the inherent dangers of aerial arts, this philosophy is reflected in some insurance company requirements, particularly for training schools. Thick crash mats can cushion falls, preventing serious injury. They are a necessity for training, especially for beginning silks students, for trying out new tricks or drops, for static trapeze, and much more. Mats save lives - this is a wise and safe approach for the most common aerial arts needs, and we recommend training at studios that use thick crash mats for your safety.
However, what isn’t taken into account with this concept is that not all aerial arts work the same way, nor do they work at the same altitude.
Photo by Maryline Laugier-Diamond
Other aerial groups are divided on the use of mats. It’s not uncommon to see performers without mats. While this is changing as mats are more normalized, there are many performers that have honed their art over many years of practice that are comfortable with the risk of performing without one.
Beyond performance aesthetics, there are more serious considerations involving mats. Mat needs may vary in different situations. For aerial dance style work involving floorwork, such as dance trapeze or low silks, mats can be a liability. Quynbi recounts her near-miss involving a mat mishap.
“At a gig one night, the management insisted we use a mat for our performance. This doubles act features both spinning and movement in and out of the floor. At the finale, I slipped on the mat, which acted like a type of surfboard, ferrying me across the slick lounge floor. I literally fell into a stranger’s arms on the other side of the room. Embarrassing, right? No one was hurt, but It could have been much worse. And it wouldn’t have happened without the mat.”
There are times when a mat may actually increase the risk of floor-based injuries. The most common injury in circus arts are ankle sprains and twisted ankles, and thick mats are a common cause of this. Landing feet first from a height on a thick mat can cause ankle injury. However, it’s much preferable to have an ankle injury than a head injury. The most important thing we can do is to be mindful of these risks to choose the right mats for our needs.
ETCP Certified Rigger Delbert Hall speaks to this issue, pointing out that in many instances, mats are and should be used by professional artists.
Different mat types work better for different aerial disciplines.
Do you need a crash mat for aerial yoga? Generally not. A simple yoga mat works beautifully for floor-based work. If you’re working higher above ground and creating inverted poses, a panel mat can work very well to provide a cushion in case of a tumble. Thick or soft mats can be a trip hazard in aerial yoga and other aerial forms that move on and off the floor (which could also include low straps, doubles, Lyra, invented apparatuses, and more).
An oversized crash mat could be trouble for one act, and a lifesaver for another, while still not enough padding for a third! Consider what you are working with and your safety needs.
It’s important to remember that mats will not save you from every injury in aerial arts. When in doubt, use a mat. However also be aware that mats can create a false sense of safety for beginners, and may sometimes encourage someone to try things before they are ready. Proper instruction and fall safety is just as important and possibly more important than mats. The most dangerous falls happen from heights between 10-15 feet, in part because at this distance, you don’t have time to turn your body around. A safety mat can be there to soften your fall, but can’t be relied on to prevent every injury.
Good mats can be expensive, but this is not something to cheap out on. Whatever your needs may be in terms of a mat, a foam mattress is never a good idea for aerial practice. While better than nothing, these pads are built for sleeping, not to absorb shock. The foam is not dense enough to provide adequate protection in the event of a fall, and can lead to a false sense of safety. Crash mats are designed and tested specifically to absorb shock of falls and prevent injury.
The Uplift Active team recommends everyone to use an appropriate mat for their discipline. A gymnastics crash mat supplier is the best source for thick crash mats for silks, trapeze, and hoop. Bouldering pads are another budget-friendly option for smaller spaces. We sell firm panel mats for aerial yoga, floor work, and low aerial arts in our store here.
Working with a healthy, respectful acceptance of the danger that exists in aerial arts, coupled with an armor of knowledge and commitment to technique can relieve some of the confusion about mats. Choose your mats wisely to suit your practice and stay as safe as possible in the air.
Cover image by: @sam_cham
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