As aerial grows in popularity, I've noticed an increasing number of aerialists practicing without a mat. Possibly you've noticed this too?
While it's very rare, from time to time, I misjudge a skill, my timing is off, or my body doesn't fully understand the mechanics yet and I fall. Each time this has happened, it's been in a practice setting and fortunately, I had a thick crash mat underneath me.
In the video below, you'll see a skill I misjudged in class. I had done it successfully a few times before, but on this go, I didn't grab the silk soon enough when I rotated around, resulting in a fall.
Thank goodness I was physically ok, but I did feel emotionally spooked. Had the mat not been there, I likely wouldn't have been ok.
While mats cannot fully protect us from injury, they can definitely lessen the impact of a fall or mishap.
Years ago, a mat saved the life of AP Master Trainer Gabe Hilden-Reid, who dropped from 25 feet on his head while doing the double Kamikaze drop (a drop that we never recommend for anyone). Doctors said that he might have been decapitated without the mat and the strength of his neck muscles.
Suffice it to say that no matter how advanced you are, a mat is nothing to be ashamed of. No matter how experienced you are, I believe that everyone should use a mat and that you should never be made to feel embarrassed or less than for using one.
In addition, for studio owners and instructors, aerial insurance policies will likely require you to use mats at all times, including during student showcases.
That said, professional productions such as Cirque du Soleil mats are commonly not used. Keep in mind the artists likely trained with a mat for quite some time until they gained the confidence to go without it and even then, accidents still can happen.
Mat tips & purchasing info:
I recommend opting for mats at least 8-12 inches thick. The mats at Aerial Physique are 4’ x 8’ x 12” and are from Rubber Flooring Inc.
Yoga mats and panel folding mats are not crash mats.
If you are not in the USA, type “Gymnastics Crash Mats” or “Landing Mats” in your search engine.
When ordering mats, plan ahead and expect high shipping costs. Due to the large size of mats, they are not shipped by regular mail. They typically need to be delivered by freight which can result in a costly delivery fee.
Many mat manufacturers do not have every size and color in stock. Instead, they are made to order. You may have to wait 6-8 weeks, sometimes longer for it to be ready to ship.
In addition to the mat itself, it's wise to invest in soft surface flooring in a studio setting. Here's a link to the floor we have at Aerial Physique.
If you are on a budget, I've seen aerialists use mattresses or futons instead of mats. While this is better than nothing, I still recommend the standard crash mats due to the manufacturing specifications when it comes to a potential fall.
Whether you're an aerial student, teacher, or studio owner, I encourage you to make responsible and well-informed decisions regarding safety protocol for yourself and your community.