Cheerleading Mats and Safety

Two cheerleaders lifting squad member in air, portrait, low angle

Catastrophic injuries in cheerleading, which include skull fractures, brain injuries and spinal cord injuries, as well as less severe injuries, such as sprains, breaks and fracture are often a result of impact after a fall during tumbling or stunts onto hard surfaces. According to The National Cheer Safety Foundation, 93 percent of cheerleading injuries occur on hard surfaces, such as gym floors and concrete, covered only by thin mats. While impact injuries occur during tumbling, the majority of injuries are caused by stunts, particularly pyramids and basket tosses.

Fall Height as a Guide

As stunting increases as a key component of a cheer program, so does the difficulty level and height at which stunts are performed. Performing stunts at greater heights increases the risk associated with stunting. Take into account critical heights, or the fall height below which a catastrophic injury would be unlikely, when choosing safety matting on which to train and perform.

Foam Surface Mats

Tatami puzzle mats are commonly used to cover training surfaces. These mats were originally designed for martial arts, but are also used in cheerleading due to their affordability, portability and easy storage. The mats are usually 40 inches by 40 inches by1 5/8 inches and have puzzle-like borders that interlock allowing the coverage of large or unusually shaped areas. Tatami mats are made of high density foam and cushion and prevent strain or injury from impact. They have a critical height of 4 feet.

Carpet-Bonded Foam Mats

Carpet-bonded foam mats are the most common mats used in cheerleading due to their safety rating, affordability and portability. They consist of three layers of firm polyethylene foam covered by non-slip carpet and range in thickness from 1 3/8 to 2 inches. The come in 6-foot by 42-foot strips that roll up for easy set up and storage. These strips can be held together by 2 or 4 inch strips of Velcro. Seven mats connected side by side creates an area equal to that of a competition floor. These mats often cover spring floors. Alone, on a regular floor, the mats have a critical height of 4 feet.

Crash and Landing Mats

Crash and landing mats are useful for drills and learning new skills, particularly in tumbling. They are made of polyurethane foam covered by vinyl, leather or Polyvinyl Chloride. Crash mats, which provide cushioning for drills such as lay-backs, are generally not as firm as landing mats that are used specifically to take the strain out of landing tumbling passes. Crash mats are not suitable for stunting as a result. Crash mats usually measure 4 foot by 8 foot by 8 inches, while landing mats measure 4 foot by 8 foot by 5 inches. The critical height of both crash mats and landing mats is 6 1/2 feet. Critical height can be increased to greater than 10 1/2 feet by layering landing mats over a foam matted floor.

Spring Floors

Spring floors consist of a double layer of hardwood plywood with a minimum thickness of 24mm supported by large metal springs or foam blocks, covered by carpet-bonded foam strips. Spring floors are the type of floors provided for competition; however the high cost and permanent nature of the floors prevents their use by many schools, recreation and all star programs. The floor as a whole can be counted as a type of matting due to its unparalleled safety rating and carpet-bonded foam mat surface. The use of spring floors lessens impact injuries. The critical height for a spring floor is the highest of any surface, exceeding 11 feet.