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The first time introducing a child to the gymnastics cheese mat is bound to get laughter. No, they don’t taste or smell, or even look like the cheese they’re used to! But the name Cheese Mat has stuck and they are still referred to them as such in most gyms. Aliases of the cheese mat include the gymnastics incline mat, gymnastics wedge mat, or gymnastics cheese wedge mat. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s a popular, fun, and useful piece of gymnastics equipment for all ages. The best part is, it’s not just for gymnastics!
Gymnastics Cheese Mat vs Gymnastics Folding Mat
Since you’re reading this article you probably have kids interested in gymnastics or you are interested in expanding your home gymnastics practice or workout. If you already have some other gymnastics mats and are looking to add a new piece of gymnastics equipment for your home, this is an ideal mat. However, maybe you are looking to adding the incline mat as your first/only mat and want to compare gymnastics mats. Read my quick overview of three types of gymnastics mats to decide which (if any) is best for you. Since the wedge mat is not quite as versatile as, say, a gymnastics panel mat, you want to first figure out your main reason to want one.
Cheese Mat Uses
Like most gymnastics mats, the wedge mats come in a variety of sizes. Different sizes will help with different activities but here is a basic list of what you can do if you decide to invest in a gymnastics incline mat.
Rolling is the obvious thing to do when on an incline.
- Forward rolls – starting at the top of the mat, roll to the bottom. It really helps young kids and beginners that aren’t quite able to push much with their legs to roll over. It can be scary for some so be conscious of this, as they are going upside down on a tilted surface and feel a loss of body control.
- Dive rolls – work up to diving rolls by starting the roll on the ground in front of the mat. This makes a kid jump into the roll. For adults or taller kids, start a bit further back or put up an obstacle in front of the wedge to jump over and into the roll.
- Back rolls – start these sitting on the top of the cheese, facing away. Roll back and into the back roll.
- Back extension rolls – starting standing in front of the mat, sit back onto it and initiate back roll with straight arms overhead, hands face in. Land in push-up position.
- Log rolls – this is the most basic form of rolls, going horizontally down. Adults and older kids would need a very large sized mat to log roll down, but young kids can do it on the smaller preschool sized wedge.
- Handstand-forward rolls – practice handstand rolls by kicking up into a handstand just before the mat, tuck and roll down the mat.
- Roll up the hill!
I love the wedge for learning different types of bridges and kick-overs!
Doing a bridge on the wedge mat with your hands at the low end and feet at the top will help work on your bridge strength, as it is more difficult for the upper body. Bridging with hands at the top and feet at the bottom is easier if your upper body is not quite strong enough to hold a bridge on the ground.
To use the wedge mat for back bending I advise you move it so the top is against a wall or it is on a non-slipping surface. Stand at the bottom of the wedge and go into your backbend from there. This is for someone who is very close to getting a backbend on their own. Also practice coming up from your backbend the same way (arms at the top, feet at the bottom) to work on front limbers.
Bridge up with feet at the high end. Practice back walkovers by kicking one leg over at a time. A front walkover can also be practiced by handstanding on the top of the mat, kicking over into the walkover, coming up one leg at a time.
Unless the gymnast is pretty small, you will want a large sized mat for back handsprings. The wedge mat is often used for back handspring practice, but there are risks involved. Going downhill, there is more pressure put on the arms and wrists in this skill so be mindful of only attempting it when you (or your child) are ready.
Vertical for Handstand Presses
I don’t like using the mat against the wall for normal handstands because it gets the body to go over-vertical in a handstand (which would make you fall over if done without the cheese). However, for press handstands you do want your body extending beyond your wrists (while pressing up) so it is very helpful for that. To use it for straddle presses put it against the wall and sit (or stand, based on your current skill level – it is easier to begin while standing if you’re still learning a straddle press handstand) facing it. Place hands down on the floor by the mat. While lifting feet up to a handstand, push your shoulders and upper back into the cheese and use it in case you fall back.
Folded into a Block
Most incline gymnastics mats can fold in half. It not only makes them more convenient to move (or travel with in the case of my on-location classes), but it also creates a whole other piece of gymnastics equipment – the block. It is, of course, not as sturdy as a normal gymnastics block since it is folded, but some wedges have velcro to connect it shut when folding like this this one.
Use the block to jump down to the ground. This will give time to perfect different jumps. It also gives kids practice in risk-taking (most kids will learn to jump off of a raised surface around 2 years old) and learning to land safely and on their feet. Use it to jump up too, to practice height on your vertical jump. The picture is of my eight year old jumping off the block. Notice how high he gets so he can really change positions in the air. It’s much higher than our mini-trampoline can get jumps!
The folded cheese mat can be used to practice hurdles (run, hurdle onto the block), no need for a springboard since it’s not too high. Put hands on block and jump feet up for a kids’ basic squat on vault, or put hands on and jump feet up for practice hurdling to handstand position on the vault.
The wedge mat has uses outside of gymnastics too!
It’s great for babies, they love to practice crawling up and down it, or for “tummy time”. Toddlers can practice balance, walking or running up and down the wedge.
Kids like to play with the folding ones by turning them on end to be a tiny “tent”, or on their sides for walls. They also roll balls and drive cars down and up the mat. It also makes a good table as my kids demonstrated below!
The cheese wedge mat is also great for workouts – for adults too! Push-ups can be easier if you face the top of the mat, harder if you put your feet on the top. It also feels good as a back stretch to lay over it folded like a block.
What to Look for in a Cheese Mat
The best cheese mat, in my opinion, comes in six sizes. The small size is great for babies and young kids, but will not be too much use for kids older than 4 or 5. It also does not fold, which can be a disadvantage. Unless you are very tight on space, I recommend getting at least the medium size. This is the size I have and is great for what we use it for.
Even I can use the medium size – mainly for back bending or rolls. My kids use it for the same purpose, my tall 8 year old has also been using it to learn back tucks off of when folded into a block. If you have an older (than about 8 or 9) kid that will be wanting to practice their back handsprings on it, get the large size. The medium one is not long enough for most kids’ to do back handsprings safely. It can also slide a bit considering it weighs less, so make sure to put something under it or put it against a wall.
The X-Large and XX-Large sizes (96″ and above) are designed more for gym use. They are very large for home use and tall so that you would need very high ceilings or only use them outdoors. If you do have your own gym, these are great sizes for older kids, adults, and skill linking (like a back handspring, back tuck).
Folding Cheese Mat or Not Folding
Most cheese wedge mats sold online fold to a block for easy storage and transport. This is the same case in gyms, as blocks come in handy for a range of exercises. However, there is an advantage to cheese mats that do not fold too. They are able to stand upright on end without falling. This can be fun for kids – they love to run at the mat and jump on it to knock it down, landing on their belly! They can also jump onto it to “surf” it down, or jump backward. At one of the gyms I worked at, we called the game “Slam the Cheese” and was a huge favorite!
Kicking it over is fun too, or practicing handstand falls to flat back (handstand against it, falling with a straight body as it falls over and to the ground).
The Best Gymnastics Cheese Mat to Buy
I personally recommend the same gymnastics mat that I ordered from Amazon almost four years ago. I have used it for myself, my kids, and my gymnastics classes. It has traveled three countries with us and hasn’t gotten a scratch! It is just the right amount of firmness, in my opinion. Over time and use gymnastics mats soften, and this one has slightly but is still pretty firm, which I like (softer ones make it hard to kick over and really effect balance). Click here to see the current prices, size, and color availability, and get yours today!
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