Are you (or your child) involved in cheerleading, gymnastics or acrobatics? Chances are you have come across an air track. Air tracks (air floors, air mats, air tumbling runs) let you to perform practice more repetition with less impact, meaning greater success. Add in their fun factor and portability, it’s no wonder they continue to gain in popularity.
But with so many air tracks on the market it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. What length? Width? Thickness? They all look so similar that if you are looking to buy one, it can be difficult to know where to start.
Regardless of skill level, if you’re looking to buy an air track there’s a few things to look out for to ensure that you’re spending your money on a quality item that will not only last but meet your training requirements.
Size (and colour) aside, the most important factor to consider when buying an air track is construction. While they all may look similar on the outside, as with people, it’s what’s on the inside that really counts. 1000 denier drop stich, double wall construction is most common and definitely the one to look out for. How your air track is assembled is just as important, if not more so than the quality of the materials used. For the most durable product, look for one that’s hand-made (hand-glued) rather than machine made. Why hand-glued? Hand glued PVC seams are actually solvent-welded, whereas the other method is heat-welded. Both methods result in a similar fusing of the seams, however heat welded PVC may be more susceptible to damage from folding than hand glued. Heat-welded PVC may also be more susceptible to environmental impacts, such as extreme heat from the Australian sun. Many air products on the market are machine made and mass produced using inferior quality materials. While this keeps the cost down, mass production doesn’t allow the same attention to detail that comes with a handmade product reducing their lifetime significantly. As with purchasing any product, always look out for products that offer a longer manufacturer’s warranty.
When considering size, the first thing to think about is space available. Whether you plan to use the air track inside or out, it is important to keep in mind safety factors such run up and clearance space. Generally speaking, allow one to two meters of unobstructed clearance space along all sides of the air track, don’t forget the all-important run up space. You may want to consider more or less run up allowance, this is usually based on personal preference. If you are using your air track outside, it is also important to consider the ground. Make sure the area is level and clear of any rocks, sticks or exposed tree roots which can cause damage to the air track and create a trip hazard.
The length required varies according age and skill level. While all lengths are suited to beginners, more advance tumblers and taller/older athletes will require more length. Three meters is long enough for single pass tumbling (one cartwheel or one round-off) while connected tricks (roundoff to back handspring) require more length to complete. A wider air track can be more forgiving, allowing more landing space to practice tricks, while a longer, narrower track will require straighter tumbling passes in order to stay on the track.
Most air tracks are offered in either a 10cm or 20cm thickness. Thicker mats allow for more versatility. By adjusting the air pressure, you can control the firmness of the mat. A lower pressure will offer a bouncier surface allowing for higher jumps and softer landings with lower impact on the body. A high pressure will offer a firmer, more stable surface with a faster rebound similar to a sprung floor. Thinner mats have less versatility as they require a higher pressure to prevent them from bottoming out. Thinner (10cm) mats a usually recommended for athletes up to approximately 12 years of age. Depending on the sports you practice, but also your age, skill and weight, you may prefer one mat over the other.