Writ­ten by Hol­ly Furgason 

Many new­com­ers won­der if they should be rolling out a mat to do their Pilates, or strap­ping into a reformer — the equip­ment devel­oped by Pilates cre­ator Joseph Pilates. So what’s the dif­fer­ence between mat Pilates and reformer Pilates?  There are actu­al­ly sev­er­al.

Work­ing against resis­tance is essen­tial to the 500 clas­si­cal Pilates exer­cis­es, which are designed to train the body’s “pow­er­house” — the abdomen, low­er back, hips and glutes. You can accom­plish this in Pilates by using either a mat, where your own body weight cre­ates resis­tance, or a reformer, where pul­leys and springs cre­ate resistance.

Since Pilates mat work­outs and Pilates reformer work­outs pro­vide sim­i­lar ben­e­fits, it’s no won­der that there is some con­fu­sion about which form to pur­sue, depend­ing on your cur­rent goals and abil­i­ties. Here’s a break­down of the two types of class­es to help you make an informed decision.

Mat Pilates

Many Pilates experts rec­om­mend mat class­es as the best bet for begin­ners. Mat work can be a great start­ing point because of its empha­sis on learn­ing how to con­trol your mus­cles and get in tune with your body. While doing Pilates on a mat instead of a reformer may not seem as fun or chal­leng­ing, many stu­dents see results — improved strength, pos­ture, agili­ty and flex­i­bil­i­ty, as well as toned mus­cles — with­in a few months from once-a-week Pilates mat ses­sion. Advanced mat class­es will use your body for sup­port the entire time so more atten­tion and effort is required when you are work­ing with­out the assis­tance or sup­port of the Reformer, result­ing in a greater chal­lenge for your core muscles.

Reformer Pilates

The Reformer will ‘reform’ your life. When celebs say they “do Pilates” they are usu­al­ly talk­ing about the Reformer. To some, reformer equip­ment might resem­ble a tor­ture appa­ra­tus, built with a slid­ing car­riage and adjustable springs to reg­u­late ten­sion and resis­tance. Cables, bars, straps, and pul­leys allow exer­cis­es to be done from a vari­ety of posi­tions, even stand­ing. The resis­tance cre­at­ed by the pul­ley and spring sys­tem can pro­vide a more chal­leng­ing strength and endurance work­out than mat class­es. It may also pro­duce vis­i­ble results soon­er — arm, leg and abdom­i­nal mus­cles can look more firm and defined with­in a dozen or so reg­u­lar ses­sions. The reformer’s many attach­ments increase the range of mod­i­fi­ca­tions that can be made to the exer­cis­es, and allow addi­tion­al exer­cis­es beyond what can be done on a mat. This capa­bil­i­ty, com­bined with the sup­port afford­ed by the resis­tance the machine pro­vides, allows peo­ple with lim­it­ed range of move­ment or injuries to safe­ly do mod­i­fied exer­cis­es. The reformer works to length­en whilst strength­en­ing the mus­cles rather than build­ing bulk. It there­fore makes for an effec­tive, non impact stretch­ing and ton­ing pro­gram that is safe for the joints and favored by Phys­io­ther­a­pists and Osteopaths.

The Truth

Joseph Pilates nev­er intend­ed either Mat­work or Reformer to stand alone. His approach was inte­gra­tive, com­bin­ing mat and reformer for the best all around pro­gram, pro­vid­ing the full ben­e­fits that Pilates can offer. So in the end, you can’t go wrong whichev­er you choose, but keep in mind, what you learn on one informs your body on the oth­er.  You’ll build new­er con­nec­tions faster and deep­er if you do both. So chal­lenge your­self to explore new exer­cis­es on the mat, or try a reformer class.  You may just find that it opens up your body in a new way and helps you to go deep­er into the work. Good luck!

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