Pilates attracts everyone from grandmas to executives with its promise of core strength, flexibility, and lean muscle tone. But as Pilates transforms from a professional dancer’s secret to a mainstream workout, 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.
What’s the difference between mat Pilates and Reformer Pilates?
Since Pilates mat workouts and Pilates Reformer workouts provide similar benefits, it’s no wonder that newbies (as well as regular Pilates devotees) are often confused about which form is right for their current goals and abilities. Here’s a breakdown of the two types of classes to help you decide.
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 buttocks. But you can accomplish that in Pilates using either a mat, where your own body weight creates resistance, or a Reformer, where pulleys and springs create resistance.
Hybrid Pilates tools give you the best of both worlds
Several products mimic the resistance action of a Reformer using lightweight resistance bands joined in an X design, so you can add the benefits of using a Reformer to your Pilates workout anywhere, no bulky equipment required. This is a convenient option when traveling and gives anyone who lives in a small space a practical alternative to buying a Reformer, without going to a Pilates studio.
How Pilates on a mat works
Pilates mat work is often done in live classes, which are much easier to find than Reformer sessions. Even gyms without full Pilates studios often offer mat classes, usually at no additional fee for members.
Many Pilates experts recommend mat classes as the best bet for beginners. Average students typically add Reformer work after three months of once-a-week mat classes.
Dennis Clark, instructor and owner of Body Language Pilates and Yoga Studio in Florence, Italy, insists that new clients acquire a foundation on the mat before launching into apparatus work. “The body can get very confused with controlling the effect of an external challenge source and learn to rely on big global muscles or small over-tasked ones to practice a reformer exercise and miss the target, ” she says.