Mat vs Reformer Pilates or red wine vs white

A question that is heard often in the Studio is ‘What are the differences between mat and reformer pilates?’ and even more often: ‘Which is more challenging?’. Well, you might be in for a surprise. Most instructors don’t favour one over the other but rather prefer to complement one type of exercise with the other as they are both special in their own way, not to mention challenging. They are similar but different: like red and white wine.

Mat and reformer pilates stem from the work of Joseph Hubert Pilates, the inventor of the reformer machine, now one of the most popular pieces of pilates equipment. It consists of a bed-like sliding carriage, straps on a pulley system and different weighted springs which provide varying levels of resistance.

The main difference is that when you do a mat class, it is just you and your body weight that provides the resistance. There is nothing to rely on to assist you with the movement, whereas on the reformer you can use the straps, the springs, the foot bar, etc. to move. The machine gives you movement feedback meaning that you need more control to conduct exercises on the mat. In addition, mat classes can be spiced up with small props such as pilates balls, the magic circle, light dumbbells, making the workout even more challenging. Contrary to popular belief, you can let the reformer do the work for you (although we will cue you out of it!), for example if you gain momentum on the machine you will not get the most out of the exercise, whereas on the mat there is no possibility of ‘cheating’ as we like to say in the Studio – it is just you and your body. A lot of exercises from the mat repertoire are applied on the reformer, such as the hundreds or planking. They require more control on the machine as the resistance created by the spring system provides a more challenging strength and endurance exercise than on the mat: for example in bridging, your hamstrings, glutes and core have to work more to keep the machine in the base. 

The good thing is that mat and reformer exercises can be adapted to all fitness levels. Mat can be done at all stages of life (Did you know we have a special Teen Pack for Mat and Barre classes?), whereas we recommend the reformer for Members aged 16 and above.

No matter which one you do, it is essential to maintain regular practice while adhering to principles of Pilates (which include breathing, centering, concentration, control, precision, and flow – see our blog here) to maximise the benefits and quickly feel and see the results.

What’s it in for me?

Both types of classes will strengthen Your body from head to toe while you explore the endless varieties of high energy, low impact exercises, which will keep Your body and mind challenged at every mat or reformer class. The two methods teach you to initiate movements from the ‘Powerhouse’ or your core, the benefits of which will quickly be applied to your day-to-day activities.   

You may find that your personal preference is mat or reformer which is similar to a decision on white or red wine, or maybe if you are like me – you will enjoy both and combine the best of both worlds!

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