A low-impact exercise, aimed at strengthening your core muscles and toning your entire body, pilates can be a bit—well—intimidating. Whether you’ve walked by a reformer class where there were straps, seats, and what looks like a wooden bed (the reformer); or a mat class where exercisers move fluidly through their workout, you don’t need to be intimidated at all, because everybody has been a beginner. This workout may become your new favorite. But, what’s the difference between reformer pilates vs. mat pilates? Let’s dive into that here.
Mat pilates is a pilates class that works on strength, control, and lengthening your muscles, all on a pilates mat. Here, you work on power and control in several ways, by using a ball, the ‘magic circle’ (a ring used in class to help create resistance), bands, and more. But, what’s even better is you can also practice mat pilates with just your bodyweight. So, it is a workout that you can take with you anywhere. The movements are similar to yoga, but with more pulses and other strengthening techniques and core exercises. This low-impact workout is perfect to take with you on the road or for joining in on an instructor-lead class whenever you can.
Mat pilates classes use a mat that looks an awful lot like a yoga mat—but the mats are different. A yoga mat’s purpose is to support you as you balance, so it is thinner (about 1/8 inch thin), while also giving you a cushion for your other poses. In contrast, a pilates mat was made for rolling on and to assist you in slow and controlled movements. Pilates mats should be thicker to help pad your back and spine and are typically about 1/2 inch thick.
A reformer class looks much different than a mat class. You will typically see reformers, wundas (a pilates chair with a footboard for resistance), straps, and wallboards in these classes. All of these pieces of equipment help you to work on resistance training and getting a deeper stretch while improving flexibility. Your reformer pilates instructor will guide you through slow and controlled movements to help your body work against the resistance of the equipment you are using, or gravity itself.
The reformer is the star of the show in reformer pilates class. This machine looks like a very long, thin bedframe with a small, moving mattress in the middle (called a platform). This padded platform is there to keep your spine and chest comfortable as you work through movements. Attached to the platform are springs—which may add more or less resistance—and a footboard to help you launch from those springs, and make your platform into a true strength training machine. Near your head will hang straps that can wrap around your hands or legs for even more of a resistance workout. You will do lunges, leg circles, ab workouts, arm workouts, and chest and back workouts all on this reformer machine.
So, is pilates mat or reformer better? Both mat pilates and reformer pilates offer a fantastic workout, but we would recommend learning the form and the flow of the class on your mat, and then moving up to a reformer class if you choose to or when you are ready. Since pilates is all about control, you will want to be sure that your form is correct at all stages of the workout. In your mat pilates exercise class, the instructor will be there to give you advice on how to move differently, or even micro-adjust your body to help you target the correct muscle groups. Plus, by having the mat pilates exercises committed to your memory, you will be able to practice your mat workouts when you travel, or when you feel like skipping out on the gym to stay at home (we’ve all been there). When it comes to reformer class, be sure that no matter your athleticism, to join in on a beginner’s class the first several times. It takes a beat to learn how to use each apparatus, and—again—form is everything.
If you would like to try out a pilates class, check out a class schedule near you. Our instructors lead group exercise with you in mind. They know to look for ways to help you improve on your fitness journey, and to support you with alternate workouts if something doesn’t quite feel right, or you need a modification. Group exercise classes are the perfect way to learn something new, build a community of like-minded individuals, and motivate you with a time and place to be for your workout. We offer group exercise at all of our locations. We hope to see you at a mat pilates class soon!