There are two different approaches to Pilates: mat work and using the reformer, the traditional Pilates machine. Most people are familiar with classic mat Pilates because it can be practiced anywhere. However, because reformer Pilates uses a large machine, is often viewed as more complicated or difficult and only intended for the most serious Pilates experts. This is not the case! Both mat and machine Pilates are accessible and available to all levels of Pilates, even beginners. The difference is not in the movements themselves, but the workout as a whole that differs.
In each approach to Pilates, you perform the same series of exercises with the reformer that you can on the mat, but the way your body performs and responds to the exercises creates different workouts that have varying advantages. This is because mat Pilates rely on body weight for exercises while using the reformer adds resistance to the Pilates exercises via the use of the springs that form part of the machine. Neither mat or machine Pilates is necessarily better or more difficult than the other—it all comes down to your personal preference and what you are looking to get out of your Pilates practice.
What is Mat Pilates?
Mat Pilates has become the most recognizable approach in Pilates practice because of its convenience and accessibility. Anyone can attend a Pilates class—no experience or purchasing of any gear or equipment is required. At home (or anywhere, really), all you need to practice Pilates is a mat, and even the mat itself can be substituted! That is because with mat Pilates, the small, controlled movements are designed to rely on body weight rather than using resistance training methods. While still physically demanding, mat Pilates can be adapted and modified for all levels of Pilates.
In mat Pilates classes, the fundamentals of Pilates movements and techniques are the focus. Maintaining a neutral core, focusing on intentional breathwork, and engaging your deep core are all tenants of mat Pilates and mastering these skills sets you up for more effective workouts elsewhere. Mat Pilates also encourages a healthy, positive mind-body relationship on and off the mat. The best part of mat Pilates is because you are focusing on precise, controlled movements using body weight, the practice evolves with you to continue to be challenging even as you gain strength and flexibility. Advantages of the classic approach to Pilates on the mat include:
- Strong core (this includes not just the abs, but the entire powerhouse including the deep core muscles and glutes)
- Increased flexibility
- Improved posture
- Teaches breathwork
- Builds Pilates technical skills
- Toned muscles and increased body strength
What Is the Pilates Reformer Machine?
Mat Pilates is not the only approach to Pilates practice. The Pilates Reformer is a machine that incorporates resistance training into your low-impact Pilates practice. While still considered low-impact, reformer Pilates is a full-body workout that uses a combination of movement and spring action with the use of the reformer machine to increase resistance and focus on strength-building and endurance.
While viewed as a modern version of Pilates, the reformer is actually a classic piece of Pilates equipment, invented by Joseph Pilates himself. The machine includes a padded carriage that moves on a wooden frame connected to a spring system. The springs are adjustable to enable different levels of resistance, and straps are also used to allow more diverse movements and modification possibilities. Shoulder blocks keep your body aligned properly and a foot bar that you can push with your feet, or hands is used to slide the carriage along the reformer track during movements. Some classes also use a springboard to add cardio to the practice. Your body weight and spring-pulley system create the needed resistance for a very impactful exercise.
There are many advantages to reformer Pilates—some that are unique to using the machine versus the mat. Rather than viewing the machine as a piece of equipment that makes Pilates movements more challenging, it can also be used as an assist for those with limited ranges of motion, injury recovery, or other accessibility barriers. Whether you are familiar or curious about using the reformer in your regular Pilates practice, Sheppard Method Pilates offers group reformer classes to widen your range.
How to Choose Between Mat Pilates vs Reformer Pilates Classes
There is not one specific Pilates approach that can be determined as better, harder, or even right or wrong for you specifically. Instead, you can think of these two main types of Pilates as opportunities to explore Pilates in different ways and keep your practice fresh. In the end, it really comes down to preference and what hits your personal sweet spot. Thankfully at Sheppard Method Pilates of Westwood, you don’t have to choose one or the other.
Whether it’s mat work or the Pilates Reformer you’re looking for, Sheppard Method Pilates has a class for you. Our Westwood studio offers a variety of Pilates classes including group reformer classes, cardio jump board classes, private or duo mat Pilates, as well as private at-home lessons. Our Pilates instructors can help find the perfect Pilates practice for you!
Call the Westwood Pilates instructors at Sheppard Method Pilates to book your first class!