Reformer vs Mat Pilates

Reformer vs Mat Pilates

By Hannah McKimm

It’s a question that comes up a lot; what’s the difference between mat and reformer Pilates (other than the obvious) and which is better? 

So, as someone who has taught plenty of both, here are my thoughts on these two forms of exercise, which are similar in some ways, but so different in others. 

Pilates has been around for a long time, but it has become a mainstream form of exercise in the past 20 years. Founded by Joseph Pilates in the 1920’s, Pilates has always been done both on the mat and on ‘reformer beds’ and other equipment. Joseph came up with the principles of Pilates while rehabilitating soldiers from WWI and took these principles to the dance community once the war ended. 

Since then, Pilates has evolved and has become something that just about everyone has heard of and most people have tried at least once. Over the past 2 years, Pilates as a form of exercise has become almost like a cult trend. Everyone wants to learn it and be able to feel and see the benefits. 

Going back a few years, reformers Pilates was probably the most popular choice, with most suburbs offering plenty of classes and multiple studios to choose from.

Over the past few years, mat Pilates seems to have become just as popular and I am seeing more and more online and in-studio matwork classes popping up. I must admit, I first fell in love with Pilates in reformer classes, but recently I find myself choosing matwork as my class of choice. It’s convenient, challenging, effective and I don’t need to think twice about the cost of a class. 

So while, I don’t believe that one form is superior to the other, here are a few reasons why you might lean towards matwork Pilates over reformer:

  1. Price - generally, matwork classes will be at a lower price point, even at a studio. And if you’re exercising from home, purchasing or renting your own reformer is quite an expensive option when compared to purchasing a mat, ball, weights and some bands.
  2. You can do it from home - the flexibility and accessibility of matwork Pilates is far superior to reformer. Where you might have time for 1-2 reformer classes per week, you could easily do a matwork class every day from home. You don’t need to factor in travel time, waitlists or making yourself decent to leave the house. 
  3. You can choose which class suits your mood on the day - rather than being at the mercy of your instructor, by doing Pilates at home, you can choose a class that appeals to you on any given day. With classes of different lengths, intensities and focuses, you can choose the style of class that will give you the workout you are looking for. 
  4. It’s more comfortable - Pilates in your PJ’s? Yes please! Have a cup of tea or coffee nearby, wear whatever you like, choose your own playlist and hit pause whenever you need to, it’s hard to beat that!
  5. No one is watching - ever chosen not to take the more difficult option because you’re worried you’ll look silly? Well, when you’re working out at home, you can give things a go without anyone watching.
  6. Working against your own body weight - matwork Pilates tends to be more functional, meaning it relates more closely to what we need in our day to day lives. Using gravity and your bodyweight as the main forms of resistance is a very beneficial way to exercise. Then you can always add some small equipment to up the challenge and create some variety in your workouts. 
  7. If your balance is not great - in a reformer class you will often be standing up on top of the machine or a box, hooking your own straps on in various positions and if your balance isn’t great, this can be quite uncomfortable and stressful. There is a lot less distance to fall when you're already on the ground and matwork classes will often include exercises to help improve your balance and confidence. 
  8. I think it’s harder - my personal opinion is that matwork Pilates is actually harder than reformer. Although the reformer springs do add resistance, they also add support, so you will find that your muscles are challenged a bit harder on the mat. 

So in summary, both matwork and reformer Pialtes are excellent ways to exercise! However, if you’re too busy to get to a studio, or sick of being on a waitlist or looking for a super effective way to exercise for less $$$, matwork may just be the better option for you.

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