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Is Mat Pilates Better Than Reformer Pilates?

reformer vs mat

As Pilates continues to rise in popularity, it is not uncommon that I hear the question: is mat Pilates better than reformer Pilates? 

Pilates has gained a lot of popularity in the last few decades. These days you can find a mat or a reformer Pilates class in almost every city.  But which one is actually better?


Pilates was originally developed in the 1900s by Joseph Pilates. It is a modality that focuses on building core strength, improving posture, balance, and flexibility. In this article, we will make the distinction between mat Pilates and reformer Pilates. We will also discuss what makes each of them equally good options. 


What is Mat Pilates? 

Let’s start out with mat Pilates since it is the basis for the Pilates system of exercises.


A sequence of 34 exercises performed in a specific order on the mat composes classic Pilates.

These days, mat Pilates has evolved beyond its traditional ways, and there are a lot more exercises that you can expect to do in a typical class.


Still, regardless of the class you attend, you will certainly work on your legs, stomach, and back muscles. Your body weight and gravity provide the resistance that makes the workout challenging.


Mat Pilates is great for beginners.

It is a great idea for beginners to start with mat Pilates. But it is important that you engage the right muscles in each exercise. 


It is common for a Pilates beginner to find it difficult to activate the right muscles in each exercise. A lot of the students tend to perform exercises recruiting accessory muscles, instead of using the intended muscles in each pose.


Mat Pilates offers a great opportunity for new students to learn how to recruit the correct muscles. In mat Pilates, your body is the only piece of equipment you work with. Therefore, your complete focus will be on performing the exercise correctly.


But mat Pilates is not necessarily easier...

It is a common misconception that mat Pilates is easier than reformer Pilates. This is not necessarily true.

Working against gravity can be very challenging. And it does require that you have full control of your body and movements. As a result, some exercises may actually be easier to perform on the reformer, where resistance can be adjusted.

This is particularly true for those who may still have a hard time performing the exercises holding their complete bodyweight. Using the reformer may assist in this matter.


Mat Pilates is, however, very accessible & affordable.

A clear upside of mat Pilates vs reformer Pilates is the fact that it is so accessible. The only thing that you need to start is a soft surface or a mat. 

Besides that, there are plenty of resources available online which allow for anyone to start practicing.


What is Reformer Pilates?

Let’s now move on and talk about reformer Pilates. The reformer can be very intimidating for new students of the modality.


The Reformer is a traditional piece of Pilates equipment.

A reformer is a contraption made of pulleys, springs, straps, cables, and bars. It may look intimidating on a first look, but once you try it out you will see how effective and versatile it really is!


One of the key differences between mat Pilates and reformer Pilates is that working against resistance is essential in a reformer Pilates workout. And not just working against body weight and gravity, like in mat Pilates. 


However, the reformer allows you to regulate the amount of resistance used in the workout. This is done through the use of the different springs, straps, and cables. This is great since it allows each exercise to work for each different person.


Reformer Pilates can also help beginners.

Yes, beginners should learn the basics of Pilates on the mat. This is the best way to learn how to use their bodies and to mobilize the intended muscles.


However, beginners may find that using the reformer allows them to perform certain exercises that otherwise they could not. Some exercises may be very challenging to perform, for someone who is not yet strong enough to sustain their full body weight. 


On the other hand, more advanced students have the opportunity to increase the intensity of their practice. This happens because they have the option to add resistance with the reformer. 


Due to its versatility, oftentimes reformer Pilates can give participants faster aesthetic results, and strength gains.


The Reformer increases accessibility to the modality.

The reformer helps new joiners participate in more challenging exercises. It can also increase the intensity of any workout. And it can also support you in performing the exercises with proper form. It is also great for people with injuries or a limited range of motion.


The reformer’s accessibility is due to all of the attachments it has. This increases the number of variations, modifications, and overall exercises that are possible, vs mat Pilates. 


But the reformer may not be in the reach of just anyone.

Even if the reformer can make Pilates accessible for more people, doing reformer Pilates is not necessarily more accessible on its own.


The reformer is an expensive piece of equipment, that most folks don’t have around the house. Nowadays, there are some home reformers that are slightly more affordable than professional ones. But you should still always privilege quality over the price. Especially for this particular piece of equipment.


So, in order to do reformer Pilates, most people need to attend a class. 

But due to the space needed to hold a reformer Pilates class, such classes are usually made of smaller groups, and they are also less common. 

This is clearly different from what is seen with mat pilates classes, which most gyms already offer.


Mat Pilates vs Reformer Pilates: which one should you choose?

Overall, you should not stress about making the decision between mat Pilates and reformer Pilates. After all, both variations will give you similar benefits.

Yes, reformer Pilates may give you results in a shorter time frame. People tend to report having better aesthetic results with reformer Pilates. And that’s because of the use of resistance which makes it a more intense and/or accessible workout.


However, mat Pilates will give you much-needed foundations. Those foundations are crucial for you to practice the modality effectively. You will only get results if you know how to engage the right muscles. And this is what Mat Pilates will teach you.


Start at a beginner’s class.

So if you are a beginner, the most important thing is that you start at a beginner’s class.

In a beginner’s class, the instructor will pay close attention to every movement you perform. So with or without a reformer, you will make the most out of your practice


Another tip is that if you are just starting out, try to find a smaller class. A smaller class will allow the instructor to be able to give you more personalized attention.


You will get similar results from either of the variants.

In the long run, mat Pilates is as effective as reformer Pilates. Even if this second one may provide you with faster results when you first start out.


Learning the foundation of the modality through mat Pilates may be a great idea. In time, you can progress to the Reformer, if you so desire.


Ultimately, there is no rush. Taking on Pilates should be something you do to improve your lifestyle. Choosing a steady approach to it, instead of rushing to get results may serve you more in the long run.


Mat Pilates and Reformer Pilates are both great options

There are so many benefits to practicing Pilates, whether you do it with or without a reformer. But it isn’t surprising that it may be hard to understand what is the right variant to go for.


Overall, it is important that beginners learn the foundation of Pilates on the mat. Using the right muscles on each exercise, learning mindful breathing and mind-body connection are essentials to a great Pilates practice.


But the reformer is also a great option. It offers a lot of great benefits for both new Pilates joiners and for more advanced athletes. A combination of both can be a great solution for those who are not sure about which one to go for.


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