Let’s get right to the point; this question has no, simple answer! Contrary to what many believe, Reformer is not some new fad invented by way of Mat Pilates, nor is Mat Pilates a simplified, easier version. Both forms were created by Joseph Pilates (who you can learn more about in this blog about the history of Pilates) and either or even both can be suitable for anyone and everyone depending on your goals and needs. However, there are distinctive differences between the two that pose certain benefits:
Mat Pilates is just that; Pilates on a mat, on the studio floor, or your living room floor if you like! That is one of the first benefits you won’t find in Reformer Pilates:
If home workouts are your go-to, simply rolling out a mat and opening up YouTube on your phone, laptop or TV is all you need to get working! It is a low-cost, highly accessible option that is a little more difficult when it comes to Reformer classes. If you don’t have the extra cash for an at-home reformer machine, which can be priced anywhere from $500 to $10 000, let alone the space for it, Mat Pilates is going to be your bestie here. We even have free classes available on the Aleenta Health Club YouTube!
This is not to say that you can’t do Reformer Pilates during pregnancy, but navigating the Reformer machine especially during the later trimesters can get tricky. Classes often require lying on your front, and while there are modifications to avoid this position, they are generally easier to achieve on the mat. Additionally, it is not recommended to lie on your back for long periods after your first trimester, which becomes a problem when 50% or more of the class duration is spent on your back. Mat Pilates generally incorporates more sitting, kneeling and standing postures that are easily accessed during any stage of pregnancy.
Another reason why you may opt for the mat is that it does not require as much balance as working on the reformer does. If you are worried about falling, especially if you are pregnant or have something else affecting your ability to balance, you may find you feel safer and more comfortable in a mat class. Plus, mat Pilates is great for strengthening your stabilizing muscles such as the glutes, back and core, leading to increased balance overtime that will prepare you for the reformer machine.
Due to the range of motion a reformer machine provides, you can achieve squats so deep that your heels meet your seat! However, this is not ideal for everyone, especially those experiencing joint pain, arthritis, and other mobility issues. If working in a large range of motion with deep bends sounds like more pain than gain, mat Pilates is likely the better option for you. However, don’t let this put you off the reformer entirely; whilst it is harder on joints than its mat counterpart, reformer Pilates is still low-impact exercise and will be less stress on your body than running, jumping and other high-intensity activities. Plus, our instructors always have modifications ready!
In order to fit as many machines as possible in a studio, it is unlikely your reformer Pilates instructor will have their own machine to demonstrate. At Aleenta Health Club, this is certainly the case (classes would book out even faster if instructors were taking up a machine too!). This means that in a reformer class, your instructor spends most of their time walking around the room, verbally cueing and offering hands-on corrections. This type of instruction also happens in a mat class, however, instructors have their own mats as well, so are able to demonstrate an exercise on their own bodies. This can be a huge benefit for anyone who is more of a visual learner and requires a physical example in order to achieve an exercise themselves.
The Reformer machine is unlike any other piece of gym or workout equipment. Itconsists of a sliding carriage, springs, straps, and a footbar, which provides resistance for the exercises. Reformer Pilates exercises are done lying down, sitting, or standing on the reformer, which allows for a wider range of movements and positions than mat Pilates.Due to its uniqueness, there are several exclusive aspects you won’t find on the mat:
The springs of the reformer machine not only provide resistance, but have dozens of combinations that make an exercise adjustable to different bodies. Want to make your workout more challenging? Try stronger springs (or lighter, depending on the exercise; your instructor will tell you which way to go!). Want less impact on your joints and muscles? You can use lighter or even no springs at all to decrease the amount of resistance. This is something that is far more difficult to achieve in a mat Pilates class, where you may only have 1 or 2 hand weights or a band for resistance, meaning your choices are generally to work with or without equipment. With reformer, the options are endless and you get to use the equipment too!
On the mat, Pilates exercises are usually done in their most traditional form, perhaps with a few variations. On the reformer machine, exercises can be done on the carriage, on the box, on the studio floor next to the reformer, with the footbar at 4 different angles… Your brain and your body are constantly being challenged and stimulated with new and exciting ways to work! If you are looking for a more creative way to exercise, Reformer Pilates is the way to go. This can also be a great option for those seeking more challenge, as the same muscles are engaged in different ways. That’s why you’ll often hear people say they discovered muscles they didn’t even know existed after just one reformer class!
Where mat Pilates may be more ideal for those seeking to work in a smaller range, reformer Pilates offers the opposite. If you are looking to get extra deep in your squats, lunges, and other postures (not just strength-wise but stretching too), reformer Pilates is the best way to achieve it! The unique carriage set-up takes out that pesky gravity, so you can take exercises such as squats from standing to lying-down, and don’t have to worry about taking a tumble when bending super deep. Similarly, the foot bar acts as a balance point that you can hold onto during exercises.
Another flip side to one of the mat class benefits we discussed, reformer instructors spend little to no time demonstrating exercises. Instead, they verbally cue movement and spend most of class addressing individual client needs and corrections. This can be a huge asset if you are seeking more one-on-one time with your instructor whilst still getting to be in a group-class environment. Whilst our instructors do offer individual attention during mat Pilates classes, their time also has to be divided up between cueing and demonstrating, so you may find the amount of connection is less.
So, while there is no easy, singular answer, hopefully this breakdown makes it easier for you to decide which form of Pilates is the better choicefor you. After all, everyone’s fitness journey is unique and what works for some may not work for others. Of course, the third option we didn’t list is that you can totally do both mat AND reformer Pilates! In fact, that is a fantastic way to incorporate variety into your routine and keep your workouts exciting. At Aleenta Health Club, you may even like to consider doing mat Pilates for strength, and a higher-intensity reformer class like Blast to get a good mix of cardio and resistance training. The possibilities are endless, but at the end of the day, you just want to choose whichever class is the most fun and makes you feel good!
Our 7-day intro offer allows you to try an UNLIMITED number of classes, in any style. It’s the perfect way to see which Pilates is your favourite! Get yours here.