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Reformer vs Mat Pilates: What’s the Diff?

Sherry Granader

Passionate about teaching Reformer and Mat Pilates, Sherry is certified through Balanced Body® University with 30 years of teaching a variety of fitness classes including yoga, cardio, and STEP.
Young brunette woman doing a pilates teaser pose

The founder of Pilates, Joseph Pilates, grew up as a frail child, suffering from rheumatic fever, rickets, and asthma. His determination and drive to overcome these health issues led him to become a skier, diver, and skilled gymnast. During World War I, he served as an orderly in a hospital where the patients were not able to walk. He took apart a mattress and attached the bed springs to the hospital beds with straps so the patients could do exercises to gain their strength back. Hence, the Cadillac piece of equipment was born and is still used in Pilates studios everywhere, to this day.

Whether you are doing Pilates exercises on the Reformer or the mat, Pilates is based on three principles: Breath, Whole-Body Health, and Whole-Body Commitment that encompasses mind, body, and spirit. Through breath, concentration, centering, using control, precision, and flow, Pilates exercises can be performed on a mat without any equipment or on a Reformer using straps and springs for tension. There are many benefits and similarities with both Mat and Reformer Pilates, but there are also some key differences:

MAT Pilates involves:

  • Control, balance, strength, and focus on the mat
  • Concentrating on how your body moves without assistance
  • Most traditional motions and exercises are done with the body alone – no equipment
  • Props such as a Pilates ring, exercise band and ball can be used
  • Learning Pilates on the mat coincides with everyday functions such as walking or running
  • Engages the core abdominal muscles in every movement

Training on the mat to move your body correctly by recruiting the proper muscles proves to be quite challenging, and many people find Mat Pilates more demanding than using the Reformer or Cadillac equipment. It is important to continue to use the mat in your Pilates practice to gain results faster and more efficiently.

Reformer Pilates

 Utilizing a Reformer is an excellent way to step up your Pilates practice because it can assist you in specific motions, guiding you where and how to move. It is also a great place to start for a beginner and can be done in a group or on an individual basis. Since a Reformer has springs to increase or decrease tension and offers an endless array of exercises, it is a great way to improve your Pilates practice and continue to see results in your physique.

Reformer Pilates is different from Mat Pilates in the following ways:

Girl on pilates reformer with teacher correcting alignment
  • Offers different levels of spring tension and strap length for modifications or a greater challenge
  • Correlates to how we push, pull, and carry objects during daily activities
  • Involves control and precision that we normally take for granted in our daily movements
  • Assists in using strength and stability with the correct muscles to avoid injury
  • Requires further expertise and balance with a qualified Pilates instructor

Both Reformer and Mat Pilates are beneficial for any skill level and it is the differences between the two that promote a better understanding of Pilates. Learning to move correctly on both the Reformer and the mat will only increase your strength and balance level, improve your efficiency of movement throughout your day, and give you incredible results. 

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