MAT vs REFORMER
Pilates is known to improve core strength, flexibility, mobility, balance and muscle tone. However, what is best for you, Mat or Reformer? As both Mat and Reformer workouts provide similar benefits, it is no wonder that many (both Pilates newbies and regulars) are confused about which form is right for their current goals and abilities.
Both are beneficial in building up your core strength and toning your muscles and both will train you to initiate the movements from your body’s centre (the Pilates Powerhouse) and will soon bring benefits to your day-to-day activities. Whilst you can perform the same series of exercises on the reformer as on the mat, the workouts are notably different. Mat classes utilise the body weight for exercises, while the Reformer adds resistance to the Pilates exercises via the use of the springs that form part of the apparatus.
Pilates mat work is the basis for the entire Pilates system of exercises. In general, a traditional Pilates mat class will work your legs, arms, stomach, lower and upper back muscles. On the mat, your body weight provides resistance against gravity, making the workout more challenging in many cases. You must be in full control of your body, rather than relying on the assistance or support of the springs and cables of an apparatus. Mat work is a great option for beginners because of its emphasis on learning how to control your muscles during exercises. To participate in mat work, you must be mobile enough to get up and down off the floor and to be able to kneel or lie face down upon it, and get back up again.
Advanced mat classes are the most challenging because you’re using your body all the time, without the reformer to support and assist you. While doing Pilates on a mat, instead of a Reformer, may not seem as exciting or challenging, many clients see results (improved strength, posture, agility, flexibility, toned muscles) within just a few mat sessions.
The Pilates reformer is a traditional piece of Pilates apparatus, originally designed by Joseph Pilates while living in a World War I internment camp to help rehabilitate immobilised soldiers. The modern reformer is a solid frame with a sliding carriage, straps and pulleys, made more or less resistant by adding or removing springs. Many people are quite apprehensive when they first see a reformer as it looks quite intimidating, but after just one or two sessions on a reformer you soon realise it is the most versatile and effective piece of exercise equipment ever made… and it’s great fun!
The Reformer acts as a support system for the body by helping assist it into proper form. It adds resistance to the Pilates exercises via the use of the springs that form part of it. Extra springs can be added to build strength in the bigger muscle groups, or lower springs can be utilised to challenge the stabilising muscles. This means that the intensity can be varied considerably from one person to the next. This capability, coupled with the support afforded by the resistance the machine provides, allows people of all capabilities (including those with limited range of movement or injuries) to safely complete exercises.
Due to the resistance created by the pulley and spring system of the Reformer, the repertoire of exercises available is greatly increased compared to Mat, providing far more variety. You can perform the most basic to the most highly advanced movements in virtually any position on the reformer. The Reformer can also provide a more challenging strength and endurance workout than mat classes, leading to visible results sooner. Basically, you can do more exercises on a reformer compared to a mat and it gives you the option of performing exercises in lots of different body positions, from your back, side, stomach, being seated and also on your feet or knees.
Reformer Pilates is great for rehabilitation purposes too as it allows the client to exercise in a horizontal plane of motion and not be vertically loaded and weight bearing through their legs. For example if a client has had knee surgery or a knee injury, this horizontal plane enables you to strengthen the muscles of the leg through a larger range of motion using a lighter resistance than their own body weight, speeding up their recovery through controlled movement.
Reformer Pilates can be for anyone! Whether you are 18 or 81, a skilled teacher and the Reformer can work with your body’s needs.
So which one?
Still can’t decide between Mat or Reformer Pilates? There is no need to agonise over the decision; most people will reap similar benefits from both methods. Both will teach you how to effectively use your powerhouse, building strength in your body’s core, which will quickly translate to benefits in your day-to-day activities or sports. While targeting specific muscle groups is possible on the mat, the combinations of exercises aren’t as varied as the reformer. The reformer is also more ideal than the mat for those with injuries or chronic imbalances. The biggest misconception is that Reformer Pilates is harder than Mat Pilates, when in fact it can be the opposite in an advanced class (which will lead to faster results). What is critical is that regular practice is maintained and that the principles of Pilates (breath, centering, concentration, control, precision and flow) are adhered to throughout a class to maximise the results you will see.