What is the Difference Between Mat and Reformer Pilates?

What is the Difference Between Mat and Reformer Pilates?

Joseph Pilates first introduced Pilates to the world in the 1920s when he opened the Body Conditioning Gym in New York City focused on bringing together breath, mind, and whole-body health. His approach to exercise included the use of various apparatuses to assist in strengthening and stretching. A hundred years later, Reformer and Mat Pilates continue on his tradition of mindful movement intentionally designed to support full-body alignment and health.

What is the difference between Mat and Reformer Pilates? Both Mat and Reformer Pilates help you build long, lean muscles while focusing on a stronger core and tying your breath to each movement. There are, however, distinct differences in the workouts, including the equipment you need, how hard the exercises are on your joints, and where you’ll perform the practice. You may find that both Mat Pilates and Reformer Pilates have a place in your practice, or one could be more efficient for your workout needs.

To find out where you should start, let’s take a deeper look at Mat Pilates and Reformer Pilates so you can decide which is right for your fitness routine.

What is Mat Pilates?

Pilates started on the mat to help work core, lower and upper back, leg, and arm muscles through movement that looks small, but packs a huge impact, including exercises like The Hundred, Teaser, Roll-Up, and Single-Leg Circle. Performed primarily on the ground, Mat Pilates is an unsuspectingly advanced workout that leverages your own body weight to lengthen and tone muscles, while also building flexibility and improving posture.  

Without supportive apparatuses, like a Pilates Reformer machine, you are fully responsible for your body’s actions throughout a Mat Pilates class. This means you have to learn to carefully control your core muscles throughout the class’s repeated movements. This is why some Pilates instructors will recommend taking a Mat Pilates class first, to gain a foundation and full understanding of how your body is supposed to move and react to each exercise and ensure you’re ready to take on the Reformer. 

What is Reformer Pilates?

Reformer Pilates can look intimidating to some at first, with an elevated apparatus that includes springs, straps, a foot bar, a box, and a platform. It may look complicated, yet all of those pieces are there to give you the most impactful workout, designed to lengthen, strengthen, and tone your muscles. You’ll catch on in no time — it won’t be long before you are adjusting springs of your Reformer machine with ease and knowing exactly what to do when your instructor tells you to move your foot bar up or down.

Plus, When you take your first Reformer Pilates class, you’ll recognize many of the exercises from a Mat Pilates class, but now you have equipment to take you to the next level and greater challenge your body and increase your fitness results.

These targeted movements coordinate with your breath to work specific muscle groups and improve both strength and flexibility. Throughout a Reformer Pilates class, you’ll adjust the springs and straps to meet you where you are in your practice. While it’s incredibly effective in working your entire body, Reformer Pilates is still low-impact, and the Reformer actually provides support and mobility assistance that isn’t possible on a Mat. 

Many professional and Olympic athletes consider Reformer Pilates to be the best and most effective form of exercise because of the way the practice challenges your physical abilities, connects your mind, and keeps your entire body aligned and supported. David Beckam has said that Pilates helped him get into the best shape of his life and reduce his body fat.

Yet despite the far-reaching benefits of Reformer Pilates, until recently the mindful movement practice was not all that accessible. At-Home Reformer machines have traditionally been bulky and cost-prohibitive and devotees of the practice had to go to an in-person studio class. FRAME’s digitally connected, portable, and beautifully designed Reformer is changing that, giving people the benefit and comfort of working out in their own homes.

What is the Difference Between Mat and Reformer Pilates?

The biggest difference is, of course, the Mat versus the Reformer. Mat Pilates is a simple series of exercises that leverage your own body weight or simple props, including a ring or ball, while Reformer Pilates is performed on a Reformer. It leverages straps, springs, and a platform to both assist you and add intensity and resistance. When you practice Pilates on a Reformer machine, you’re adding weight resistance to each exercise, so the exercises become more challenging and intense. In this way, taking a Pilates Reformer class is similar to lifting weights at the gym, but because the Reformer machine keeps your entire body aligned, you don’t run the risk of overcompensating during specific movements the way that can happen with free weights or other weight machines in a gym.

What are the Benefits of Mat Pilates?

The number one benefit of Mat Pilates is that you don’t need a thing besides a mat — or a makeshift mat. It’s a great way to keep up your Pilates practice while you’re traveling. You can run through your favorite exercises, develop your own routine, or stream a FRAME class.

Mat Pilates also provides a foundation to learn exercises correctly since you aren’t concerned with maximizing intensity through apparatus and equipment. You’re solely focused on your breath and the movement. However, with expert instruction, like the kind FRAME’s best-in-class instructors provide, you’ll feel focused and at ease on the Reformer in no time. 

What are the Benefits of Reformer Pilates?

Because of the ability to adjust the weight of springs or move to long or short straps, Reformer Pilates provides increased variation in how easy or difficult each exercise is. You can go light one day and turbocharge your workout to 100% the next.

And, while it does give you the option to challenge yourself, the Reformer also provides support that helps protect your joints since it assists your own body weight or lets you add resistance to help you balance or stabilize your core.  

And, of course, there are the typical benefits of all Pilates, including building strength, toning, improving flexibility, relieving tension, and improving your connection of breath, mind, and body.

Why Should You Choose Reformer or Mat for Your Workout?

While Mat Pilates offers versatility, it also offers less support than on Reformer exercises. On the Mat, it’s totally on you and your own strength to support your body weight and you don’t have the assistance of an apparatus for modifications. 

If you’ve had an injury, need to protect your joints, or require aid to stabilize your core or muscles, then you could benefit from a Reformer Pilates practice. 

Reformer Pilates may also edge out Mat Pilates in terms of impact. Reformer Pilates can achieve more intensity and, because a jump board is sometimes present, there is the ability to incorporate cardio, too.

However, the best Pilates practice likely incorporates both Mat and Reformer Pilates, leveraging each for their unique benefits — and making sure you never have to miss a week, whether you’re on the road, at home, or have access to a Pilates studio.


Have you tried both Mat and Reformer Pilates? Which one worked for you? Do you have any questions we didn’t answer about how to choose the best Pilates class for your needs? Let’s hear them in the comments!

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