Pilates – it’s been proven that it improves core strength, flexibility, mobility, balance and muscle tone, however which method is best, Mat or Reformer? Since opening our new studio in Maroochydore, this is one of the one of the most common questions we get asked. As both Mat and Reformer workouts provide similar benefits, it is no wonder that many (both Pilates newbies and regulars) are often confused about which form is right for their current goals and abilities. Read on to find out what are the major differences are, and which you should choose?
They are both beneficial to building up your core strength and toning your muscles. Both methods train you to initiate the movements from your body’s powerhouse (your core/centering) and accordingly will quickly translate into benefits across your day-to-day activities. While you can perform the same series of exercises on the reformer that you can 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 machine.
Pilates mat work is the basis for the entire Pilates system of exercises. In general, a traditional Pilates mat class will work your legs, 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.
But don’t be fooled, advanced mat classes are the hardest because you’re using your body all the time, the reformer isn’t there assisting or supporting 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 equipment, originally designed by Joseph Pilates while living in a World War I internment camp to help rehabilitate immobilised soldiers. The modern reformer is a narrow bed with a sliding carriage, straps and pulleys, made more or less resistant by adding or removing springs. Many people are quite scared of the reformer when they first see it as it looks quite intimidating (almost medieval), but put any fears you may have aside because after just one or two workouts on a reformer you 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 the machine. 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, making it an incredibly versatile piece of equipment to use. This capability, combined 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 very basic to 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 rehab 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. Another example is someone with scoliosis, they may find it difficult to do Mat Pilates, but with the Reformer they are able to increase their range of motion safely and effectively.
Reformer Pilates can be for anyone! Whether you are 18 or 81, the Reformer can work with your body’s needs. Reformer Pilates is a great form of strength, postural, flexibility, balance and endurance training and can be designed to target one specific area, smaller muscle groups, or as a whole body muscular exercise.
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.