What are the differences between Pilates on the Mat and Pilates on the Reformer?
Firstly, let’s start from the beginning of where Pilates came from. Joseph Pilates is the creator and founder of the form of movement exercise called ‘Pilates’. He first created Matwork Pilates, later inventing ‘Reformers’ (hospital beds with springs and straps attached to bed posts) during the 1920’s for the assistance of rehabilitating of injured soldiers. Reformer exercises are based off the Matwork repertoire and the Reformer was actually designed to make Mr Pilates' Matwork exercises more accessible for all.
The main difference between to the two is that Matwork is performed using only your body and using body weight for resistance. There are no springs or equipment required.
Reformer is performed on a piece of equipment, similar to abed which has moving parts, springs and straps to help assist in movement.
What are the benefits of Matwork?
One of the benefits to a Matwork class is that there are multiple variations, progressions and regressions for all exercises, meaning anyone can do Matwork.
Matwork works your core in a way that is very hard to replicate with any other form of exercise, including on the Reformer! During a mat class you will be working against gravity in different planes of movement (on your back, side and front) which will challenge your strength, co-ordination, mobility and efficiency of movement.
With that being said, you get to know your weaknesses very quickly. This is actually a positive aspect to Matwork as you quickly realise what parts of your body need strengthening/stretching/more mobility to help create symmetry within the body.
You will also get to know the language of Pilates; regarding how to breath correctly, the names of exercises, the movement benefits etc.
Using props such as weights and bands in a Matwork class is a great way to give Matwork exercises an element of resistance, which can improve bone density.
What are the benefits of Reformer?
Reformer is excellent for everyone, particularly if you have an injury, are pregnant/post-partum or have mobility issues as it is very easy to change positions on the reformer.
As the reformer is about chair height off the ground, it is much easier to get on and off and is a more practical approach to pilates. A reformer is also a more assistive piece of equipment where modifications are easily applied to what your body needs.
One way is to change the spring tension, however, it’s important to ask the instructor whether you should lighten or add on springs as changing the tension could actually make the exercise more challenging instead of assistive.
Resistance based exercises are also great for joint and bone health as there is little to no impact during a reformer class. Using resistance can increase muscle tone and strength as well as protecting the joints and bones. This is why reformer is a great option for people recovering from injuries as well as aging.
Which to choose: Matwork or Reformer?
Now to the answer you’ve been waiting to hear – which form of Pilates should I choose?!
I wish I had a simple answer for you, but it really depends on you’re looking to work on/achieve through Pilates.
If you’re brand new to Pilates/beginner I would highly recommend starting with Matwork. Joseph Pilates started there for a reason and will introduce you to the foundation of movement and will highlight things you need to work on. That being said, Mr Pilates' designed the Reformer to be used if his Matwork exercises were not able to be performed on the mat, that is, due to injury, therefore Matwork is certainly not the 'easier' choice!
If you’ve got an injury where you know you will need modification or you’re pregnant or any other concerns, Reformer would be a great place to start. It’s easy to accommodate for any stage of life that you’re in.
However, it’s all about getting the right balance. There is no reason why you should have to pick one over another. There are many benefits to both forms of Pilates and they both complement each other well. It’s important to find what you love and what your body needs.
Our advice at PPF is this: the best results come from participating in both Matwork and Reformer classes!
Trying your first Pilates class? Read our What to Know Guide!