Pilates Mat or Reformer?

Pilates  Mat or Reformer?

By Laurette Ryan


At least once a month, I am asked the question, “Should I do matwork or take lessons on the reformer?” Unfortunately there is no simple answer. First let me explain : Matwork is the Pilates exercise you do on the mat,using your body and gravity alone,the Reformer is a piece of Pilates equipment designed by Joseph Pilates consisting of a sliding/gliding carriage or mat, ropes or straps and various springs of different tension.

I try to explain that beginners through advanced students get important and yet different things from both of these. Many beginners feel the matwork must be easier and that’s the place to start. I think the idea is when you add a piece of equipment,it’s means you are adding resistance. Therefore the exercises are harder, as in calisthenics versus weight training. What most newbies don’t realize is that the reformer can actually help or assist you through the exercises. Exercises done on the reformer teach the body how to move correctly,how it should feel when done right. Students often have difficulty on the mat at first, because gravity is in fact, very hard to defy! The benefit to doing matwork as a beginner or newbie is that you don’t require special equipment, you may be able to join a group or class at a fraction of the cost of equipment lessons. You can do matwork at home alone, once you’ve mastered the moves-this is important and instruction at least a few times with a qualified teacher is key.

This makes matwork a very economical choice for the beginner. Though more individualized instruction leads to better results always. The other benefit to group matwork is the encouragement participants always seem to get from fellow students.

Now here’s the funny thing. Advanced students can be extremely challenged in a matwork class. These students have improved body awareness, strength and flexibility and put all that to use, during a class. I’m never surprised when a student realizes that those simple looking mat exercises have actually become harder and more intense as they have become more fit! It seems as though the stages a student goes through when taking mat class are these: first it’s hard-you have to think so much, then suddenly you feel like you “get it” the body gets the choreography. Then as the student realizes it’s so much more than just choreography. It’s mind, body, correct movement, correct breathing using the “true core”, suddenly matwork is tough,hard work. At this stage when the student is advanced the exercises on the equipment progressively become more difficult as well. With a physically fit Pilates body,the student can perform amazing exercises on the reformer. The exercises are very effective and when mastered are joyous,free movement of natural rhythm and precision.

Reformer lessons can be costly. Some places offer reformer groups or classes, the cost can be a little less but your instruction as to proper form and safety may be less as well. Again look for highly qualified instruction no matter what setting you are in. You can also purchase a reformer for home. The price range for these vary greatly. Having seen and experienced the gamut I can honestly say you will get what you pay for. If you are accustomed to a $3000.00 to $4000.00 reformer in the studio you take lessons in, you will probably be disappointed in the $300.00 model you buy for home. On the other hand if you haven’t trained on the higher end reformer then you will not mind and will be able to do most of the same exercises.

Whether you are beginner or advanced a good mix of both matwork and reformer is ideal. At various points during your progress you will see the benefit of both. If affordable several private lesson to begin with is the best start. If you can’t continue private instruction on a regular basis, I recommend a “tune-up” lesson once every four to six weeks, to help you progress as a Pilates student or teacher.

Remember always-Physical fitness is the first requisite of true happiness…..

Laurette Ryan


5 Responses so far.

  1. Rebecca says:

    I have taken both mat and Reformer Pilates classes. I recently started taking class at Mind Your Body Pilates (www.mindyourbodyfitness.com). While working on a machine can sometimes be a bit confusing, the instructors at this studio are so clear and knowledgeable in explaining each exercise that I felt very at ease. The classes are small too, with up to 5 individuals. I felt like I was part of a small community, and now my body feels amazing. My posture has improved immensely! Thank you Pilates!

  2. geongia says:

    Nice to see some original content for once. I’ll subscribe to your rss feed to get future updates.


  3. Intermediate routines show you new moves and add new challenges to boost your strength, concentration, control and results. Boosts your strength, concentration, control and results. Intermediate to advanced Pilates exercises

  4. El Bilson says:

    I’ve been doing a mat workout for a few months now and feel like I’ve hit a wall. Perhaps it’s time to move onto something else?

  5. Nice article, thanks for sharing. Group mat classes are a great way to get started but I encourage my students to take apparatus classes as soon as they can. The reformer can really help a student progress and get more out of their session.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *