Updated: Sep 4, 2021
Given a choice between mat Pilates and reformer Pilates, which would you choose?
Majority of clients will opt for reformer Pilates, for reasons ranging from it's cooler, it's sexier and it's apparently harder than the mat.
All valid points depending on what you're looking for from your workout.
However, the fact that it's harder, simply isn’t true. If done properly, mastering the mat should be much harder.
Sure when working against the spring tension on the reformer you are including resistance training in the workout, by default. Unfortunately this is often at the expense of the true essence of the exercise, which is lumbo-pelvic stability. If you are working against the spring tension without the stability of the lumbar spine and pelvic region then you aren’t actually doing Pilates!
Pilates done properly engages the right muscles at the right time and in the right order. Mindful movement and a mind body connection is ultimately what Pilates is about and it is this very mind body connection and thought process that allows you to master the mat and have the hardest workout of your life, even when attending a beginners class.
Think of it like this, the deeper your understanding, the deep you can go with your workout!
With the mat there’s no springs to help you, there’s no straps to grab onto, there is nothing to help you stabilize, there's nothing to brace against and hold you in place and muscle through the required movements. Put another way, on the reformer, it's easier to cheat! The mat forces you to produce the movement using the correct muscles and potentially, muscles that might be weak and would otherwise not work on the reformer. You are your own stability!
On the flip side, I do love the reformer for many reasons, once the Mat has been visited multiple times, of course. I like to skip between the mat and reformer to allow clients to feel the difference between exercises and to highlight what they should be feeling on the mat vs the reformer. One can be a great teaching tool for the other.
Allow me to elaborate: Mat exercises can become a little passive. For example: with legs out on a long diagonal, lying supine. The posterior chain, in particular the glutes often won't be engaged because its just easier to 'hang out' with gravity, creating effortless extension of the hip.
I like to get clients on the reformer, feet in straps so that as they pulling the legs down/extending the hips into the straps, they can feel the posterior chain activate.
CUE: ”Now that’s what you should feel on the mat”
No reformer? No problem. As the instructor you could easily offer the client some resistance to push into at their heels and achieve the same result.
This is just one example of many! How many can you think of?
So, in summary, no one can say the reformer is better, relative to the mat or vise versa They are different and should be used to achieve different things, depending on the clients and instructors collaborative goals. One thing is for certain though. The mat should be HARD!