Comparing Mat & Reformer Pilates: The Ultimate Guide


When I first discovered Pilates it was on the mat. I was invited to a mat Pilates class and I fell in love with how it made me feel. I honestly didn’t even know, see or get on the equipment for almost two years. I couldn’t tell you which was better in Pilates the Mat or the Reformer.

But, then due to many logistical and life changes I was forced to give up my almost daily mat class obsession and train with a Pilates instructor on the equipment. And, then I fell in love with the equipment and barely wanted to do the mat.

Why? Because the Mat work is so hard!

As I became a Pilates instructor and really dove into studying the method I soon discovered just how much the mat was supported by all the equipment. Truth is the mat is where it is at. The equipment is where you find your strength and awareness and then challenge that learning on the mat.

But, before I get super Pilates nerd on you let me share a little bit about both the mat work and the reformer.

The Mat: ideally done on a mat with a strap, handles and a long pole. You can do the mat work exercises with me online or by using Joseph Pilates book as a reference. It started off with 34 exercises that were put together to warm you up, stretch and strengthen you, roll you around, twist you out, extend and flex you and then finish you off with some Pushups.

On the Mat, you do between 3-5 reps of everything. Sometimes you do ten like in the 100. But, it’s really designed to be a home practice that you can do every day! Yep, every day. When you begin to flow you’ll see you can work your whole body out in less than 30 min.

The strap and handles will help you connect your body to your mat. Every day your practice will look and feel different. And, the goal is to take notice, get a little curious, see if you can dive a little deeper and then move on.

The mat work was created first, and then Joseph Pilates realized. If the mat was where it was at then he had to help people get ready to rock and roll there. Most of us are not born being exactly who we are meant to be. We grow into ourselves. Same as our Pilates practice. When we learn the mat that is where we are that day. And, then we take advantage of the other creations of Joseph Pilates and we learn the nuances with the support of the equipment.

The Reformer: a personal fav of most. In fact, many teachers would rather be on the Reformer than on the mat. Why? It’s not necessarily easier but it is easier to feel stronger and more acrobatics on it. Because of the support of the straps, springs, shoulder blocks and footbar, even the harder exercises feel easier than they do over on the mat.

The reformer routine takes the longest. If you do the full, full order it can take up to 75 min even when you keep the reps down to 3 on each exercise. Most people complete a more advanced reformer workout in about 45 min. Leaving time to go around the room to get more support and technique training from the other unique pieces of equipment that Joseph Pilates created.

The benefits of the Mat and the Reformer are mostly the same because the exercises are so similar. But, the Mat allows Pilates practitioner to take their Pilates with them wherever in the world they go. The Reformer’s springs are added support and challenge to help prepare you for the Mat and many of the Mat exercises help prepare you for some of the more difficult Reformer exercises. In summary, you want and need both. So, do the Mat as much as you want but hop on a Reformer from time to time to check in and challenge. Or, hop off the Reformer and do the Mat and see how far you have come along!

If you are wondering which one is right for you the truth is you need both. But, I know we don’t all have access to amazing studios. So, if you can only have one then do the Mat. And, you can follow along with me every week if you don’t have a mat class nearby.

For more tips on equipment, exercises or how to check out my Youtube channel and this post about the pulling straps.

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