Reformer Pilates vs Mat – Why Reformers Rock

Fusion wellness mind + body

Refomer Pilates

A subjective topic – mat or reformer Pilates? Opinions are divided but speaking from experience, there are pros and cons for both. For clients who are new to Pilates, it’s a common belief that one should start with mat first and advance to reformer. I would argue that the opposite be true. There are so many great benefits to reformers that you can carry to your mat practice, enhancing your results. Find out why below…


1.    Control

In a reformer setting, it’s easier to work on your control over your body. Over time, we develop habits on our bodies that control the we way we use it without us even realising. The feedback from the reformer can show us where we have lost that control and habits have taken over instead. There are often times teachers hear such statements as I didn’t even know those muscles existed! Learning to gain complete control over your body, including those muscles that have been on the bench for quite some time, creates uniformity in the body, more streamline movements, and a stronger physique. People commonly see quicker results from a reformer class as they can find and use the correct muscles – there’s no cheating on a reformer because the bed will rat you out!


2.    Flexibility

Have you ever seen a personal trainer helping their client deepen their stretch? Maybe you thought to yourself that looks a little awkward. Well good news, people – on a reformer you get all the stretch and zero the awkwardness. When laying on your back, the straps of the reformer slide into your feet and thus begins the most glorious stretch for your back. Laying the tailbone on the mat to perform exercises such as leg circles opens up the hips. Because you have the straps taking a certain amount of weight off your legs, you don’t have to worry about gripping or tightening in the wrong places. Hello, sweet release. That’s a just a few options laying down – stretches can be performed on the knees, seated, standing or with your arms in the straps. The interchangeability of the bed provides the options to deepen stretches in ways that your boring, old-school ways cannot. Goodbye tightness!


3.    Greater Mind-Body Connection

Your first Pilates class can sometimes feel like more of a mental workout than physical. There is so much to think about and so much co-ordination needed for you to get all those deep belly and core muscles engaged while moving. However, as you start to come more you’ll find it becomes more habitual and effortless. You learn to become aware of what your body is doing – what muscles it relies on and what you tend to avoid. As you become more connected to your body in class, you’ll find yourself applying this in life. Sitting at your computer? Oops my back isn’t straight! Driving? Oh my belly is sagging! Pull it in! Learning to recreate better habits in your body means you carry your weight more evenly and strain the wrong muscles less. Applying these habits day-to-day and being more conscious of your body often leads to experiencing freer movements and less injury. Age is just a number after all, right?


4.    Core for All!

The reason why Pilates and flat abs are so synonymous is because it teaches you to engage the core like no other fitness discipline does. Since you’re starting to gain more control and awareness in your body, you learn to use the abdominals in everything you do. Use it or lose it, right? So you definitely will never have to worry about losing it, especially on a reformer where learning HOW to use it is easier and more efficient (refer to the points above). The increased use of core has endless benefits from decreased lower back pain, hip and shoulder tension all the way to an increase in balance. And the best part of it is because the machine takes the load of off joints by supporting your weight, anyone can use a reformer despite age, ability, injury, or flexibility. In fact, the founder of Pilates, Joseph Pilates, created the reformer by reconstructing hospital beds for bed-ridden patients in order for them to rehabilitate their bodies despite their circumstance (what a nifty way to use the springs of a bed!)


5.    Endless Variety

Before the addition of props there are hundreds of exercises and modifications that you can do on the reformer, which means that there is literally something for everyone, at any level or ability. Add some props to that equation and the number of exercises amounts to the thousands. On a mat, there are a limited number of arm exercises one can do without the use of props. On a reformer – so many more opportunities. Supine arms, seated arms facing the foot bar, seated arms facing the straps, standing arms, side arms, planking variations… Did I mention there are over a *thousand* exercises you can do on a reformer? No body part is left behind. And just because you are on a reformer, doesn’t mean you cannot perform mat exercises either. Of course, we all have our favourites, but it’s nice to have options.


I spent over 4 years being a mat Pilates fanatic. Seeing the results mat Pilates made in my body – I wasn’t going to argue with hard, physical evidence. And yet when I started reformer I was shell shocked by areas I thought I no longer needed to work on. I still love mat Pilates and there are exercises exclusive to mat but if you have certain goals you want to achieve for your body – reformer will get you there, no questions asked.


By Monnique Danium