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Debating Between Reformer and Mat Pilates? Here’s How To Tell Which Is Right for You



Pilates might bring to mind a few different things, including sliding machines in modern studios or an at-home workout with a mat. This full-body workout can look like both—but one method is known as reformer Pilates, while the other is known as mat Pilates.

If you’re unsure about the difference between reformer Pilates and mat Pilates, first know that experts say both will benefit your health.

In general, Pilates programs were associated with reduced systolic, diastolic, and mean blood pressure in patients with high blood pressure, per a February 2024 study in the Journal of Human Hypertension

The benefits of Pilates also include pain relief, core strength, and better posture, flexibility, balance, breath control, and mental health, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Here’s what to know about the difference between reformer vs. mat Pilates—and how to choose the best option for you.

What is reformer Pilates?

When you imagine Pilates done in a studio with machines, this is likely what you’re thinking of.

Reformer Pilates uses the Pilates reformer machine, which features a carriage that moves up and down a set of rails, hand and foot straps that work similar to a lat pulldown machine, and features like footbars and jumpboards to help you vary your movement.

Although reformer classes typically take place in the studio, at-home usage has risen substantially after the pandemic. Nearly one fifth of respondents in a Pilates Anytime survey reported purchasing reformers during the pandemic.

Smaller, at-home reformers can run several hundred dollars, while those found in studios can run in the thousands.

“I wouldn’t recommend having one at home unless you have experience with it and are being instructed by a professional, either in-person or online,” says Vanessa Johnson, NCPT, director of instructor training at Club Pilates.

What is mat Pilates?

Typically done at home or in the studio, mat Pilates is performed on a thick mat, sometimes with props like a foam roller or hand weights.

This practice emphasizes working with your body weight. Like reformer Pilates, it’s a low-impact exercise that is gentle on your joints.

“Mat Pilates is also incredibly grounding, because it’s just you and your mat,” says Bianca Wise, an accredited Pilates instructor at Alo Moves. “You’re able to become more in touch with your body, the way it moves, and your balance.”

This form of Pilates requires you to align yourself using your own body, or as Joseph Pilates (the founder of Pilates) would call it, your “powerhouse” or core.

“Pilates is for anyone wanting to strengthen their body for longevity, align their spine for better posture, and strengthen their core for better daily movements.” —Bianca Wise, Pilates instructor

What are the benefits of reformer Pilates?

There are two schools of thought when it comes to the benefits of reformer Pilates. One is that it can provide a more dynamic workout than mat Pilates: You can adjust to the spring tension of the carriage to either intensify a movement or add support to make it easier.

“Reformers are adjustable, so that all types of bodies can experience the moves in a way that is best for them,” Johnson says. “The reformer has the capability of turning the volume way up on some of the original mat moves.”

However, another argument is that reformer Pilates can act as a stepping stone to mat Pilates.

“Joseph Pilates created the reformer as an apparatus that would align the body for you,” Wise says. “Ideally, you get strong enough on the reformer that you can do all the same exercises without the ‘help’ of the apparatus.”

Regardless of which school of thought you subscribe to, reformer Pilates has the perks of providing a wide range of movements that are low-impact and won’t stress your joints. This can add variety to your workouts if you’re prone to getting bored easily.

What are the benefits of mat Pilates?

Mat Pilates provides more accessibility than reformer Pilates in terms of location and budget.

“You can do it anywhere and everywhere, with and without equipment,” Wise says. “It’s also incredibly safe for all levels, all bodies, and all ages.”

If you have a particularly busy schedule and can’t commit to spending time at a studio—or you don’t want to purchase equipment for your home —mat Pilates may be a better option than reformer Pilates.

Both types of Pilates promote increased stability and balance, better posture, a stronger core, mind-body connection, breath connection, development of stabilizer muscles, and joint and injury prevention, Wise adds.

How to choose between reformer or mat Pilates

When choosing which type of Pilates to do, consider your fitness level and what you feel most comfortable starting with.

“Anyone new to Pilates may feel most comfortable starting on the mat, as it’s a form they may have experienced in other fitness modalities,” Wise says.

That said, certain groups may benefit from the resistance training involved with reformer Pilates.

“Working with the springs means we are working against or with resistance, so we are loading our bones,” Wise says. “This is extremely important for women, especially as we get older, to help improve and maintain our bone density.”

If you can’t make it to a studio, also consider if you have the space (and budget) for reformer Pilates.

“Some reformers are able to fold up and go under a bed, but the average space needed would be at least eight feet long and four feet wide,” Johnson says. “It’s a good idea to have a mirror adjacent to at least one end of the reformer to check your form.”

Also consider any injuries that may make one form of Pilates more difficult. For instance, if it’s painful for you to be on your knees or difficult to get on and off the ground, you might prefer a reformer machine over mat Pilates. In either case, it’s best to work with a professional.

“If someone has any injuries, safety issues, or health conditions, they should start with a private session with a comprehensively trained Pilates instructor,” Johnson says. “Based on the condition, the instructor will help them determine what is best for their body.”

At the end of the day, choosing between mat Pilates and reformer Pilates is a personal choice. Whichever one you choose, you’ll still enjoy the benefits associated with Pilates.

“Pilates is for anyone wanting to strengthen their body for longevity, align their spine for better posture, and strengthen their core for better daily movements,” Wise says.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.

  1. González-Devesa D, Varela S, Diz-Gómez JC, Ayán-Pérez C. The efficacy of Pilates method in patients with hypertension: systematic review and meta-analysis. J Hum Hypertens. 2024 Feb 15. doi: 10.1038/s41371-024-00899-1. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 38361026.

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