At The Studio With Erica Ziel: Mat Pilates VS. Reformer Pilates

May 31, 2016 @ Project Juice

By Erica Ziel

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between mat Pilates and reformer Pilates? Are you ready to create long, lean, flexible muscles while also improving your strength, posture and balance throughout your body? Keep reading to learn about which Pilates method is right for you and enjoy a bonus, easy-to-follow at home Pilates core workout!

Mat Pilates vs. Reformer Pilates

Understanding Pilates

There are countless exercises you can include in your workout routine – but what’s the difference between mat Pilates vs. reformer Pilates?

Both are taught with the same 5 basic principles in mind, but the equipment needed, ease of adding into your daily life, and their overall benefits vary greatly!

The 5 Basic Principles of Pilates

  1. Breathing
  2. Ribcage placement
  3. Pelvic placement
  4. Shoulder stability
  5. Neck and head alignment 

Pilates is a mind-body practice of emphasizing proper breath through flowing movements that focus on spinal, ribcage, pelvic alignment, and deep core connection. The end goal is to create balance throughout your body.

One great outcome of doing Pilates (mat or reformer) regularly is improved posture, which can help minimize or even get rid of aches and pains in the body.

What is mat Pilates?

Mat pilates is a mind-body workout you can do almost anywhere with just an exercise mat! There are numerous exercises you can do with no equipment using your own body weight – but by adding in some small pieces of exercise equipment (like exercise bands, stability balls, light weights, Pilates circle – just to name a few) gives plenty of additional options to add more exercises to your workout routine.

Another perk? When any equipment is needed for the exercises, it’s generally inexpensive, small equipment that you can find a place for in your home or even take with you when you travel.

What are the benefits of mat Pilates?

You can do mat Pilates exercises and workouts anytime and anywhere with little to no equipment with minimal to no cost. Mat Pilates exercises requires you to use your own body weight which can help you develop better body awareness, along with creating more strength and flexibility when you regularly incorporate mat Pilates into your workouts – even if you just pick a couple exercises that feel good for your body.

Adding exercise bands and exercise balls to some mat Pilates exercises is a great way to add additional resistance or assistance that can help in creating muscular and fascial connection throughout as well as helping add variety to the exercises. There’s no excuse to be bored on the mat!

What is reformer Pilates?

Similar to mat Pilates, reformer Pilates is a mind-body workout, but one that you do on a reformer machine. A reformer is a much larger (and costly) piece of exercise equipment. 

Consisting of pulleys, ropes, springs, a moving carriage and additional pieces of equipment, the reformer method offers a variety of exercise possibilities. The resistance on a reformer is spring resistance, and is determined according to the spring strength and number of springs that you attach for each exercise. The spring resistance can be used to make exercises more challenging by adding resistance, but can also aid in assisting for other exercises when it may be to challenging to do it without.

Finding a certified Pilates instructor that can train you on a reformer is a must and will be more costly than doing mat Pilates – however, you have many more options for modifying (both making exercises easier or more challenging) and a professional guiding you through your workouts.

What are the benefits of reformer Pilates?

Doing Pilates on a reformer is a low-impact workout – a big benefit of using a reformer! The added spring resistance can help to improve balance throughout your body with movements that strengthen while also lengthening at the same time through smooth, gentle, low impact movements on a reformer. 

Spring resistance targets your deeper muscle stabilizers and fascial system that helps in creating an overall stronger connection throughout your entire body, improving posture, alignment, and core strength, all of which can help with a list of ailments such as decreasing or completely getting rid of back and neck pain.

I find teaching clients on a reformer can gain results more easily then just doing mat Pilates exercises alone because you have so many more adjustments you can make with all the settings and spring resistant (a big plus) and will make finding a Pilates instructor or Pilates reformer classes well worth it!


Now you can understand more about how mat Pilates and reformer Pilates varies, plus benefits of each! While they are both taught from the same principles and with the overall goal of creating long, lean, flexible muscles while also improving your strength, posture and balance throughout your body – you can see why choosing to try Pilates on a reformer could be well worth the extra investment. But again, it depends on your body and your needs!

Included is a bonus Pilates Core workout I created that you can do at-home or while traveling with no equipment at all! This workout focuses on strengthening your abdominals and is also designed to create more balance through your body – as you’ll see from the back extension exercises, along with exercises that focus on creating length through your body. Be sure to listen for those cues and let me know how your next workout goes!


Author: Marra St. Clair

Co-Founder of Project Juice, Marra also holds a certification from Long Beach Dance Conditioning as a Pilates instructor, and is also a certified personal trainer from the Academy of Sports Medicine, a certified Gyrotonic instructor, a certified nutritional consultant and a Level 2 Reiki Practitioner. When she is not coaching people through Project Juice, she is a highly recommended personal trainer and Pilates instructor.