Mat & Reformer: The Pilates Dynamic Duo

August 21, 2017

By Cathleen Leszczynski

I was originally introduced to Pilates Mat during my years at a Performing Arts high school as a conditioning class to supplement my dance training. My senior year of high school, I was one of a handful of students who were given the opportunity to take the Pilates Equipment class every Friday afternoon at 1pm. I remember it so vividly because it changed my life; I’d always enjoyed the Mat classes, but taking Equipment once a week introduced me to a whole new realm of Pilates I never knew existed. It worked wonders for me and I knew that someday I would pursue it as an instructor.

Here I am, over six years later, an instructor of both Pilates Mat and Equipment. Equipment encompasses the Cadillac, Tower, Chair, Barrels, and the Reformer, which is arguably the most popular and iconic apparatus. There’s one question I find myself faced with on a regular basis, and a very good question at that—“Is Pilates Mat or the Reformer harder? Would it be better for me to take one over the other? Which one will make me stronger?” Now, to give anyone my short answer, I fully endorse both types of Pilates workouts. Both serve different purposes to the body and enable it to work in various ways, and both can be quite difficult when done properly…but such an answer isn’t so simple. There is far more to it than that.
Joseph Pilates carefully constructed his Pilates Method based on the Mat work. Thus, the Mat is the Method, serving as the basis for all Pilates work. The Equipment came later to supplement and enhance workouts based on the individual and his or her specific strengths and weaknesses, limitations and potential. In a typical Private session, the Instructor works with a client using either Mat or Reformer as the basis for the session and moves on to other apparatus to throw in challenges specific to the client. In a group setting, clients choose to attend either Mat or Equipment classes, where they can hone their skills on one or the other. Attending both types of classes is recommended since the two complement one another and give the ultimate Pilates experience.


img_1234-jpgOne of the biggest advantages to Mat is its portability—it involves merely one’s own body and a good mat. Occasionally, instructors will use different props (ie. small balls or a Power Circle) for variability or modifications. The Mat builds stamina, strength, and endurance in a way that Equipment does not; one must learn to “feel” where their body is in space, and work extremely hard from the Powerhouse to execute all movement while remaining stable on their base. There is only feedback from yourself and the floor during certain exercises. Equipment such as the Reformer, on the other hand, gives feedback via springs, straps, handles, and bars so one can more easily feel where there is a weakness or dominance in their body in order to work more evenly. The Reformer can be made very difficult depending on what weight the springs are used, and some exercises employ very specific coordination skills. Mat increases difficulty by taking away any added support, decreasing the surface area on which the client is working.

Mat truly is a test of one’s Powerhouse strength and stamina. Reformer builds on this strength and can help clients find their imbalances through feedback, improve alignment issues, and challenge coordination. The two are perfect supplements for one another and ultimately improve a client’s work in both. Once a client has learned the movement and technique, they can take Pilates Mat anywhere they please—home, the office, the beach, and so on. People can practice Mat daily to maintain their strength, stamina, and coordination. Reformer is an excellent piece of Equipment for clients to work on to apply all of this and improve it once they have the opportunity. Working on Mat will set the grounds for and improve Reformer work, and working on the Reformer will improve Mat work. I highly encourage everyone to work on Mat AND Reformer, the results are unbeatable!


  • Terry says:

    Excellent article on the benefits of working out on the mat and / or reformer. As long as people enjoy their workout and practice to their ideal, they will benefit.
    Thank-you Cathleen