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Mat vs. Reformer Pilates

By Joan Kramer, Pilates Instructor at Gainey Village Health Club and Spa

The Pilates Method, in general, is beneficial for multiple reasons and practically every population. You may be wondering, “Mat vs. Reformer Pilates? Which one is best for me?” Do you suffer from chronic pain, poor flexibility, or nagging injury? Are you bored with your current exercise regime, stressed out, have low energy? Both Pilates Mat work and Pilates Reformer honor the basic Principles of Pilates and improve your quality of life! You find renewed motivation and increased confidence through mindful exercises designed to relieve pain and foster a subconscious sense of wellbeing.

10 Principles of Pilates

Here is a brief description of the 10 Basic Pilates Principles. A Pilates Instructor can explain these principals in more detail.

1. Awareness and mindfulness
2. Balance – physical, mental, emotional 

3. Breathe correctly
4. Concentration
5. Centering – physically and emotionally 

6. Control of movement
7. Efficiency of movement
8. Flow of movement
9. Precision of movement

10. Harmony

Mat Pilates

Pilates Mat work requires little, if any, actual equipment! In fact, you can practice Mat work on a towel at the beach. In a more formal setting, you use an exercise mat. Some Pilates Mat exercises can involve small props including a fitness ring or Magic Circle, light dumbbells, and small balls. Additional accessories could include a foam roller, bands, or the BOSU. Mainly, gravity and your own body weight act as your “equipment”. Most students feel a need for relatively good physical condition prior to beginning a Pilates Mat regime. Often, you can find Mat Pilates offered in a group class setting which adds an element of fun camaraderie to your exercise session. Instructors of Mat Pilates sometimes acquire minimal training and occasionally have only slight knowledge of the Pilates Principals, but most teachers usually strive to conduct safe, effective experiences.

Reformer Pilates

Pilates Reformer requires very specific Pilates equipment, especially the Pilates Reformer. Other pieces of Pilates equipment, or apparatus, include the Cadillac, Chair, Ladder Barrel, and more. Usually, equipment-based Pilates exercise happens in a Pilates Studio. Your Pilates Reformer session could include the Reformer, or all of the apparatus, as well as gravity and your own body weight.

Students of almost any physical condition may begin these lessons. Practicing Pilates with a Reformer ideally involves private lessons first, with small group sessions eventually, if you develop good skills. This allows you to achieve increased fitness at your own pace according to your own goals. Exercises performed on Pilates equipment require specific instruction by a teacher with extensive training in the Pilates Method and focus on the Pilates Principals.

Which one should you try?

How do you decide where to begin your Pilates adventure? The experiences of two actual students may help:

Sasha feels relatively fit. They have no major mobility issues but would like to increase their core strength and flexibility. They want to improve their tennis game with sharpened coordination and enhanced stamina. Group activities provide additional socialization for them since they often work from home. The Pilates Mat work experience safely provides these goals for Sasha!

Chris usually tries to stay active. Recently though, they feel frequent pain due to a back injury. Chris would like to resume their former level of exertion, but needs guidance on a safe, effective routine strengthening their core, promoting healing and preventing further injury. They also want to improve their golf performance. Private lessons allow them to focus and give attention to their specific goals. The Pilates Reformer sessions absolutely provide this experience for Chris!

All people can benefit from Pilates: Patients rehabilitating from recent surgery or injury as well as Navy Seals returning from a mission. If your goal involves improving and maintaining a functional quality of life, Pilates is for you. If you are an athlete striving to improve your performance and create life balance, Pilates is for you. Enjoy your journey!

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