Pilates is known to help you gain flexibility, strengthen, stretch and balance your body, while creating a connection between your mind and your body. Pilates can be practiced on a mat or equipment called a reformer, both of which allow Pilates to be successful. The principal advantage of Pilates is to strengthen the ‘powerhouse’ of your body, the abdomen, buttocks, hips and the lower back, while stressing on unique breathing patterns.

Key Difference 

The kind of resistance used is the key differentiator between the Pilates reformer exercise and the Pilates mat workout. In the mat workout, a person’s own body weight is used as resistance, whereas in the reformer exercise the springs and pulleys are used as mechanical resistance in order to target the muscles. This means that to work, say, your arm muscles you use the pulleys for assistance on a reformer, whereas in Mat Pilates you work against gravity without any sort of assistance.

Pilates Mat vs. reformer

Availability, Mobility and Complexity

Pilates Mats classes are easier to come across than reformer classes. Mostly small gymnasiums are not highly equipped and thus it’s very unlikely for them to offer reformers. Moreover the Pilate mat classes are inexpensive and mostly free if you are a member of a club. The Pilate mat is simple and low-priced and you can carry it around. This also means that you can easily do Pilates mat exercises in the convenience of your own home.

However, the Pilate reformer benefits are sometimes overshadowed as it is an expensive and an immobile device. The apparatus can look daunting to many and many students begin with a couple of months of private sessions before joining a group class. Many are also hesitant to try the workouts without the supervision of an instructor.

Since reformer Pilates uses the pulleys and the springs for assistance, many people find it easier than doing Pilates on a mat where you have to use your own body weight for balance and control. Though they both may give similar results, the reformer Pilates is said to be a gentler form. However it may get challenging as you increase the resistance.


In the Pilates mat, the exercises are done on the floor. It teaches you to control and helps with firmness, and strengthens and lengthens your muscles. The focus is on internal slanting and it stabilizes the spine. Each muscle in your body is affected and it aligns them with your joints. Core control is on what the focus is and instead of your body controlling the mind, it teaches your mind to control the body. Joseph Pilates used the term ‘contrology’.

In contrast, the Pilate reformer makes use of pulleys and the springs for guidance and assistance during exercises. It is gentle, safe and extremely effective at the same time. The focus is on the same things as mat Pilates: balance, control strength.

Target Audience

In Mat Pilates your body works against gravity without the support of any pulleys and strings and many are hesitant to try it. Since the reformer Pilates is said to be easier, it can be practiced by a wider target audience.

People who lack mobility or those suffering from injury therapy may not be able to perform the mat Pilates but can definitely perform the reformer Pilates. Reformer is easy and safe and you don’t have to discover your own resistance.

Exercising on reformer is not suitable for women who are expecting, but mat Pilates offers a wide variety of exercises which can be performed on the mat by pregnant women.


Joseph Pilate never intended to isolate the mat from the reformer. He believed that using both of them together will offer the complete benefits of Pilates. 

Use whatever is safe for you - if you aren't sure about anything, visit your nearest Pilates studio and get help.