Mat Pilates vs Reformer Pilates: Explore The Differences


The most common types of Pilates involves either use of a mat or a type of equipment that can be used, called a ‘reformer’. One of the frequently asked questions we get is “What’s the difference between Mat Pilates and Reformer Pilates?” So, we’ve put a general guide together in this blog to explore the differences so you can see which one may suit you best and which one will help you in achieving your fitness and health goals.

What exactly is Pilates?

Pilates is a type of mind-body exercise. It was developed almost 100 years ago and takes its name from the person who invented it, Joseph Pilates, who was a German born immigrant to America. Joseph Pilates devised his new approach to exercise and body conditioning through the use of equipment, which he referred to as apparatus. As he was a sickly child, Pilates was determined to make himself strong and healthy. He researched and practiced every type of exercise he could and became one of the first influential figures to combine Western and Eastern ideas about health and physical fitness.

Pilates is the art of controlled movements, which when properly manifested should look and feel like a workout. Pilates improves flexibility, builds strength, aides in the control and endurance of the whole body and places emphasis on alignment, breathing, core strength, as well as improving overall coordination and balance.  

What is Mat Pilates?

Most people are familiar with Mat Pilates and some people can confuse or associate it with yoga, as both yoga and mat pilates have similar movements which are both done on a mat.

  • Mat Pilates involves performing movements and body weight exercises and positions on a mat on the floor.
  • Mat Pilates is simple (yet effective) and all you need is a mat to do Mat Pilates.
  • Mat Pilates sessions and classes are fairly basic and easy, as you are simply just using your own body weight whilst doing various movements and holding positions. The individuals body weight provides resistance against gravity, which can make the workout slightly challenging as you need to be in control of your entire body, rather than relying on the support or assistance of the cables and springs on a reformer machine.
  • Mat Pilates works an individuals legs, stomach, and the lower and upper back muscles.

What is Reformer Pilates?

Reformer Pilates is similar, yet very different to mat based pilates. It is a type of Pilates that uses mat-based pilates techniques but also incorporates a pilates reformer machine.

The Pilates reformer was invented and designed by Joseph Pilates himself, and is a piece of equipment which looks like a bed with springs, a sliding carriage, ropes and pulleys. The first use and origins of the Pilates reformer machine date back to the 1920’s, in the original Pilates studio in New York City. 

Reformer Pilates works more areas than mat pilates, as mat pilates focuses on mainly the core, reformer pilates works the entire body - particularly the core and peripheral muscles in your arms and legs.

  • Reformer Pilates adds resistance to the Pilates exercises and movements via the use of springs which form part of the Reformer machine.
  • Intensity can be varied on a Reformer machine. Extra springs on the Reformer can be added to build strength in the bigger muscle groups, or lower springs can be used to help challenge certain muscles.
  • Reformer Pilates has more athletic and toning benefits than just Mat Pilates.
  • Reformer Pilates can be used as a rehabilitative exercise because it allows a person to exercise in certain positions while adjusting the weight bearing for certain parts of the body. This is originally what the Reformer machine was created for, when Joseph Pilates was living in a World War I internment camp to help and assist immobilised soldiers with rehabilitation. For example, if an individual has had to have knee surgery or is experiencing knee pain or injury, the horizontal plane on the Reformer machine enables the person to strengthen the muscles of their leg through a larger range of motion while using a lighter resistance than their body weight. This can then speed up their recovery through certain controlled movements.
  • Reformer Pilates is great for beginners or for someone starting out with Pilates. It can be incredibly useful for someone who may find it difficult to hold Pilates positions while using their own body weight on the mat.
  • Reformer Pilates provides more variety with exercises and body positions (from your back, side, stomach, seated, and feet and knees) compared to Mat Pilates, and both basic and advanced movements can be performed.
  • Because of the resistance created by the pulley and spring system on the Reformer machine, the Reformer can provide a more challenging strength workout than Mat Pilates. This can lead to fitness results much sooner.
  • Reformer Pilates can be used to target a specific area, smaller muscle group, or as a whole body exercise. This makes it a great form of exercise for strength, posture, flexibility, balance and endurance.

Which type of Pilates should you do?

As you can see, both types of Pilates provides many benefits when it comes to health, fitness, and developing and toning your body. Both types of Pilates can build strength in the body’s core, target specific muscle groups, and help to maintain the basic principles of Pilates - breath, concentration, centering, control, precision, and flow. Both types of Pilates also compliment each other rather well, and you may even find that you will get even more out of your Reformer workouts if you combine them with Mat Pilates, and vice versa.

To decide which type is best for you, consider the benefits of both and what your health and fitness goals are, as well as the following factors below.

Try Reformer Pilates if:
  • You want more immediate results
  • You want more of a challenging exercise option
  • You want to lose weight
  • You are a Pilates beginner
  • You have limited range of movement
  • You are recovering from an injury or chronic imbalance, and are in need of rehabilitation

Try Mat Pilates if:
  • You are just wanting to do some simple stretches
  • You are wanting a simple and general exercise
  • You have no immediate access to Pilates equipment or a Pilates reformer machine, or a Pilates Reformer studio

I personally LOVE Reformer Pilates. And honestly, when I went to my first Pilates Reformer class, I was quite overwhelmed and found the Reformer machine to be rather intimidating a little scary! But, after just one workout on a reformer machine, I realised how effective and versatile just one piece of equipment could be..Plus, it’s a whole lot of fun!

Which Pilates Reformer machines do we recommend?

When purchasing a Pilates reformer machine, we suggest steering away from the ones that are priced at just a few hundred dollars. Your investment should range anywhere from $3,000 to $5000+. We know what you are thinking…This might sound like a lot of money for a home user. But, if you consider the fact that you will never have to buy a gym or pilates studio membership again, then it’s looking like a real winner for a long-term investment. Plus, you can do Reformer Pilates in the privacy of your very own home.

Purchase a Kiva Wellness Pilates Reformer machine for your home and see the benefits for yourself. We have two Pilates Reformer machines in our online store which I’ve listed below.

To shop our Kiva Wellness Pilates Reformer machines, click HERE or call our sales team directly on 0280741791 if you have any further questions about our Pilates Reformer machines.

Kiva Wellness Studio Pilates Reformer

This Studio Pilates Performer is perfect for both the studio and your home. It is made using solid wood from the German beech tree along with high quality stainless steel giving it a professional look and feel.

  • This Reformer includes Padded Jump Board, Foot Strap and Long Box
  • Studio Quality Pilates Reformer that is also perfect for your home
  • Very Easy to Assemble, ready to go within 15 minutes
  • 5 Adjustment springs with varied resistance 
  • Quality wheels / rollers for a smooth motion
  • Stable & Responsive One-Piece Rail Carriage
  • Life Time Warranty on Structure
  • Made from Hard German Beech Wood
  • 3 year parts warranty on home use / 12 month commercial parts warranty

Kiva Wellness Foldable Pilates Reformer with Bonus Cardio Rebounder

Perfect for Pilates enthusiasts looking to exercise at home, however without the need for the space required for the larger Studio reformers. Complete with all the features that are included with the larger more expensive models the Kiva Wellness Foldable Pilates Reformer is perfect for those with less space at home however are still keen to work their core as they would in their local studio.

  • This Reformer includes Padded Jump Board, Foot Bar and Cardio Rebounder 
  • Enjoy all the features of Studio reformers then simply fold your reformer away
  • Very Easy to Assemble, ready to go within 10 minutes
  • 5 Adjustment springs with varied resistance suitable for all
  • Quality wheels / rollers for a smooth motion
  • Stable & Responsive One-Piece Rail Carriage
  • 3 Year Warranty on parts for home use
  • Made from Hard German Beech Wood


We hope this was a helpful and informative blog for you. We also have other blogs on the topic of Pilates: Pilates for Mental Health and The Benefits of Using A Pilates Reformer.

Kiva Wellness Revive Foldable Pilates Reformer
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