What is reformer Pilates and should you try it?

A pretty unique piece of Pilates reformer equipment. You may have seen one at your local gym or Pilates studio — a set of pulleys and springs attached to a bed frame.

But what exactly does it do? Is reformer Pilates better than mat Pilates?

Here’s what you need to know.

What is a Pilates Reformer?

Two women exercising on a Pilates machine.

The reformer is a special piece of equipment originally developed by Joseph Pilates “to accompany and enhance mat routines,” says Mimosa Gordon, a Pilates instructor, and ACSM and NASM-certified personal trainer in New York City.

The machine consists of a horizontal platform which rotates along a frame, with spring resistance at one end and a pulley system at the other.

As you use the straps and pulleys to move the platform, the springs—along with your body weight—provide resistance.

You can sit, stand, kneel or lie on the Pilates reformer and the equipment can be used to perform many of the same exercises found in the Pilates mat routine, including the Pilates leg kick.

Springs provide resistance, and they can be adjusted to make the movement easier or more challenging.

What are the benefits of Pilates reformer?

Reformer workout mats offer benefits similar to Pilates, Gordon said.

You’ll get a full-body workout with a focus on a strong core—like abs, hips, and back.

And while the evidence is limited, one study suggests that equipment-based Pilates may be more effective than mat Pilates in helping to manage chronic back pain.

Reformer also provides typical Pilates benefits, Gordon adds — “improved coordination, improved posture, stretching and strengthening in one package, and focus.”

One downside: the reformer isn’t exactly portable.

“You can’t really take it with you like you can take your mat routine,” Gordon says. “Reformers are not small, and they are not cheap.”

That’s where mat Pilates gets a leg up—especially programs you can do at home, like XB Pilates with Andrea Rogers.

Mat Pilates vs Reformer Pilates

Trying to decide between mat Pilates vs reformer Pilates?

There are some key similarities between the two types of Pilates.

Both mat and reformer Pilates workouts “should flow from one exercise to the next,” says Gordon. “The movements are rhythmic and the shapes you make with your body are mostly the same.”

Here are a few more factors that can help you decide between reformer pilates and mat pilates.

Reformer Pilates

Pilates reformer women

  • Good for mastering new moves. “A reformer can be a good place to learn an exercise before taking it to the mat,” says Gordon.
  • More awareness of alignment and proprioception. Because you’re using your arms and legs to push and pull, Gordon says, “You can see if you’re concentric, and maybe you can feel that you’re using more or less than the other side.”
  • More resistance. Reformer Pilates has a big learning curve, says Gordon, but it pays off: “It takes extra effort to learn the transitions and really get a feel for working the springs, but you’ll notice and enjoy the resistance right away.”
  • Much more expensive. Not only is reformer itself expensive, reformer classes also tend to be more expensive than mat classes due to limited class sizes.
  • Not portable. A reformer is quite a heavy piece of equipment – not exactly travel friendly. This means you have to be the one who travels to a studio where it is located.

Mat Pilates

Woman doing mat Pilates

  • Great for beginners. Pilates mat exercises are beginner-friendly and can be modified to suit all levels and body types. And if you’re just starting out, you might find a mat less intimidating than a pulley system.
  • More accessible. You can do mat Pilates almost anywhere – even a home gym or hotel room. With on-demand XB Pilates workouts, you also have the flexibility to do them on your own schedule.
  • More profitable. Depending on where you get your classes, mat Pilates can be a significant savings. And if you choose a streaming platform like Beachbody On Demand, you can get your Pilates class And Other types of workouts, such as barre and yoga.
  • Low response to alignment. Because mat Pilates is a bodyweight workout, Gordon says, “You have to rely on your own sense of alignment and balance and whether you’re working evenly. It’s challenging.”

Can Reformer Pilates Help You Lose Weight?

Pilates reformer workouts are designed to keep you moving the entire time.

“A reformer workout done correctly, with portions of exercise that transition, means the person doing the work never stops,” says Gordon.

Pilates “can be mild to moderate cardiovascular,” she adds.

According to the American Council on Exercise, calories burned from a Pilates workout can range from 175 calories to 254 calories per 50-minute session (although the exact number depends on many factors, such as age, weight, and workout intensity).

Reformer Pilates offers cardio and strength benefits, which means it can definitely be part of a weight-loss plan.

If weight loss is your main goal, you may want to find a high-intensity Pilates class that burns more calories, or add another form of high-intensity exercise to your workout plan between Pilates sessions.

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