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What Is 'Mat' Pilates All About?


Dr. Christy Shea demonstrates how to perform a full body plank
Mat Pilates Plank


Hey Pilates People, you may have heard Pilates referred to as either ‘mat’ or ‘reformer’ and today I’m going to help you understand the difference between the two and specifically dive into the benefits of mat Pilates.


Before I do that, just know that at Tandem Physical Therapy we’re huge fans of all types of Pilates! We specifically offer private reformer sessions, but also host small group mat classes and offer an online core strength program that uses Pilates principles to guide you through a series of 5 progressively challenging core workouts.


The reason we love Pilates is because of how it aligns with the therapeutic approach to injury recovery and prevention we take as physical therapists. Pilates movements tend to be done slowly, with control so you can stay focused on isolating the proper areas. Pilates is also really versatile in that it can be done in its traditional format on a mat, or with equipment called a reformer. This versatility is also what makes it a great transitional form of exercise.


People recovering from a wide array of injuries or chronic medical conditions can get the benefit of Pilates. We have patients with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, low back pain, sports injuries, and many more enjoy the benefits of mat and reformer Pilates alike. Not to mention, it’s a great choice for prenatal and postpartum fitness.


As you may have guessed, the biggest difference between mat and reformer Pilates is that one form is done on a mat and the other with equipment called a reformer. The reformer is an impressive piece of engineering. The basic reformer is composed of a frame, a moveable carriage, a foot bar and springs under the equipment to offer resistance. You can add different attachments to transform the piece into a “Cadillac” or “Trapeze Table” that allow you to suspend your body over a mat. Our patients love the “smooth ride” on the reformer because it helps transform otherwise painful movements into comfortable ones by offering either resistance or assistance from the spring system under the carriage.


Mat Pilates on the other hand needs no special equipment. This is Pilates in its most basic, raw form. Mat Pilates relies on your own body weight as the resistance and is often thought of as the more challenging of the two. To get the full benefit, there should be more emphasis placed on form and positioning since you have no props to help you. This is also the beauty of working on the mat. You get to practice using the proper form which ultimately yields faster results and lower risk of injury. The best way to ensure the correct form is with the help of a trained professional who can watch and offer modifications when necessary. Once you’ve got the form nailed, stick with it for a few weeks and get ready to see the results pouring in.


If you’re ready to get started on your own mat Pilates journey, be sure to check out our online Core Strength Series which is available for purchase on our website at https://www.tandempt.com/core-strengthening-series. It’s a great program for people of all levels to learn how to get the most from their core workouts and ideal for people who have had a prior spinal injury and want to build their core strength while being mindful to not aggravate the problem.


Now go out there and enjoy all the benefits Pilates has to offer!

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