Pilates Reformer Class

The Difference Between a Pilates Reformer Class and a Traditional Pilates Class

When I set out to find a Pilates Reformer class near me I was astounded at how many I visited that were only mat Pilates classes or traditional Pilates classes. That was over 17 years ago, so websites didn’t offer as much information as they do now.

So what is the difference between the two anyway? Read on to become an expert!

The Difference Between Pilates Reformer Classes and Traditional Classes

Unlike mat Pilates, reformer Pilates class is designed to engage every muscle of your body using an intricate balance of weight resistance springs, a moving carriage, and several other accessories.

For example, when you perform leg circles on a mat, you have very little resistance other than gravity itself. As a result, this exercise will certainly tone your quadriceps and hamstrings, but you won’t develop that much muscle or a deep burn without repeated exercises.

However, with Pilates reformer classes, you will perform leg circles with your feet attached to straps that are weighed down by resistance springs. Each leg motion forces you to overcome greater resistance, resulting in a deeper muscle burn. You may even feel like you’re lifting weights.

But that’s not all. Due to the versatility of a Pilates reformer class, you can also incorporate carriage motion to work your abdominal muscles deeper than normal, achieving a full-body exercise.

So while getting used to a reformer Pilates class may be a little more difficult and the Pilates ab workouts a little more intense, the benefits of a reformer Pilates class often outweigh any perceived difficulty. 

You’ll Work Every Muscle

Working out on a Pilates reformer class will be slightly more complicated than a traditional mat and force you to use more muscles per exercise. Depending on which exercises you do, most reformer Plates classes incorporate carriage movement, spring resistance, and leg/arm motions using the straps attached to the end.

As a result, in a Pilates Reformer class, maintaining proper balance and posture while moving your arms, legs, and core will force your body to engage deeper muscles across your body that a traditional mat can’t touch.

After your Reformer Pilates classes, you may even notice some heavy DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) you might not have felt as much during traditional Mat Pilates or Yoga. Fortunately, this will accelerate your training and make you stronger faster, so that muscle recovery times quickly decline.

Practice Breathing

Most Pilates exercises in a Pilates reformer class incorporate the same slow and purposeful movements as a mat. In order to gain the best results from each exercise, you’ll need to practice your balance, posture, and breathing to engage muscles thoroughly and not blow through exercises like HIIT training.

Ideally, these slow movements should make you calmer over time and give you better posture and balance when all is said and done.


Pilates on the reformer is proven safer for clients. The reason is the reformer supports the body in different directions and different planes. On the floor or mat the only support is your back and core, so the inclination toward injury is much higher to the neck and back.

Mat Pilates vs. Reformer Pilates: Strength Training

If you want a workout that will most closely resemble a traditional, weight-bearing strength workout, book a reformer Pilates class. A reformer Pilates class can offer the resistance and progressive overload that you’d find in a structured strength-training program, and in it, you’ll work to muscle fatigue.

We can always challenge clients to add a higher resistance to get more muscle stimulation. Plus, the reformer can be the basis for a whole catalog of full-body exercises, some of which you simply wouldn’t be able to do on a mat (think an elevator lunge or a carriage kick).

Mat Pilates vs. Reformer Pilates: Improved Bodily Awareness

Once again, reformer Pilates takes the win here. If your goals are to build body awareness, the reformer is the way to go. You have to work harder to control your movements on the moving platform. That said, because the mind-body connection is a core principle of all Pilates, you can still enjoy improved proprioception (aka your body’s awareness of where you are in space) as a benefit of mat Pilates.

While beginners may benefit more from mat Pilates and strength-training devotees might gravitate toward the reformer, both types of Pilates are a valuable part of your workout routine. While both types of Pilates offer a low-impact method of resistance training, one method might be better suited to your goals.

Enroll in Pilates Reformer Classes

If you’re looking to enroll in your first Pilates reformer class, Five Starr Pilates provides 55-minute classes designed to help you enrich your fitness journey and maximize your physical and mental capabilities. 

View our new client special to get started! 

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