If you’re looking for a new low-impact workout to add to your routine— one that will strengthen your core and build your muscular endurance, all without your feet ever leaving the ground— Pilates reformer classes in Orange County just might be the answer.
Invented by Joseph Hubertus Pilates in the 1920s, Pilates workouts use specific exercises to stretch, strengthen, and balance the body, paired with focused breaths to emphasize having control over each movement. Think of it as yoga’s slightly more strength-focused cousin.
But while any Pilates workout will center around these core principles, there are a few different ways to achieve the strengthened muscles and increased flexibility that are hallmarks of the workout style: mat Pilates and reformer Pilates.
Here, we explain the difference between mat Pilates and reformer Pilates class, as well as the benefits of each, so that you can decide which type of Pilates is best for you:
What Is Mat Pilates?
Mat Pilates is the OG Pilates and is most similar to what Joseph Pilates conceptualized more than a hundred years ago. All you need for mat Pilates is— you guessed it— a mat, although other equipment (such as a ring or ball) can be optional.
Mat Pilates strengthens, lengthens, and tones the body while promoting flexibility and is done on the mat without the use of equipment. The focus is on small, controlled movements, and a major portion of the class is devoted to strengthening your core muscles— both front and back.
Builds Pilates Techniques and Form Skills
One of the main benefits of mat Pilates is that it builds a foundation of knowledge for future workouts— both Pilates and non-Pilates. Mat work is the basis of the entire Pilates exercise system. In a mat Pilates class, you’ll learn the fundamentals of Pilates movements and techniques, such as a neutral spine, an engaged core, and intentional breathwork.
By practicing these Pilates basics on the mat, you’ll be able to apply them to your other workouts as well (think: remembering to hold a neutral spine during a deadlift or use a strong exhale to power through a push-up). Plus, if you do eventually decide to try a Pilates reformer class, you’ll have the know-how to execute the movements safely and effectively.
Since so much of a Pilates class is devoted to strengthening the core (with exercises such as planks, hollow body holds, and teasers, which involve alternating between a V-sit and a full-body extension), it’s no surprise that a mat Pilates devotee might find themselves standing up a little straighter. In fact, one study found that participants who did a one-hour mat Pilates workout twice a week for 12 weeks had improved upper spine and core posture.
Pilates is getting you to connect to the back line [aka posterior chain], so you stand better and are just more aware of your posture. In addition to increasing that mind-body connection, mat Pilates also works your transverse abdominis, a deep core muscle that stabilizes your lower back and keeps you upright. So if you find yourself slouching at your desk, a Pilates routine might help address that slump.
If one of your major fitness goals is finding the flexibility to touch your toes, Pilates can help. Mat Pilates, when practiced regularly, promotes flexibility as muscles are constantly lengthened. One study found that participants who did an hour of mat Pilates twice a week for 12 weeks saw significant increases in hamstring flexibility.
Another study found that those who did two one-hour Pilates reformer class workouts weekly for six months were able to shorten their fingertip-to-floor distance (i.e., the gap between your fingers and the floor in a forward fold) by 4.3 centimeters on average.
Teaches Breath Control
Trust, your breath will be top of mind in every mat Pilates workout you do— and not necessarily because you’ll be gasping for air. Instead, a major benefit of mat Pilates is that it harnesses inhales and exhales to create a more powerful mind-body connection.
Your instructor will guide you through moments when you should breathe in and out, using that intentional breathwork to increase the effectiveness of your movements. For example, you’ll inhale as you lengthen your muscles during an eccentric movement, and you’ll exhale as you contract the muscles to get as much power as possible.
The breathwork of Pilates has mental health benefits as well. That’s because focusing on your breath has been shown to increase positive temperament and help treat anxiety and depression. A weekly mat Pilates class in Orange County could pull double duty in improving your physical and mental health.
What Is Reformer Pilates?
Pilates Reformer class is a low-impact, full-body workout that incorporates controlled movements and the use of breath on a reformer machine to target specific muscle groups. It’s a more modern form of Pilates. It’s still using slow and controlled movements, but it also uses strategic programming that’s more aligned with strength training.
Or put another way, your Pilates reformer class in Orange County is more likely to have dedicated segments for specific muscle groups (such as your obliques or your inner thighs), similar to what you’d do in a traditional strength training program.
The Pilates reformer is a machine that consists of a sliding platform (or carriage), a platform at either hand, handlebars on the platforms, straps to allow moves such as biceps curls, and springs, which make the resistance of the machine lighter or heavier. Some reformers are also outfitted with extra loops for glute work or handles to make certain moves (such as shoulder presses or rows) more comfortable.
Offers Full-Body Strength Training
While mat Pilates offers low-intensity strength training, the reformer (and its springs) provide more of a targeted, high-intensity training experience. The reformer has a variety of exercises that can cater to the entire body. It can target the push muscles in your chest and triceps, and you can be more strategic when you’re focusing on the lower body.
Plus, the Pilates reformer class has its signature springs that add varying levels of resistance to each and every move. While mat Pilates relies mostly on bodyweight exercises, the ability to add weight to a Pilates reformer class exercise gives it the benefit of increasing muscular strength and endurance. That can be more impactful in training because you can withstand tension for a longer period of time.
Remember, during resistance training, your muscles endure small muscle tears, which your body then repairs— a process that leads to muscle growth. Strength training with Pilates reformer classes in Orange County at least twice a week can lead to major gains.
Improves Balance and Coordination
The sliding carriage on the reformer during a Pilates reformer class adds the element of instability to your workouts. Your muscles have to be fully engaged and controlled in order to move the platform steadily or keep it in the same place.
And of course, you’ll have to call on your balance skills to avoid wobbling when you get into certain movements, such as reverse lunges with one foot on the platform and one foot on the sliding carriage. You’re working on a moving machine, which will heighten your balance and coordination.
Decreases Risk of Injury
Unlike high-impact workouts, in which your feet leave the floor for plyometric movements, both mat and reformer Pilates keep both feet firmly on the ground for a decreased risk of injury. However, the springs on a reformer machine play double duty: not only do they add resistance to mimic dumbbells or barbells, but they can also keep the platform from moving too much.
Springs can add an element of support, so it can help create stability during specific exercises. For example, if you’re recovering from a knee injury, you can create more stability for the knee joint using springs; that way, you can target the hamstring without risking injury.
Offers a Greater Variety of Exercises
With all the attachments and tools on the reformer (think: platforms, handlebars, straps, and handles), it’s no wonder that a major benefit of Pilates reformer classes in Orange County is the amazing variety of exercises you can tackle. There are literally thousands of exercises to do on the reformer, which allows tension to be targeted in different muscle groups and create a more rounded workout.
With mat Pilates, on the other hand, you’re more limited in terms of what exercises you can do and what body parts you can target. For example, you can add a mermaid oblique crunch or an overhead triceps extension to your workout using a reformer, but you’re not able to do those as bodyweight Pilates exercises.
The versatility of the reformer allows you to be more strategic in focusing on certain muscle groups, and the addition of resistance springs makes it easy to level up your workouts once you’re ready.
Sign Up for Pilates Classes in Orange County
If you’re ready to experience all of the body and mind benefits Pilates classes have to offer, Five Starr Pilates & Fitness is the perfect place to start.
Contact us today!