What Is Pilates? Everything You Need To Know
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What Is Pilates? Everything You Need To Know

clock-circular-outlinePosted 20 Feb 2023

If you’re new to the mind-body practice or thinking of hanging up the mat and hitting a Reformer Pilates class, you might be wondering what to wear to pilates and what exactly to expect. Here, we give you the breakdown of all you need to know.

Mat Pilates and Reformer Pilates are born from the same mind-body movement, offering similar benefits but differing in accessibility and difficulty. This article will help you determine the best method for your current goals and abilities.

For many people first discovering Pilates, mat work is the go-to because of its accessibility. You don’t need to make your way to your local studio; just pop on an online workout to follow along. All you need is a little bit of space to move and the desire to show up on the mat.

Reformer Pilates, on the other hand, can be far more advanced and physically challenging. You might take one look at the complex contraptions in the studio and think… there is no chance I will get through a session on one of those. But we’re here to take some of the anxiety away by giving you all the tools you need to prepare for your first Reformer Pilates class.

So whether you’re rolling out the mat for a pilates workout in your living room or trying your first Reformers class at your local Pilates studio, we're here to give you the hot tips so you can turn up to your next class feeling like a pro.

Without further ado, let’s get into it.


All You Need To Know Before Your First Pilates Class

Before we note the differences between the two Pilates methods, let's give you a little bit of the history behind your next favorite workout class and take a quick journey through the origin of Pilates.

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What Is Pilates?

Pilates is a form of exercise that centers around repetitive sequences that focus primarily on strengthening the core. The core tenants of Pilates are to strengthen, lengthen, and improve body alignment through exercises performed on a mat or specialized equipment. Through fluid, controlled movement, the goal is to strengthen your muscles and improve flexibility and stability.

Through this exercise method, founded by Joseph Pilates during the 1920s, you’ll get to know your body on a deeper level. Pilates helps to cultivate a mind-body awareness that can be embodied far beyond the mat, and this is achieved by connecting with the breath through each movement.

Later on, his students developed six core Pilates principles; concentration, control, centering, flow, precision, and breathing as a guiding philosophy to the exercise. These six core tenants are useful to remember during your Pilates practice, and embracing these principles can help to improve your conditioning performance.


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Mat vs. Reformer Pilates


What is Mat Pilates?

Mat pilates is the most accessible form of Pilates that requires nothing but yourself and a mat to do the work! Typically this is the form of Pilates most appealing to beginners as it provides an introduction to the movement system.

During a mat Pilates workout, you will use your own body weight as a resistance to perform a sequence of traditional Pilates exercises that raise the pulse and target the core muscles, legs, and upper body. Through mat pilates exercises, you will learn to master your muscle control, core stability, and flexibility and connect to your breath. This is the foundation of the Pilates system.

As you master the basics of pilates, you can progress your workouts by increasing the duration of your workout and the intensity of your mat work. Pilates mat workouts can range from gentle to advanced with more complex bodyweight moves, meaning there’s something for wherever you are in your Pilates journey and whatever type of workout you feel that day!

Want to make your home Pilates session more challenging? Try intensifying your mat Pilates workouts by using ankle and wrist weights for added resistance.

Mat Pilates Exercises

Classical Pilates consisted of 34 exercises performed in a set sequence, developed by Joseph Pilates in his book Return To Life. These movements focus on core stabilization and alternating sides to improve balance.

Whilst many varieties have evolved, the original Pilates movements are followed in most Mat Pilates classes.

What Is Reformer Pilates?

Reformer Pilates is a form of the exercise system which gets its name from “The Reformer,” the apparatus designed by Joseph Pilates during WW1 to help rehabilitate injured soldiers.

Reformer Pilates workouts are carried out on a machine that consists of a narrow padded platform on a sliding carriage with handlebars to the front and a headrest, ropes, and pulleys for your hands and feet to perform resistance exercises at the back. The sliding carriage is attached by several springs that can be increased for added resistance.

The reformer apparatus can seem quite intimidating, as it doesn’t sound far off a medieval contraption! But fear not, practice makes perfect, and you’ll get to grips with using the apparatus after a couple of runs, we promise. Once familiar with it, the reformer machine offers a challenging and effective workout for your whole body.

Why choose reformer pilates over mat pilates?

The reformer machine can provide a more high-intensity full-body workout that helps to target specific muscle groups, as you would tend to see in a typical strength training-based workout plan. Upping the resistance by adding more springs allows you to incorporate the principle of progressive overload more into your Pilates workouts and allows you to advance your workouts from mat work. You can burn more calories during a reformer's session than with mat work due to the added resistance and intensity.

The Reformer machine also offers more versatility as you have a larger variety of exercises you can perform in comparison to Mat Pilates. As with mat work and according to your skill level, the exercises can range from beginner to advanced and can be made more challenging. Exercises on the Reformer can be performed in more positions than on the mat, often allowing for a greater range of motion and progression with practice.

Reformer Pilates Exercises

Similar to mat work, there is a classical order of Reformer Pilates exercises that are traditionally followed during a workout, although variation is welcome. You might find that Reformer Pilates challenges your core far more than mat work.

The following movements are part of the classical Reformer Pilates sequence and are performed on the carriage using your bodyweight or straps and pulleys as resistance.

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Want to try Pilates, but don't know where to start with classes? Head over to The Gymshark Training App and explore our easy-to-follow Pilates workouts from the comfort of your own home.

Now you've got the roundup of what to expect from Mat Pilates and Reformer Pilates classes; you can make your choice with confidence. Pilates isn't something you'll master in one session; it requires patience, practice, and discipline, as outlined in the 6 Pilates principles.

There is an elegance and grace to Pilates that is felt from having complete control of your muscles and moving in flow with your breath and body. A Pilates workout will leave you feeling energized and empowered!

If you liked the Elevate pieces in our What To Wear section, you can explore the range further and get some more styling tips from our article on the Elevate Collection.

GymsharkBy Gymshark

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