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.
NEW ELEVATE COLLECTION - LAUNCHING: 2ND MARCH (4PM GMT | 8AM PT | 11AM ET | 8PM AEDT | 5PM CET)
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.
Your average pilates class will range from 45 minutes to an hour, but shorter workouts can be found for when you’re short on time, or looking for a quick blast of a target muscle group!
Pilates is considered a safe, low-impact exercise that can benefit those of any age by improving their posture, balance, flexibility, core stability, and strength. Pilates can be especially beneficial to older adults, as one study found an improvement in muscle strength, balance, and overall well-being in elderly subjects who performed Pilates exercises.
Pilates can often aid with injury rehabilitation, too, as many of the movements are performed in the horizontal plane, meaning there is no load being placed vertically that could cause pain or discomfort to weakened muscles or injuries such as a knee injury.
Pilates has been studied for its benefits on patients with scoliosis, chronic back pain, and in rehabilitating knee injuries, with papers finding that Pilates exercise helps to improve pain, recovery, and mobility. Being able to perform controlled exercises either on the mat or a reformer machine can aid in muscle recovery by improving muscle strength and safely increasing your range of motion.
Breathwork is one of the most important Pilates principles, as the lateral breathing technique encouraged helps to engage the abdominal muscles to keep your core braced and safe through the differing exercises.
(Lateral breathing is when you breathe in through the nostrils, expanding your ribcage as you do so, and out through your mouth with control).
Yes! You might also see fusion workouts of Pilates with Ballet called Barre, or, Pilates Dance workouts - these are challenging low-impact bodyweight classes that require no ballet experience.
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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.
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What To Wear To Pilates
If you're heading to your first Pilates class and you're wondering what to wear, we've got some tips for you. Pilates is low-impact, so naturally, Pilates outfits tend to be a bit more casual and relaxed than some other exercise clothes that are designed to be pushed to the limit. Your Pilates clothes should be non-restrictive and breathable, accommodating for all the folds, bends, tucks, and stretches you'll be performing in your workout.
You'll want something form-fitting to reduce distractions, like a pair of buttery soft leggings, stretchy lightweight shorts, or a longline low-impact bra. A sculpted Pilates outfit will allow you to study your form and movement in the mirrors and for your teacher to give you prompts to improve your body alignment. No doubt you want your Pilates clothes to be functional, comfortable, and probably stylish, too, as we know that when you feel and look good, you move even better.
You may want to avoid something too loose on the bottom, as you'll spend a lot of time in your Pilates class with your legs in the air, so you may end up flashing a few people! If you're spending a lot of time on the mat and don't feel like going barefoot yet, a pair of non-slip socks wouldn't go amiss. For those with long locks, you'll want your hair out your face as you hold those down dogs, so tie your hair up in a cute scrunchie or pop on a headband.
We've got the roundup of 6 functional and fashionable Pilates outfits you can wear to your next class, plus a look at the all new Elevate Collection.
The New Elevate Collection
Elevate is our collection made for low-impact activities, with buttery smooth fabrics made for unrestricted movements and clean and versatile designs to fit into your active lifestyle. Cut-out designs and bardot shoulders are new this season, providing elevated wardrobe essentials for your studio sessions and for your weekend coffee runs.
Five gorgeous new tonal colors, warm and sophisticated neutrals, and muted earthy tones to mix and match every day of the week.
Desert Sage Green
For our second season of Elevate we introduce a new subtle geometric pattern, and new silhouettes for your studio sessions. What's new this collection?
V Neck Longline Tank
Short Sleeve Cutout Top
3/4 Sleeve Crop Top
Got your perfect Pilates 'fit in mind for your next class? You can shop the Elevate Collection on 2nd March (4PM GMT | 8AM PT | 11AM ET | 8PM AEDT | 5PM CET).
6 Pilates Outfit Ideas
Pilates clothes made chic! Pair the Elevate All In One with the Elevate Woven Jacket for a model-off duty Pilates look that'll transition perfectly to whatever the rest of your day has on offer. Matching non-slip Studio Socks to complete the 'fit.
Here's a monochromatic Pilates outfit that you can't go wrong with. The Elevate Asymmetric Tank pairs well with Elevate Leggings that are both silky soft, and stretchy for your mat or reformer workouts. Pair with our non-slip Studio Socks in black so you can match head-to-toe.
New to the roster this year at the Elevate Flared Leggings, made to balance support and stretch so you can move freely. The matching Elevate Longline Sports Bra is low-impact and perfect for pilates, and the Bow Scrunchie lets you tie your hair up while looking cute.
Designed to fit you flawlessly with a second skin feel and zero distractions, the Studio Tank and Studio Shorts are perfect for moving from pose to pose. Pair with the low-impact Minimal Sports Bra for a strappy, statement Pilates outfit.
The Studio Joggers are made with stretchiness in mind, so they're the ideal choice of Pilates clothing. Wear with the lightweight Studio Amplify T-Shirt designed for you to master your mobility in and the Sharkhead Headband so you can move free from distractions.
The Sport 2-in-1 Shorts provide a bit more coverage and security when performing some of the more advanced Pilates moves, while the 315 Seamless Tank has that barely there feel that allows you to move freely and comfortably, and of course, a pair of Studio Socks to prevent slipping.
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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.