Mat vs Equipment Pilates

It’s a question that I get asked all the time. Is a mat or equipment Pilates better?

To be honest, it depends on what benefits you are looking for and what shape your body is in. Before I jump in with the benefits of each and my recommendations I think it’s important for me to clarify something… When I am talking about mat work, I am talking about a specific Pilates mat class, taught by a certified Pilates instructor with usually no more than 10 to a class (not your general Pilates/hybrid gym class). When I talk about equipment classes I am referring to equipment such as a reformercadillacwunda chair, ladder barrel etc. These classes are also quite personalised with no more than 4 in a class. I am not referring to reformer classes where there are 5+ people in a room doing the same exercises! I’m not saying these classes aren’t beneficial, they just have different benefits than those that I am going to talk about and I wouldn’t recommend them for the same reasons I am going to list here.

So what’s better for you? And where should you start?

Joseph Pilates would generally have started everyone able-bodied on the mat, but then again, the man also insisted that the Hundred exercise be the first one mastered. If you’ve ever tried the Hundred, you would know that this is no mean feat! I think the man was a genius but also mostly worked with people one on one and that makes a huge difference.

Of course, it depends on you as an individual and there are benefits to both! Both are going to improve your core, strength, stability and alignment. Both can improve your body awareness, improve mind/body connection and be graded from beginner through to advanced. While both deliver amazing and similar benefits, there are some differences.

Benefits of the mat:

  • A good starting point for fairly fit bodies in learning the fundamentals of Pilates for core strength and alignment
  • Great for building strength as you work with your own body weight
  • A great social and energetic experience as you are doing all the exercises together at the same time
  • Good for increasing endurance
Benefits of equipping:
  • These sessions are generally able to be more personalised
  • Great to accommodate injuries or limitations e.g through positioning, offloading joints or body parts using springs
  • More variety than mat work for more experienced clients
  • Ability to increase resistance as your strength improves
My recommendation?

If you’re brand new to Pilates and in fairly good physical shape mat would be great to learn the basics and build a strong foundation. You could join equipment classes if you wanted to challenge your strength or give you some variety of exercises.

If it’s been a while since you’ve exercised or if you’re working with any injuries or conditions I would recommend starting with equipment as it can be more closely supervised and made more individualised.  When you’re moving safely, pain-free and have a good handle on the basics then you could join a mat class to really boost your strength (working with your own body weight).

Still unsure? Talk to your qualified instructor about your needs. As long as you start with a beginner class if you’re a beginner, you really can’t go too far wrong!

Oh, and a little note for our preggy mommas – during pregnancy, as an instructor I find it more beneficial and safer to teach equipment Pilates from the second trimester onwards. If you do continue on the mat, make sure it’s in a class specialised for pregnancy to optimise your benefits and minimise any risks.

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