Pilates Reformer Vs Pilates Mat: Which Is Better For At-Home Workouts?

Whenever I’m signing up for an in-person Pilates class on my MindBody app, admittedly I scroll past the mat classes and head straight for the reformer classes. Why? The feeling that “feet in straps,” commonly at the end of most classes I’ve taken, makes everything worth it. The stretch feels like heaven on my tight calves and hamstrings. And it’s a move I can’t replicate in a mat class or at home on my own. But I had to check myself, as my true goal for taking Pilates is a stronger core and having a workout that challenges my muscles. I had to find out about the workouts themselves, specifically at-home workouts. Which is better for Pilates at-home workouts: reformer or mat? 

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Reformer pilates versus Mat pilates

What’s the difference between mat and reformer Pilates workouts are pretty simple: reformer or no reformer. But the long answer is, well, longer. 

First off, mat Pilates, obviously, uses body weight for resistance, along with other equipment to intensify the challenges of the exercises, such as booty bands, resistance bands, balls of all sizes and firmness, blocks, rings, light weights, poles, stability ball, sticky socks and more. On the reformer, you can use these things, too. But there are reformer accessories to elevate your reformer workouts. That can include jump board, mat converters, frames, boxes, etc. 

Next, of course, are the workouts, or rather the exercises that you can do with a reformer and without. What I, admittedly, like about both classes is starting out on the back and doing moves where you’re lying down. It sounds like I’m being lazy when I could be doing a bunch of squat jumps or burpees in a boot camp class, but I like how it centres my focus and puts my intention on the muscles I’m working on. Then we move into the upright moves. At least that’s been my experience with the reformer and mat Pilates classes I’ve taken. 

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Pilates exercises done in mat and reformer workouts

But before I move on to the exercise differences, take a look at the similarities. Here’s a quick look at the moves on mat and their equivalents on the reformer.

Pilates exercise on matPilates exercise on reformer
The hundredsThe hundreds with feet or hands in straps
Roll-ups with poleRoll-ups 
BicyclesBicycles with feet in straps or off foot bar
Roll-oversRoll-overs with feet in straps
Leg circlesLeg circles feet in straps
Leg kicks (single and double)Leg kicks with straps (single and double)
Push-upsPush-ups off footbar
SawsSaws with hands in straps
ScissorsScissors with feet in straps
Spine twistsSpine twists with handles
Jacky knivesJack knives with feet in straps
Side-kicks and side-kicks kneelingSide-kicks with feet in straps (can also be done kneeling)
TeasersTeasers hands in straps
Leg lifts Leg lifts with feet in straps
FroggersFroggers with feet in straps
BeatsBeats with feet in straps
Serve-the-plattersServe-the-platters with handles
Donkey kicksDonkey kicks with feet in straps
Stomach massageStomach massage with foot bar
Long spineLong spines with feet in straps

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Pilates moves you can only do on a mat

Here are some exercises that you can only do on the mat. You can only do these on the reformer if it has a mat converter (an insert that gives the space of a mat). 

  • Rolling like a ball
  • Spin stretches
  • Rockers
  • Swan dives
  • Neck pulls
  • Bridges
  • Swimmers
  • Corkscrews
  • Crabs
  • Seals
  • Side bends
  • Cat-cows
  • Spine stretches
  • Crunches
  • Back extensions
  • Boomerangs
  • Climb-the-trees

Before you @ me, know that you may find moves influenced by these classical mat movements. But because the classic movement is based on gravity, I’ve put them here. 

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Pilates moves you can only do on a reformer

And here are some exercises that you can only do on the reformer (and not on the mat). 

  • Lower-and-lifts
  • Mermaids
  • Side splits
  • Split lunges
  • Knee stretches
  • Stag
  • Back rowing
  • Round backs
  • Flatbacks
  • Side twists 
  • Arm preps
  • Chest expansions
  • Reverse expansions
  • Elephants
  • Airplanes
  • Eve’s lunges
  • Rows

Again, of course, people can reinterpret these moves to be used outside of a reformer, but they’re resistance-based (meaning pulling and pushing weight) that cannot be fully achieved with body weight, which is why I’ve put them here. 

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What does science say? Which is better: Pilates mat or reformer?

Generally, research suggests that Pilates is good for fitness. Of course, that’s compared to not exercising at all. (Um, duh!) Not sure we need researchers to tell us movement is better than not moving. But dig a bit deeper and there is some research comparing reformer versus mat workouts. One study found that both forms of Pilates improve “balance, functional mobility, core stability, fatigue severity and quality of life improved.” (Subjects had multiple sclerosis.) One difference though: “it has been observed that progress has been more in trunk flexor muscle strength in the Reformer Pilates group,” reported the researchers from Gazi University in Ankara, Turkey. While mat Pilates workouts can be challenging, using resistance increases strengths. Sounds obvious enough, right?

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Where can you stream at-home Pilates mat workouts?

For at-home mat workouts, I’ve streamed Lagreeing at Home, Alo Moves, Movement by MN and Peloton, as well as free Pilates classes on YouTube. Most recently I’ve signed up for the Have A Nice Day Pilates. When Peloton first launched Pilates workouts, I found them to be very basic. I was used to the “shakes” that most in-person mat classes would give me. 

I found Lagreeing At Home allowed me to achieve that. Movement by NM makes classes super accessible, no matter your level. Have A Nice Day uses beautiful imagery and specific instruction for focus. Alo Moves was great for perfecting form and really making the moves challenging. Peloton, I would say, is a great way to start Pilates at home if you’ve never done it before. And if you stream both Alo and Peloton, you may notice some instructor carryover: Kristin McGee moved from Alo Moves to Peloton, and so did Callie Gullickson. 

Here’s the breakdown on these services.

PlatformPriceAppPilates mat workoutsInstructors to follow
Alo Moves$12.99 a month or $129.99 a yearAlo Moves in App Store922 classes, ranging from 12 to 50-plus minutes, with 129 programs• Bianca Melas
• Kristin McGee
• Tela Anderson
Have A Nice Day Pilates$29 a month or $299 a yearNo app, available, streaming in browser95 classes, ranging from 6 to 42 minutes, with 3 playlists
Lagreeing at Home$45 a month or $515 a yearLagreeing at Home On Demand at the App Store and Google Play75 classes, ranging from 10 to 50 minutes• Heather Perren
• Noelle Naone
• Kelly Blackman
Movement by NM$15 a month or $100 a yearMovement by NM in App Store24 classes, ranging from 9 to 22 minutes• Adrian Gaskin
• Amanda June Giannakos
• Trilby Goouch
Peloton$16.99 a month Peloton at the App Store and Google Play100 beginner, intermediate and advanced classes, ranging from 15 to 45 minutes, with two programs• Kristin McGee
• Aditi Shah
• Anna Greenberg
Data as of press time.

To advance my Pilates at-home mat workouts, I’ve been using the PilatesStick, $120, at peakpilates.com.

Also, one major thing to note: Some local and smaller Pilates studios may stream their workouts or have a video library. Many studios had to move their businesses online in 2020, 2021 and 2022. So if you have a favourite Pilates studio near you, find out if they stream so you can support them. 

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Where can you stream at-home Pilates reformer workouts?

For reformer workouts, I’ve been using the Lagree Micro Reformer. I’ve been able to find workouts on Lagreeing at Home, Lagree on Demand, Alo Moves and YouTube.

What’s the difference between Lagree on Demand and Lagreeing at Home? Lagree on Demand is the platform created by the Lagree brand, whereas Lagreeing at Home is run by independent Lagree-certified instructors. 

PlatformPriceAppPilates reformer workoutsInstructors to follow
Balanced BodyUS$20 a month or US$200 a yearBalanced Body in App Store and Google Play30 reformer workouts plus 16 you can access for free, ranging from 22 minutes to 1 hour and 18 minutes • Ashley Celaya
• Natalie Garcia
• Adia Callahan
Lagreeing at Home$45 a month or $515 a yearLagreeing at Home On Demand at the App Store and Google Play484 Microformer workouts, ranging from 10 minutes to 75 minutes, and two micro programs• Heather Perren
• Kelly Blackman
• MaryKate Campfield
Lagree on Demand$3.99 a week, $9.99 a month, or $99.99 a yearNo app, available, streaming in browser642 Micro Reformer workouts, ranging from 8 minutes to 1 hour, with two course programs• Sebastien Lagree
• Maggie O’Brien
• Haley Durbin
Alo Moves$12.99 a month or $129.99 a yearAlo Moves 21 reformer classes, ranging from 16 to 48 minutes, three programs (one is a playlist)• Tela Anderson
• Bianca Melas
• Victoria Batha
Data as of press time.

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Which is better for at-home workouts: mat or reformer Pilates?

The first at-home workout I did was using Lagreeing at Home, and it was hard. I was shaking and felt delayed onset muscle scorenes the next day. Admittedly, I did plateau, especially with bodyweight exercises. So, when my reformer arrived, I immediately tried it with Alo Moves and Lagreeing at Home. And DOMS returned. For me, variety is huge for staying both physically and mentally challenged with my at-home workouts. I alternate between trampoline and bike for cardio. For strength, it’s weights, mat Pilates and reformer work. If you can afford a reformer, and are a fan of reformer classes, it just may be worth it for you, too.