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The Difference Between Mat and Machine Pilates Classes

Two of the most popular types of Pilates classes are those on a mat and those that use a piece of equipment or a machine.  The commonly asked question is what the difference between the two types of classes is?  We will address that issue here.

Mat classes are simply those that use a padded mat frequently referred to as a yoga mat.  In many studios, the surface is a table or bench that has padding and covered in faux leather.

The idea of a mat class is that the exercises are performed using your bodyweight and minimal props.  This is the situation when it comes to beginner courses.  The movements involve working your muscles by moving them with a limited resistance other than that which your body provides.  The exercises are basic moves designed for those just starting the regimen and even though who are just beginning their accent to an intermediate level.

Machine or equipment classes are those that involve various apparatus such as a reformer, chair, barrel, etc.  While the use of this equipment is available to beginners, an ideal purpose is to provide resistance and a more advanced type of exercise.  The use of springs with some of the machines is to allow for adjustments that increase the resistance applied to the work. Some of the equipment naturally incorporates resistance based upon their design.  (Think of the barrel in this instance.)  A beginner who uses that apparatus would be limited to the extent of movement on their own. Completing the work through the full range of motion would require the assistance of the instructor of the class.  As the practitioner advances, his or her ability to work through the entire range of the movement on this equipment increases.

Machines, equipment, and apparatus are certainly beneficial to assisting in the advance Pilates practitioner’s exercise.  However, mat work is also a great compliment to an advanced student.  In this capacity, the student would use their full body weight as the resistance necessary to challenge the muscles and structure of the body.

As previously mentioned, mat work is excellent for a beginner student.  However, limitations due to the strength and conditioning of the body when just starting the practice, don’t allow for the student for fully utilize the repertoire of the exercises.  After improving that strength and conditioning, the student is stronger and more able to apply the techniques, utilizing more of the exercises within the list of moves in a Pilates routine.

List of Exercises
There are 34 exercises on the “classic list of Pilates” AKA Contrology, mat work moves. Some of them are the Pilates 100, leg circles, rollup, jack knife, sidekick, teaser, rocking, one-leg stretch, saw, and scissors just to name a few.  Many on that list can also be included on the reformer list.  Additional moves you will find on the reformer list that are not included in the traditional mat work list of 34 are the frog, mermaid, headstand, semi-circle, grasshopper, jump board, gondola, Russian splits, and star.
Joseph H. Pilates wrote a book about Pilates titled Return to Life through Contrology.  In it, you can find the 34 moves he shows for the mat and the order in which they are to be performed.  The list for the reformer work and in what direct resource of his that it is provided in is less known.  However, experts in the study can confirm there is a defined list.  What is in more question is the order in which those exercises should be performed.

So as to the difference between the mat and equipment classes, that the general explanation.  Both are invaluable to an individual’s efforts to achieve health and fitness.  The choice of which one is better than the other likely comes down to the preference of the person who will be doing the routine.