People often ask me which is better - mat or equipment Pilates. Or people will tell me, "I hate mat" or "I only do mat." So which is better? Well, let's start by looking at what makes each unique. As I say to my children when they complain that someone got a bigger piece of something or a longer whatever, "You are not equal, you're unique."
Some things that make mat unique:
1. It's portable. You can do it just about anywhere with very little equipment. See Keeping Up Your Workout While Traveling.
2. It's affordable. You'll probably pay $10-15 for a mat class, while equipment classes will run you about $25-60, depending on how many people are in a class.
3. It's what Joseph created first. It's the beginning of the work. It connects you to the largest equipment available - the earth. It's is the foundation to everything.
4. It's done using your own body for stability and is more open-chain (exercises where the hand or foot is free to move). This means that you will have to work in your core a lot to hold your body still or mobilize it during an exercise.
5. Mat has more flow. Since you're not getting up to move a box, change a spring, or attach a bar, you can just keep moving from one exercise into the next.
So how is Equipment Unique?
1. It uses more resistance. Most equipment (outside of the barrels) have springs. These springs give resistance in both directions to every exercise. So, if you're looking to strength train and up your metabolism, the equipment will help.
2. If you need more support and alignment cues, equipment has the edge as well. On reformer alone, you have a head rest, shoulder blocks, and a foot bar so your teacher can easily see exactly how your body is moving. I call my Reformer the diagnostic piece of equipment.
3. There are more exercises on equipment. There's about 50 mat exercises, and on reformer 250, chair even more than that. So it's great to help keep variety in your Pilates routine.
So which is better? It's important to understand that Pilates is best as a system. If you've always done the hundred on the mat, imagine pumping your arms with resistance (that's Reformer). If you've always done Short Spine with springs to help you, imagine doing it without them and you'll really build up your Powerhouse and train it how to lift your pelvis while performing the Roll Over on the mat.
I've seen it time and time again, clients who only like one or the other, and they don't progress as much as clients who perform the entire system. What you learn on one informs your body on the other. You'll build newer connections faster and deeper if you do both.
And sadly, whichever one you "don't like" is probably the one you have to do. Sometimes tighter people don't like mat - it's a lot of sitting or straight legs extended in the air if your hamstrings are tight. But guess how you help lengthen your hamstrings? By performing mat. People who don't like equipment because it's too much stopping and starting probably have a hard time connecting their mind and body without distraction. But guess what helps with that? Unlocking the rhythm sections on Reformer.
So, yes, I love my two children equally. Does one get on my nerves sometimes? Do I feel more connected to another at points in my life? Certainly. But that doesn't mean I stop loving one or the other. So challenge yourself to explore new exercises on the mat, or try an equipment class. You may just find that it helps push your body in a new way help you go deeper into the work.