Some people swear by their regular mat Pilates workout, while others are committed to the Reformer. Both provide benefits in terms of greater flexibility, improved body awareness and enhanced core strength.
Mat Pilates uses, obviously, a mat and your own body to perform seated and reclined exercises that challenge the entirety of your core, the area from your hips to your shoulders. The Reformer resembles a bed frame, equipped with cables, springs and a sliding carriage to perform many of the moves you do on a mat, and so much more. Both have value, but differ in execution.
Traditional mat Pilates consists of about 50 exercises, while you can do more than 250 on the Reformer. This greater variety with the Reformer means your workout isn't as likely to get stale.
You'll find it easier to progress through various levels of difficulty on the Reformer as opposed to the mat. Adjust the springs on the machine to make moves easier or harder, according to your fitness level. Bars and straps also support you to varying levels, so use them to reduce or increase intensity, depending on the exercise and your position. On the mat, you're limited by your body's position and limb length.
The pulleys, bars and springs on a Reformer means you work against resistance and gain faster results. You'll exercise from a seated and reclined position as you do with mat work, but also do more exercises from a kneeling and standing position.
Portability and Expense
A mat Pilates workout is doable just about anywhere you have enough room to lay out your mat. A Reformer workout requires the machine, which takes up quite a bit of space and isn't especially portable.
You're also more likely to need guidance from a certified Pilates instructor to learn how to properly use the Reformer. While you'd benefit from expert guidance on the mat, you can do workouts using a video or online streaming. Mat Pilates also lends itself more readily to a class environment; a small group or one-on-one training is best for the Reformer. The more individualized attention and equipment required for the Reformer means a higher price tag for comprehensive training.
Mat Pilates cues you to extend, hinge, twist and support from the right places, but it's up to you to execute the moves properly. If you're especially tight or lacking body awareness, a Reformer helps you really feel where you should be in space for each movement. The pulleys keep your limbs on track, and the springs add resistance.