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Pilates mat classes can be just as challenging as working on machines.
All Pilates exercises are designed to lengthen and strengthen whether they are performed on a mat or machine. Many are enticed by the bells and whistles offered by machines and the steeper price tag per class may give some the illusion that machine-based classes are superior. However, foundation exercises transfer seamlessly from machines to mat and many variations can be easily applied to both the mat and machine. All Pilates exercises focus on concentration, control and centering. So, there really is no one best piece of equipment.
Taking It to the Mat
Some feel it is better to learn Pilates on the mat first before attempting machines since there is a higher learning curve with machines. Others believe that as long as machine-based classes are designed for beginners and the instructor is qualified, it makes little difference how you start. Pilates on a mat may be even more challenging, because the machines offer a certain degree of assistance when it comes to positioning, and machine exercises can be more easily modified to suit the level of the participant.
Mat classes are often better suited in a group setting, allowing for more participants and a less expensive class rate. Many gyms offer Pilates mat classes as part of their membership whereas machine-based classes usually require an extra monetary commitment.
Reforming Your Body
The Reformer is the most well-known of the Pilates machines. It consists of a sliding carriage atop a stable base with springs of varying resistance that can be manipulated to suit different exercises. Instructors typically cue beginners on spring recommendations and modify accordingly. A Reformer can sit low on the ground or legs can be added to increase its height, making it easier for some to get on and off the carriage. Two removable shoulder rests sit at the top of the carriage and an adjustable foot bar is located at the base. Hand and foot loops are attached to pulleys at the back end of the machine.
Though the Tower may be purchased as a stand-alone piece connected to the wall and floor, many studios and gyms will use it in conjunction with the Reformer. It consists of a push-through bar, a roll-down bar and arm and leg springs. The mat at the base of the tower can be used alone for traditional mat classes. Towers fitted onto the back end of a Reformer offer many of the same characteristics of a Cadillac minus the full trapeze. A padded table can be fitted over the Reformer's parked carriage to provide a stable surface. Owning these two pieces maximizes a studio or gym's potential and may eliminate the need to purchase a Cadillac.
The Cadillac of All Equipment
The most expensive of all the machines, the Cadillac stands about 6 feet tall and resembles a four-poster bed frame with a canopy attached to a large padded table equipped with springs, straps, pulleys and swing bars. The original design is based on Joseph Pilates's rehabilitative use of hospital bed springs attached to a wall. The Cadillac is a very versatile piece that is mainly used in rehabilitative and private sessions and is rarely in group settings due to its size and cost.