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The Synergy of Mat and Apparatus Work in Pilates: A Holistic Approach

The mat's away, but the benefits stay: That's the Pilates way
Rolling up the mat, but never rolling back on progress

It's fascinating how many people compartmentalise their Pilates practice, focusing solely on mat work or apparatus work. Some even have a preference for one over the other, as if they are mutually exclusive. However, to me, the essence of Pilates lies in the synergy between the two.

The Whole System Approach Joseph Pilates designed his equipment with a specific purpose: to train your body to perform mat work more effectively. Contrary to popular belief, apparatus work isn't necessarily more challenging than mat work. In fact, it can often be easier because the springs and ropes assist you. The apparatus and mat work are two sides of the same coin, designed to complement each other in a holistic fitness regimen.

The Challenge of "Naked Pilates" When it comes to mat work, or what I like to call "naked Pilates," the challenge is real. With no apparatus to assist you, it's just you and the mat. This requires a greater level of body awareness and control, making it a more challenging practice for many.

Learning from the Apparatus The apparatus can teach us a lot about our bodies. For instance, if there's a movement you particularly enjoy on the apparatus, it's likely something your body needs. Conversely, if there's a movement you find difficult or uncomfortable, that's an area you need to focus on.

The Value of a Comprehensive Repertoire. As a Pilates teacher, even if you specialise in one area, understanding both mat and apparatus work enriches your teaching repertoire. Exercises like the Mermaid and the four point swimming which again are reformer exercise can be adapted for mat work, offering your students a broader range of movements to explore. Once your class is familiar with the foundational 34 movements, you can introduce apparatus-based exercises, thereby deepening their understanding and appreciation of Pilates as a whole system.

Keeping an Open Mind Life isn't black and white, and neither should your Pilates practice be. There may be times when the Reformer is what you need, and other times when the mat is your best option. The key is to remain open to new experiences and to view Pilates as a comprehensive system that offers a wealth of benefits for both the mind and body. So, whether you're a fan of mat work, love your time on the Reformer, or enjoy a balanced mix of both, remember that each has its unique value. Embrace the full spectrum of Pilates, and you'll find your practice—and your teaching—will be all the richer for it. Stay open, and keep your body ready for new experiences.

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Jennifer Grumbley
Jennifer Grumbley
Oct 26, 2023

Matwork and Machines - until very recently I have not had Pilates machines anywhere near me, and have had to rely on a gym to find the added resistance required. Despite an exemplary life from the bone health point of view, I still was diagnosed with borderline osteoporosis at 73. And boy, are gyms ever stuck in the past! They haven’t changed in the 50 years I’ve been using them, yet outside the gym, exercise systems keep reinventing themselves. They can re-invent themselves any way they like, as long as people exercise, but they would all benefit from a Pilates input! To me Pilates informs all movement, which will keep you going throughout life, if basic Pilates principles are foll…

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