Mat vs Tower Class | Is One Better than the Other?
Often students ask the question “What is better, mat or tower?”. Another question is “Which is harder, mat or tower?”. They are different. One is not better than the other.
As history states, Joseph Pilates first created the mat series. Recognizing that the work was difficult and to help his students with his work, he created the Pilates apparatus. The apparatus was created to do some of the work for you. The Pilates apparatus helps you find your muscles, helps to give you awareness and teaches you how to use your body so you can do the mat work more efficiently. Joseph Pilates called his method of body conditioning, Contrology. He worked with students one on one for a few sessions and then they were left on their own. He had charts all over his studio with pictures of the exercises and clients would follow the charts if they forgot what came next. Of course there were teachers there, and some students worked privately, but it was very much like a gym. They would come into the studio as if it were a gym and do their series that he taught them. He would teach his students new things when he felt they were ready.
As far as I know the only place Joseph Pilates taught mat classes was at Jacob’s Pillow, a summer dance festival held every summer in the Berkshires, Massachusetts.
Joseph Pilates did not create the Studio Wall Unit, aka. Tower unit, which has nearly all the same capabilities as a Cadillac. He did not teach “group classes” on this apparatus neither did my mentor Romana Kryzanowska. It is true that a student learns better in a one on one situation, but that format is not available for everyone wanting to study Pilates. A group class offers an affordable option. I do recommend all clients to take private sessions when ever possible. It is important to check in with an instructor on their progress and to have all the attention focused on them.
In my opinion the mat work is the most challenging series of the Pilates Method. You do not have any assistance. It is just you and the mat. The mat work flows from one exercise to the next, often with transitions that are like exercises themselves. When practiced in a classical way, a mat workout is truly that, a workout. You should feel as though every muscle in your body has been worked. You will perform exercises laying down, sitting, laying on your side, kneeling and standing. Joseph Pilates put the exercises in a particular order for a reason. They warm your body up in such a way that you are ready for the next exercise. Learning the names of the exercises and the order of them is very important. Challenge yourself to learn what each exercise is and see if you remember the movement when it is called out in class.
I often hear that students do not feel “challenged” in a mat class. There are so many things to focus on in a Pilates session or class. The principles of Pilates are very important. If you focus on even just one principle the whole class, you’ll see the difference. Once you have that down, then try to focus on 2 or 3. I will blog on the Pilates Principles in the future.
If you are really focused in on everything that is going on in each exercise, it is really difficult. I love taking a basic mat class. It is my favorite. I also hear from people who used to do Pilates that they got “bored”. It could be that people get “bored” in a mat class because there are no fun springs or straps to focus on. To focus on your body is difficult. People are looking for a distraction. I find Pilates so fascinating that it is fun for me to focus on all the different parts of my body. In the beginning the focus is just on the Powerhouse. After you have that focus secured you may focus on the shoulders, breath, legs, arms etc. but all of the movement comes back to the Powerhouse. Without it, you are NOT doing Pilates.
A tower class is different from a mat class. At The Pilates Movement we teach tower classes that will often begin with a little bit of mat work, and then work into using the tower unit. The Cadillac exercises (the exercises we do on the Cadillac and tower unit) were created as something that you give to clients depending on what their body needs. If I am teaching a private session I will only give the Cadillac exercises that their body needs on that particular day. I pick and choose which ones to do, and rarely give every single Cadillac exercise in a private session. I may do 3-5 of them and then move on to another piece of equipment. In a tower class, you loose a lot of the flow from one exercise to the next because you have to stop to set up the equipment. The exercises were not created in any particular order and you can do them in any order you choose. I find a lot of clients like tower classes because you are using the equipment and it is easier to understand and to “feel” what is working when you are pushing into a spring or holding onto a wood bar.
The exercises in a tower class will strengthen and stretch your muscles, but realistically so do all Pilates exercises. We often end tower classes with hamstring and lower back stretches. You may not be sore but that is okay. Pilates was not created for you to be so sore that you can not exercise or even walk the next day. You may be sore, but it’s not the “goal” in Pilates.
Tower classes help you understand your body, how it stretches and moves with the aid of the tower unit, but it is very important to test what you have learned by taking a mat class. The recommendation is to take a combination of both mat and tower classes as well as privates whenever possible.