Side view of male and female athletes in sportswear and with eyes closed while lying on Pilates benches in gym and doing hip circle Pilates exercise in class
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Is Pilates good for weight loss?

January 17, 2024
9 minutes
Lifestyle Health & Wellness
Workout tips

No matter where you are on your health journey, consistent physical exercise and activity is a critical part of losing weight and improving your general health.

Finding an exercise class that meets you where you are can be daunting. Walking into a class is intimidating, especially if you’re new to fitness or getting back into a regular routine.

Are you on the hunt for a low-impact workout that you can perform consistently? Pilates is an effective workout for beginners, long-time athletes, and everyone in between. The exercises done in Pilates are challenging for the muscles but easy on the body as a whole.

If you’re working on losing weight, Pilates is an excellent tool to add to your fitness routine. This post highlights the benefits of Pilates for weight loss and general health, types of Pilates to try, and much more.

We’ll help you set realistic expectations about what this popular form of exercise can bring to your life, so you can enjoy the movement and health benefits it provides.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a form of exercise originally developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates.

This muscle-building and body-conditioning exercise consists of small, technical movements that improve muscle tone and core stability. The movements in Pilates are designed to lengthen and sculpt muscles for a stronger body.

As a low-impact exercise, Pilates focuses on strength, mobility, and alignment within the body. The primary muscle at play here is the core; Pilates focuses primarily on strengthening and stabilizing the core and then training other muscles in the process.

How Pilates Works

Pilates is performed on an exercise mat on the floor or through the use of an apparatus called the Reformer. Designed to target posture, balance, and flexibility, seven general types of Pilates are taught and performed.

Pilates participants experience a full-body workout via around 50 repetitive exercises designed to increase muscle strength. At first, these movements won’t seem that difficult, but as the class continues, they may become very challenging as your muscles become tired.

If you’re new to Pilates, don’t stress. Most instructors provide modifications to each exercise should you need them at any point.

Is Pilates good for weight loss?

There’s a certain stigma that when exercising for weight loss, a person has to be out of breath and dripping with sweat. This is nowhere near true or accurate. Take walking, for example.

Consistent walking is widely embraced as an effective form of exercise that contributes to weight loss. Walking promotes a faster metabolism, burns calories, and improves cardiovascular health; all of these help with healthy weight loss. While you may not work up a sweat on a brisk walk, your body is working hard.

The same goes for Pilates. Pilates is a stellar example of a highly effective weight loss exercise that won’t result in you panting or sweating. Because it’s a low impact exercise, Pilates puts less stress on the joints and muscles, making it a great introductory exercise for those new to working out.

Pilates for weight loss is highly recommended if you have limited mobility or are new to this type of exercise because it’s not a highly intensive workout. Make no mistake - you will be sore later, but soreness is normal.

For weight loss, in particular, Pilates is gaining in popularity. While you won’t burn hundreds of calories during a class, Pilates can help you lose weight through the following:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Improved body function
  • Building lean muscle (which helps burn fat)

This 2021 study revealed that for adults with obesity or who are overweight, Pilates significantly decreases body weight, BMI (body mass index), and body fat percentage.

Weight loss comes with its own complications, and navigating the number on the scale is one of the most significant for so many. However, it’s crucial to remember that while losing weight may be your goal, you will also gain lean muscle from Pilates.

While the number on the scale may not drop in the way you expect, you’ll start to notice muscles you didn’t have before, and then you’ll build on those with muscle definition and sculpting.

In time, Pilates will help you create your own vision of what your body should look like rather than focusing on the numbers on the scale.

So, does Pilates help you lose weight? When paired with healthy eating and cardiovascular exercise, Pilates can absolutely contribute to weight loss.

Can you lose weight doing Pilates everyday? Yes! While Pilates is considered low-impact, every form of exercise should be done in moderation. If you’re just starting, try doing Pilates three days a week. You can add more Pilates workouts to your daily routine as you build strength and endurance.

Benefits of Pilates Beyond Weight Loss

When paired with other forms of exercise and lifestyle changes, Pilates can significantly impact your health journey, no matter where you’re at right now. Aside from weight loss, here are a few of the impressive benefits of Pilates.

Improve Muscle Tone

The core muscles consist of the abdominals, lower back, and hip muscles and are emphasized in a Pilates class. After consistent practice, participants notice significant toning and strength in the abdominal area and other muscles in the body, including the glutes, inner thigh muscles, and upper back.

Increase Flexibility

While Pilates movements work to strengthen muscles, they also mobilize the joints and improve muscle flexibility. As your body builds strength, stretching and activating the muscles in this stretched state promotes flexibility. Your muscles will slowly but surely warm up early in a class, and as they do, they become actively engaged, so you can stretch further.

Boost Stability & Endurance

Performing more reps at a lower weight is Pilates' bread and butter, and this action slowly builds muscular endurance. Some classes and instructors will add resistance training to their classes, which adds to the endurance you’re building on.

Promote Healing

Many Pilates participants use the exercise as a form of healing and recovery. Because it’s both low-impact and weight-bearing exercises, Pilates is ideal for those working through injuries and improving joint mobility and control. The exercises don’t cause any stress or tension to the body, allowing muscle groups to heal and strengthen.

Improve Posture

As you better align and strengthen your core in regular Pilates classes, your posture will naturally improve. Sitting correctly at a desk all day takes concentration and effort, but with strengthened core muscles, you’ll sit taller and potentially experience less back pain or fatigue from sitting or driving.

Manage Stress

While nearly every form of exercise helps to decrease stress, Pilates takes it a step further. The practice is designed to improve the mind and body connection and increase mindfulness in every participant. You’ll learn to focus on the current moment rather than stress about your to-do list and gain clarity for the day-to-day.

Improve Sleep

As you learn to relax and center yourself in Pilates, your sleep habits may also improve. This is likely because Pilates relaxes the body and the mind, promoting longer and better sleep.

Performing specific exercises at night, like Pilates, can help the mind wind down and relax the body. Low-impact movements release tension, help us relax, and re-center the body for sleep.

Increase Energy

Aside from physical movement, Pilates heavily emphasizes breath control and the mind-to-body connection. As you learn to control your breath, your body’s circulation and lung capacity will improve. Deep breathing can also stimulate the spine and your core muscles, increasing your overall energy level.

Convenient Form of Exercise

Pilates is a fantastic workout you can complete at home if you’re busy and getting to the gym is out of the question some days.

All you need is a mat, some space on the floor, and a positive attitude to get your workout done. At-home workouts are great for parents, those who travel often, or people who prefer to avoid the gym or classes – you can definitely enjoy Pilates at home.

Realistic Expectations: What Pilates Can and Can't Do

If you have high hopes for Pilates and what it can bring to your healthy lifestyle, we highly recommend jumping in and getting started! Half the challenge of exercise is finding the motivation to work out and sticking to a routine that works for you.

Consistent Pilates practice can help with weight loss, muscle strength and definition, and various other health benefits. However, some unrealistic expectations about Pilates need to be debunked. These include the following:

1. Pilates alone will achieve your weight loss goals

No weight loss plan recommends one single action to meet an individual’s goals. A combination of diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes gets the job done. Anyone who says all you need to do to lose weight is perform Pilates daily is incorrect. It can certainly aid in the process, but it’s not a magic tool (unfortunately!).

2. Pilates will give you a 6-pack

While core strength and stability are at the foundation of Pilates, few participants see quickly-toned abdominal muscles after taking Pilates classes. Many see muscle definition in time, but Pilates focuses on strengthening the core muscles to improve your overall stability, flexibility, and posture. Building a 6-pack takes proper nutrition, burning belly fat, and consistent core workouts. Pilates can help you get to that point, but your diet will be the most significant factor in achieving those toned abdominal muscles.

3. Pilates is not a cardio workout

Taking a Pilates class is not the same as going for a long run or walking. You won’t challenge your cardiovascular system as much as you would while performing aerobic exercise.

Types of Pilates to Try

One of the best things about Pilates is how versatile it is for any health journey. There are seven types of Pilates you can try, and most of them can be performed at home or in the gym if you don’t have access to a class.

Mat Pilates

This is the most popular and accessible form of Pilates, as all you’ll need is a mat and floor space to complete the workout. You’ll use your body weight for resistance, but some choose to add light weights or resistance bands to make it more challenging.

Reformer Pilates

The Reformer is an apparatus that is controlled by springs to target specific muscle groups and add resistance to movements. The Reformer is increasing in popularity for Pilates classes and many prefer it to classic mat Pilates.

Megaformer Pilates

The Megaformer is an advanced version of the Reformer with additional attachments and features for more advanced Pilates movements. The Megaformer focuses on high-intensity exercises while the Reformer utilizes low-impact movements.

Hot Pilates

Similar to hot yoga, hot Pilates is a great way to increase the intensity of your workout and get your sweat on by adding heat. These classes are a bit different from classic Pilates because they work to get the heart rate up, heating up the muscles faster, and improving flexibility.

Clinical Pilates

This form of Pilates focuses on body alignment and core strength. It’s ideal for people of all ages and fitness levels because of its low-impact nature. Clinical Pilates improves coordination, balance, and flexibility while enhancing overall physical health.

Classical Pilates

Classical Pilates follows Joseph Pilates’ original teachings, involving six principles that help to center the body and mind. Participants will focus on core strength, alignment of the spine, and joint mobility.

Contemporary Pilates

This modernized form of Pilates leverages traditional Pilates movements with treatments from physical therapists who utilize Pilates for their patient’s recovery. Participants will focus on breathwork and relaxation techniques during this practice.

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