Pilates involves low-impact exercises and small movements that target the core. Here’s how exercise can help you slim down.
What is Pilates?
As diligent as practitioners praise Pilates, casual exercisers approach it with a degree of skepticism. Isn’t it a lot of core work?they think. All that body-mind stuff sounds complicated. And what the hell kind of machine is that?!
If that sounds like you, you might be missing out on a great workout.
The practice, which was founded by Joseph Pilates and brought to the United States in the 1920s, does indeed focus on the core as your center of movement.
But it’s also all about small movements and low-impact exercises that will test your flexibility and range of motion.
Pilates moves build and rely on strength, endurance, stability, and a mind-body connection, says Enja Schenck, a New York City-based Pilates teacher and instructor of exercise science at Lehman College.
Pilates takes a conscious approach to training the whole body and it helps you to know where your body is in space.
The moves are usually done on a mat or a machine called a reformer. Today, you can find Pilates in physical therapy practices as well as boutique studio classes.
“It’s really everywhere now,” says Schenck. “It bridges the gap between fitness and yoga.”
Given the many movements involved in a Pilates workout, many people wonder if the exercise can help with weight loss. The answer is complicated.
Will Pilates Help Me Lose Weight?
The short answer: maybe.
Weight loss comes down to calories in versus calories out. So exercise isn’t the only part of a weight loss program. “If you want to lose weight, the most important thing is that you are in a calorie deficit,” says Schenck.
If weight loss is your ultimate goal (as opposed to, say, some exercise), you need to watch your diet. That means focusing on the number of calories you take in to make sure you don’t take in more than you expend during physical activity.
The amount of calories you lose with Pilates depends on several variables, including your weight, how difficult your Pilates class is, and whether you use a mat or reformer.
According to a study of 15 healthy women sponsored by the American Council on Exercise, a 150-pound person can burn 175 calories in a 50-minute beginner Pilates mat class, compared to 254 calories in a 50-minute advanced mat class.
(This is the number of calories burned in fitness classes.)
Overall, the research on Pilates for weight loss is somewhat unclear.
On the one hand, a recent meta-analysis was published in Limits in physiology found that overweight or obese people reduced their body weight, body mass index, and body fat percentage through Pilates.
On the other hand, the researchers noted that more randomized controlled trials are needed to solidly support this.
A meta-analysis has now been published in 2020 in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that Pilates did not reduce body composition any more than other forms of exercise or control groups.
The good news is that there are no downsides to trying Pilates for weight loss, as long as your doctor says it’s okay. Even if it’s not a massive calorie-burning activity, it can help your weight loss goals in less direct ways. Read on to find out how.
Pilates can help you maintain a consistent routine
The reason you want to find a workout you love? The more you move, the more calories you burn. So you want to do an exercise that will keep you coming back for more. Pilates is one of the best workouts for people who hate exercise.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity five days a week and muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week. “When you have to move that much, you want to do something you enjoy, especially if it helps you reach your goals,” says Schenck.
When you first start an exercise routine, find out what you enjoy (that will help you stick to it) and consider what’s achievable, says Nandini Collins, a certified personal trainer and senior health coach manager with the weight loss app Call .
“In terms of doable, ask yourself what can be done within your financial, space, and physical constraints,” she says.
If Pilates wins in all three areas, make it a regular practice.
You can opt for quick lessons
While Schenck suggests other more intense forms of exercise for those looking to lose weight, she also says that if you like Pilates, you should stick to it.
After all, a less intense workout that you actually do has better health benefits than a more intense workout that you skip 99 percent of the time.
If you can, she says, opt for more rigorous Pilates classes, which increase calorie burn and help with that calorie deficit.
Collins agrees, suggesting that people looking to lose weight look for Pilates classes that also include elements of high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
“This combination maximizes calorie burn through cardio, as well as the fat-burning efficiency achieved by strengthening muscles through Pilates,” she says.
Pilates is a good option for those who need low-impact exercise
Pilates can be particularly beneficial for anyone with injuries, Collins says.
The low-impact approach makes it less jarring to the muscles and joints than other cardio exercises. The practice can be a particularly good choice for those with back pain.
If certain health conditions or injuries have made it difficult for you to find an exercise routine that works, talk to your doctor about Pilates.
It can be a good way to get active again. And that can help you burn more calories.
It can help you build lean muscle mass
Like strength training, Pilates helps you build muscle. And understand this: If you build more muscle, you can burn more calories at rest.
At least one small study, published in the West Indian Medical Journal, supports the idea that Pilates helps build muscle. Researchers assigned a group of sedentary women ages 60 and older to an eight-week Pilates program or a control group.
The women in the Pilates group increased their lean muscle mass and reduced body fat.
“When you have more muscle mass, your metabolism increases, which means you automatically send out more calories,” says Schenck. A boosted metabolism is a great way to support your weight loss goals.
It can help you deal with stress
“If not managed properly, stress can increase cortisol levels in the body and hinder weight loss efforts,” Collins says.
While more research is needed to clarify the specific effects of Pilates on stress, a 2018 study in: Complementary Therapies in Medicine suggests it may relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression, reduce feelings of fatigue, and boost energy.
So not only can you benefit the mind with the stress-relieving effects of a Pilates workout, but you can also see mental and physical health benefits.
(Try these online fitness classes to relax.)
You will not be bored
In a Pilates class, you usually perform 10 reps of one exercise and then move on to the next. If you’re constantly moving your body in space, you’ll rarely get bored, says Schenck.
Plus, the options for exercises are limitless, so you’ll rarely take a class with the same order. These are additional reasons why Pilates can draw you back for more.
(For inspiration, here are some weight loss before and after photos.)
So, should you try Pilates to lose weight?
Extra-heavy workouts are effective, but they can give you a break when it’s time to train again. However, Pilates can be fun and keep you busy – which is great.
To stay consistent with your workouts, it’s important to move in a way that feels good and you enjoy that will keep you coming back for more.
Pilates is safe for most people (but if you have any medical conditions, ask your doctor for approval).
Schenck suggests that if you want to lose weight, do a combination of cardio, strength training, and Pilates. That gives you a strong base of exercise and a way to boost your calorie burn.
While scientists need to do more research on Pilates’ direct effect on weight loss, if it works for you and feels good for your body, keep taking those classes.
And if you want to try it out, try apps like Peloton or Alo Moves, or opt for a local studio like Club Pilates.
Then this is the best workout to do at any age.