Can Pilates Give You Abs?

The abs are already there, inside your body. Tons of videos, articles, and instructors promise to tell you the magic form of exercise that will give you the desired abs. But can Pilates help you to have the elusive six-pack?

Pilates alone will not give you abs. Pilates strengthens breathing muscles, muscles that support joints, postural muscles, including abdominal muscles. Pilates instructors may focus on arms, legs, and abs, while each class intends to help you feel balanced, longer, and stronger.

Pilates And Abs: Where Did The Confusion Start?

Where It All Started

In the 1920s, when Joseph Pilates created Pilates, he was way ahead of the times in the world of physical fitness. The dancers, athletes appreciated his methods and also the patients he worked with but the general public needed a lot more time to embrace his teachings.

Finally, fifty years after his death, the Pilates method gained the respect, and momentum, Joseph wanted to witness during his lifetime and Pilates exercises can be easily practised by people of any fitness level.

Abs: Not Pilates Main Focus

As Pilates has become more popular we’ve come to desire unrealistic bodies with 6-pack abs and not a bit of cellulite.

Since Pilates targets core strength, the media can easily sell it as having benefits of losing belly fat and gaining flat abs.

This type of marketing is misleading, and it reduces the complexity and beauty of the Pilates method, which isn’t a specific weight loss program but rather an ongoing lifestyle choice to maintaining a healthy, flexible, body.

We all want to improve our bodies, however a flat stomach does not mean we have reached the peak of our healthiest version, the way our culture makes it out to be.

Remember, being “skinny” doesn’t necessarily mean you are healthy. Likewise, not being “skinny” doesn’t necessarily mean you are unhealthy.

Wellness and health don’t have one specific definition. These terms look different for every person and depend on lifestyle, environment, genetics, and plenty of other factors. As a true sign of physical fitness, it is healthier – and far more attainable – to aim towards overall balance; instead of aiming for a flat stomach. 

In his book, Return to Life Through ContrologyOpens in a new tab., Joseph wrote:

“Our bodies are slumped, our shoulders are stooped, our eyes are hollow, our muscles are flabby, and our vitality extremely lowered, if not vanished. That is but the natural result of not having uniformly developed all the muscles of our spine, trunk, arms, and legs.”

Joseph Pilates

Instead of using the words’ core’ or ‘abs,’ Joseph uses the word ‘trunk,’ focusing on the entire area instead of just the abs. So on top of strengthening breathing muscles, postural muscles, abdominal muscles, and muscles that support joints, it strengthens everything with balance and moderation, which is more important. Suppose you wish to follow the original series of Joseph’s mat exercises. You’ll feel it on your abdominal wall, but it won’t be the only thing you feel.

Why Doesn’t Pilates Guarantee Abs?

Let’s look at these four explanations of why Pilates won’t give you abs.

Explanation Number One:
Pilates Is Not About Aesthetics. It’s About Performance

Imagine it’s your first Pilates session and you turn up with the goal of developing a full-on six-pack. That might be your goal, but the goal of a Pilates instructor is to educate and promote better posture, balance, flexibility and in some cases reduce back pain, get your glutes on fire and generally sort you out.

The goal of instructors is to help you build a strong core and good range of motion. The “six-pack” perceived aesthetic benefit is not on one of their priorities. That is because Pilates is way too powerful to focus only on that goal alone.

Pilates is about your performance. So, you may see the aesthetic changes as a great side effect. However, once you start practising Pilates, you will notice your goals switch. You will soon start changing to what you can do to be the most functional version of yourself. And it is one of the reasons why people love Pilates so much. As a measure of our success, focus on performance, not the visibility of your abs.

Explanation Number Two:
Pilates Cannot Alter Your Genetics

It’s hard to hear, but some people that are six-pack owners are just lucky enough to have those types of genes. Even with very little exercise, some people have abs, and others train for years and still don’t see any results. It’s just lucky genes! And unfortunately, genes cannot be altered either by Pilates or any other type of training. Another major factor contributing to abs is very low body fat because our abdominals lay below subcutaneous fat.

Pilates focuses on how you can use the body you already have. For example, the reason why you suffer from scoliosis, backache, or joint pain might be because of your genetics. Pilates instructors work with you to help reduce the effect of any negative genetics traits, which will make you the best and strongest version of yourself. We can’t stress enough that these are more attainable and healthier goals.

Explanation Number Three:
Pilates Will Not Correct Poor Lifestyle Choices

There are plenty of studies that show diets don’t work in the long term but can lead to eating disorders and negatively impact your health.

Another misconception is that your weight and body composition are the responsibility of diet alone. As we already discussed, a very low level of body fat is required to create a six-pack.

Aside from genetics, different lifestyle choices can impact our body shape, such as stress levels, amount – and quality – of sleep, and hormones.  Pilates cannot fix these, and neither will any exercise program. Instead, these issues need to be solved as part of a holistic wellness plan.

Nevertheless, Pilates can help you create a better connection between your body and your mind. This means you can develop a better relationship with how your body moves, works and becomes more aware and mindful of your exercise practices.

So what does this mean? It means that you can think of nothing other than what you are doing with your body for the hour you are practising Pilates at that moment. There’s no thinking about that email you received, the mail you forgot, or what you are having for dinner when you get home.

As a result, you get to worry less, sleep better, and maybe even reduce your stress (cortisol) levels. All these will help you build a healthier mind and body.

Explanation Number Four:
Pilates Is Not Considered To Be A Cardiovascular Workout

You usually need to do cardiovascular exercise if you are trying to reduce body fat. This type of exercise impacts both subcutaneous and visceral fat.

Pilates cares about visceral fat because it’s related to your physical health, such as chronic heart disease and diabetes. However, the type of exercise that gets the heart pumping faster and gets us out of breath it’s cardiovascular exercise. And Pilates is not cardiovascular.

Pilates is mainly strength-based and only hybrids that will create a cardiovascular effect. Therefore, to reduce your body fat, you would have to do a lot of Pilates. However, reduced stress, an active lifestyle, a healthy diet, and lots of sleep would also have a combined effect to boost healthy body fat levels.

The great thing about Pilates is that it builds endurance and strength while building flexibility as well. By adding some cardiovascular exercise, it can create the entire strength component of your training.


Pilates — and health altogether — is not about being as thin as possible or having flat stomachs. It’s mainly about the desire to have more flexibility, strength, and overall balance in your entire body.

When you choose Pilates, do it because you want to feel the healthiest and strongest you have ever felt. Choose performance over aesthetics.

So, that myth that Pilates is only for abs, it is that, just a myth.

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Donna Finnie

Donna loves to share her passion for Pilates with others. She is a fully qualified instructor who believes Pilates is for everyone, regardless of age, as it can truly help to increase strength, flexibility mobility and athletic performance.

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