Pilates continues to be a favourite workout regime among many fitness enthusiasts. The practice has been around since the 1920s, when it was developed for rehabilitation. It is a time-tested and true way to increase strength, flexibility and improve joint stability, but does it burn fat?
Pilates doesn’t burn fat very effectively. The same goes for calories. While Pilates has many therapeutic benefits, it is not the best exercise for weight loss. However, it can be included in a weight loss routine as long as it is coupled with other techniques that lead to a caloric deficit.
However, the fact that Pilates has been around since the 1920s tells us there are many benefits to reap from including this form of exercise in your fitness routine. It has often been compared to yoga, as it enables more body awareness.
Keep reading to find out why Pilates isn’t the best type of exercise for burning fat, but how to incorporate it into your routine in a way that could benefit your emotional, physical and mental health.
Why Is Pilates Ineffective at Burning Fat?
Pilates is ineffective at burning fat because it is a low-impact exercise. While it has been proven effective for toning up, improving posture, and building lean muscle, it does not burn as many calories as cardio workouts such as running and swimming.
I generally don’t like having weight loss fitness goals. Weight loss is the natural consequence of a healthy and active lifestyle, if it’s your only goal you are unlikely to maintain it once achieved.
However, when someone is keen to shed a few pounds by getting rid of body fat (usually aiming to get rid of belly fat) I always explain they have a better chance of achieving this by considering a more active workout and diet plan alongside Pilates.
If you’re aiming to improve your overall physical and mental health by implementing Pilates into your routine, keep reading.
Advantages & Benefits of Pilates
You might be surprised to learn Pilates isn’t a recent trend, it has built up a devout following a full century after its initial popularization for a simple reason: it works.
There are a plethora of science-backed advantages that even its harshest critics cannot deny. Just because it’s a slow fat burner doesn’t mean it should be excluded from your fitness plan. The benefits include:
- It can be done from home.
- It helps with meditation.
- It strengthens muscles.
- It improves overall bone health.
- It improves flexibility.
- It improves posture.
- It helps with chronic back pain.
- It reduces menstrual pain.
- It improves cognitive function.
Pilates Can Be Done From Home
Pilates has regained a lot of popularity among people of all demographics throughout the forced isolation at the peak of the pandemic, when gyms and similar fitness-related establishments were shut down. Its focus on mindfulness and core activation has allowed people to maintain their healthy baselines and helped them cope with the anxiety and other mental challenges brought on by the pandemic.
No expensive equipment is needed. All you require is a mat, some space and a willingness to learn.
That’s not to say equipment is never used. Workouts can be made more challenging and varied with the introduction of balls, hand weights, resistance bands and Pilates bars.
As an advanced practitioner, I also make use of an apparatus called a reformer that utilizes springs for assistance and resistance. This helps achieve propeller muscle length and strength. The use of a reformer usually involves the help of an instructor.
Pilates Helps With Meditation
Pilates has often been compared to Yoga due to its focus on mindfulness and body awareness. Although yoga is considered the more “meditative” option, the mindfulness practised in Pilates cannot be discredited. Pilates helps you focus on the present moment, your body and your breathing. This makes it good exercise for improving concentration and coping with anxiety.
If you’d like more information on the differences between Pilates and Yoga check out this article: .
Pilates Strengthens Muscles
Pilates helps increase muscle strength and resistance. However, keep in mind that you won’t put any substantial muscle mass through a Pilates routine alone, at least not as much as you would hitting the gym.
While this might be a downside for some, the health-focused approach that Pilates offers might be an important selling point to those not looking to significantly alter the appearance of their physique.
Pilates Improves Overall Bone Health
As technology advances, lifestyles at home and work require less physical exertion. Sitting and less movement has been proven to be detrimental to bone health as they can reduce bone density. Decreased bone density leads to conditions such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, affecting anyone at any age. Pilates helps to increase bone density.
Pilates Improves Flexibility
Pilates comprises a series of exercises amalgamated from callisthenics, yoga, and ballet; it’s no wonder that it helps to lengthen and stretch all the major muscle groups, thus improving flexibility in a balanced way. While flexibility by itself isn’t functional in nature, mobility is optimized by a balance of strength and flexibility.
Pilates Improves Posture
I’ve found many people take posture for granted, paying little mind to the fact that poor posture is often the source of weak, imbalanced muscles, chronic back pain, and even headaches. One of the major focuses of Pilates is body alignment. Pilates increases awareness of this alignment and strengthens neglected postural muscles.
Pilates Helps With Chronic Back Pain
Pilates targets the abdominal muscles and pelvic floor. This can help stabilize your back by bracing and lifting all the major organs for you. As expected, this can take tremendous pressure and strain off your back, the usual culprits behind chronic back pain. Therefore, if you’re genetically predisposed to back-related issues, taking up Pilates is an especially good bet.
Pilates Reduces Menstrual Pain
Ladies will be glad to know that Pilates even has an attenuating effect on menstrual cramping, relieving pain and discomfort. A study by IOSR Journal of Dental and Medical Sciences found that Pilates reduces pain and improves the quality of life in females suffering from primary dysmenorrhea.
Pilates Improves Cognitive Function
Studies show that Pilates has been linked to improved cognitive function. Neuro markers such as neuronal development, blood flow to the brain, increased neurotransmitters, and longevity of neurons responsible for learning, memory, and executive thinking increased from their pre-pilates training baseline.
This is great news for people looking for ways to sharpen their cognition.
Studies are underway that continue to investigate the overall effect of Pilates on the body and mind. As new information emerges, we can be confident that Pilates will only be further cemented in the world of fitness despite its limited ability to affect weight loss. It is also an excellent alternative for those looking for a low-impact exercise or for those living with conditions for whom cardio is contraindicated.
How Pilates Can Help With Overall Fitness
As discussed above, the contributions of Pilates to overall fitness are undeniable and fully backed by science. After all, there is more to fitness than burning fat. Fat burning exercises do not necessarily strengthen muscles, improve posture, or increase flexibility. This is where Pilates comes in handy for achieving your fitness goals.
Planning Your Pilates Schedule To Achieve a Fitness Goal
How you plan your Pilates schedule will depend on your fitness goals. If your goal is weight loss, perhaps Pilates is better done once or bi-weekly with a cardio routine included in your plan to help burn away those calories. If your goal is to strengthen muscle, your Pilates schedule will likely look much different.
To optimize your experience with Pilates, consider your fitness goals when creating your schedule.
Once-Weekly Pilates and Its Benefits
While the odds seem stacked against gaining any real benefits with a once-weekly schedule, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Studies have shown that a single isolated 60-minute Pilates workout once a week has been shown to improve the mood of sedentary women. After ten weeks of once-weekly Pilates workouts, body awareness was also enhanced.
There was a marked increase in muscle mass, balance, flexibility, core- and abdominal muscle strength from baselines obtained pre-pilates.
Frequent Pilates Workouts and Their Benefits
Joseph Pilates, the German inventor of Pilates, recommended doing Pilates four times a week to achieve the best results. A 2020 study concluded that bi-weekly sessions of Pilates positively changed body composition.
In an earlier study conducted in 2013, it was found that test participants had greater upper and lower body strength as well as flexibility after six months of thrice-weekly Pilates sessions. Physical mobility in these study participants was greatly improved.
Creating a Pilates Workout Plan
There’s more to creating a workout plan than scheduling. Different lifestyles and fitness goals call for plans tailored specifically around your work schedule, budget, and even location. Some people enlist the expertise of fitness experts to help them come up with a fitness plan, while others come up with their own.
Here are some things you’ll want to consider when creating a Pilates workout plan:
Home vs. Studio Workouts
Home workouts are the more budget-friendly option. A good workout can be followed through instructional videos from the convenience of your living room. These instructional videos are designed to provide you with workout guidelines that will help you maximize your Pilates training without the presence of a trainer.
However, a studio workout has the added perk of a feedback loop in which your trainer can guide you on the proper form. Having a trainer present also enables you to receive guidance on creating a routine targeted to your fitness goals. A trainer can also assist you with the use of a reformer.
Mat vs. Equipment
Most Pilates exercises can be performed on a mat. However, some resistance training employs the use of other equipment, which may include a magic circle, exercise balls, fitness bands, and the reformer. Some Pilates puritans might claim that all you really need is the mat, but the additional equipment provides more resistance, which is inarguably beneficial for strength.
Different Duration of Pilates Sessions Are Beneficial
A standard Pilates session is 45 minutes long. However, shorter 10-minute workouts can still be beneficial for improving circulation and preventing muscular and mental fatigue. Beginners should start with short workouts. This helps increase compliance with the workout plan.
Incorporating Other Exercises With Pilates Optimizes Weight Loss
Pilates isn’t the fat-buster we all wish it could be, but we know by now that its fitness benefits secure its respected status in the fitness world. While it doesn’t melt the fat off the body, it is definitely worth keeping as part of a fitness plan. When coupled with calorie-burning cardio exercises, the overall benefits are exponential.
Aerobic exercises improve cardiovascular health and respiratory function and result in healthier blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Now imagine these life-extending benefits of cardio exercises coupled with Pilates’ strengthening and sculpting benefits.
Pilates & Dieting Work Hand in Hand in Maintaining Weight
As a rule of thumb, any fitness plan should involve maintaining a healthy diet. Regardless of how much working out one does, unfortunately, you can’t out-train a bad diet. Therefore, you’ll want to create a balanced meal plan that provides you with the mental and physical satisfaction you need while still keeping you at a caloric deficit. If that sounds very complicated, I recommend consulting with a registered dietitian to help you with this.
How Pilates Can Contribute to Weight Loss
At this point in the article, you know that Pilates isn’t the workout you opt for when looking exclusively to shed pounds and get rid of excess body fat. However, it still has an indirect role in enabling you to lose weight. Additionally, it can help you keep said weight off. Here are some of the ways Pilates contributes to weight loss:
- Pilates burns some calories.
- Pilates boost your metabolic rate.
- Pilates boosts tolerance for high-impact exercises.
Pilates Burns Some Calories
Calorie burn in Pilates doesn’t happen the way it does with regular runs on the treadmill or at the park. Cardio exercises burn fat primarily through calorie expenditure. Weight loss occurs when a calorie deficit is achieved. When you engage in cardio exercises, your body will tap into two of its primary fuel reserves to meet the energy demands of your activity: fats and carbs.
The carbs are typically used first. When there is a caloric deficit, your body will dip into fat reserves, burning up excess fats. Since Pilates is a low-impact exercise and requires significantly less energy, its calorie expenditure is also lower.
However, it is untrue that Pilates burns zero calories. Any activity burns calories, and as an entire body workout that requires stabilization and muscle activation you will see a change in your body shape over time.
Therefore, if you’re closer to your ideal body weight or have already achieved it, Pilates can help maintain it, especially when coupled with a nutritionally-rich diet.
Pilates Boosts Your Metabolic Rate
As Pilates improves your lean muscle mass, it also has the unintended outcome of boosting your metabolic rate. This enables your body to use up more calories even when at rest. This happens because muscle burns more calories by simply existing than fat. However, to achieve any significant muscle gain, you will need to be consistent with your pilates workouts.
Pilates Boosts Tolerance for High Impact Exercises
Pilates strengthens muscles, bones, and joints. It optimizes our range of motion by increasing flexibility. All of these factors contribute to a higher tolerance for high-impact exercises, which can help you burn calories more effectively. This increased tolerance reduces muscle and mental fatigue and enables compliance to high-impact exercise routines.
Pilates Helps You Stick to a Healthy Diet
Pilates takes commitment and discipline. A person who is consistent with their pilates workout will develop good habits of moderation and master restraint. The results of Pilates generally create a sense of well-being. This can feel quite empowering and will keep one motivated in adhering to your overall fitness plan.
Pilates Helps To Manage Stress & Anxiety
Unmanaged stress can cause weight gain due to the excess cortisol that is present in the system when you’re experiencing this type of tension. Pilates reduces stress by boosting your mood and giving you an overall sense of well-being. This helps regulate stress hormones and consequent reactions to the stress, such as stress or binge eating, which contribute to weight gain.
How To Get Started With Pilates
If you’re interested in starting Pilates, there are a few things you will need to consider before making the commitment. Like any fitness program, it begins with a decision–not a whim. A decision. You can only make an informed decision if you do your due diligence and research the program.
Here are some guidelines you’ll want to consider before joining the pilates tribe:
- Do your research. Find out all you can about Pilates and decide how it fits your lifestyle and other commitments.
- Decide what your fitness goals are. Your approach to Pilates should depend on your fitness goals.
- Make sure those goals are realistic. One of the fastest ways to fall off the wagon is to rush into something with big goals and be discouraged when you don’t get the results you hoped for.
- Start small. Don’t go into the program swinging hard. You will wear yourself out. Remember, I previously mentioned that 10-minute periods of Pilates already have their benefits. One step at a time.
- Talk to someone who has tried out the program. Either talk to a trainer or speak to a friend who may have some wisdom to impart regarding Pilates and fitness.
While Pilates does not compare to cardio exercises when it comes to fat-busting and shedding pounds, it cannot be ruled out as one of the most effective fitness forms owing to its impressive list of therapeutic and preventative benefits.
As I’ve mentioned, there is more to fitness than weight loss, and Pilates is an excellent tool to improve your overall well-being. However, when combined with the proper cardio workout and a healthy diet, Pilates can be an excellent approach to weight loss too.
- Martha Stewart: What Is Pilates?
- Cleveland Clinic: Everything You Want To Know About Pilates
- WebMD: Pilates: What It Is, Benefits & More
- Very Well Fit: Will Pilates Help You Lose Weight?
- Healthline: Pilates for Weightloss: Does It Work?
- Healthline: 19 Pilates Benefits Backed by Science
- Quick and Dirty Tips:5 Pilates Myths Busted!
- NBC News: Reformer Pilates: What it is, who it’s best for and how to do some moves without the reformer
- Effectiveness of Pilates over conventional physiotherapeutic treatment in females with primary dysmenorrhea
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Effect of Pilates Training on Cognitive Functions in Patients With Stroke – Full Text View
- Research Gate: Physical and psychological benefits of once-a-week Pilates exercises in young sedentary women: A 10-week longitudinal study | Request PDF