Is Pilates really exercise?

When you think of exercise, you often think of fast movements such as running, cycling, a gym session or team sports.  Workouts that get your heart racing and sweat pouring.  Does Pilates count as exercise?

Yes, Pilates is considered exercise because it is a physical activity that can make your body stronger and healthier.

I find it curious people have a perception that Pilates is somehow ‘easy’ or not ‘real exercise’.  I offer clients a discounted price for booking a block of classes and recently had a client who just wanted to pay per class, his reasoning being that he’d been told to try Pilates but didn’t expect to do more than 1 class because it wouldn’t be that challenging.

After a few weeks of regular sessions, the client changed his mind about Pilates and has now done his wallet a favour by locking in a discounted price!

Let’s take a closer look at how the challenge of Pilates changes peoples perception of it not being ‘proper exercise’.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a form of exercise that focuses on core stability and lengthening the spine. Pilates emphasizes body posture, alignment, breathing techniques and fluid movements to achieve improved core strength and balance.

Developed in the early 20th Century by Joseph Pilates, it was originally called Contrology and was a unique exercise system because it includes stretching, strengthening and balancing exercises that are typically done on a floor mat.

Pilates’ workouts can be done by people of differing fitness levels, and they can last as little as 5 minutes or as long as a couple of hours, it is, if you’ll pardon the pun, a very flexible exercise program. 

While other forms of exercise rely on external equipment, Pilates can be done with just a mat and your own body weight. 

Mat Pilates

The use of own body weight means new practitioners will notice an increase in muscle strength, giving you a nice toned figure in the long run.  Don’t worry, you won’t end up with huge bulging muscles, this isn’t weight training!  

If you’re new to Pilates I strongly recommend attending a professional Pilates class, this will allow you to learn how to correctly do Pilates exercises without causing any injury. 

A workout is typically made up of a series of movements designed to use your own body weight to improve your core strength (the ability to maintain balance, especially important while performing exercises such as push ups, pull ups, squats, lunges, etc.) and increase muscle tone.

But does Pilates count as exercise?

Some people might say no because it’s not running or lifting weights. They’d be wrong!

The Cambridge definition of exercise is:

physical activity that you do to make your body strong and healthy

While some might not consider Pilates a traditional exercise, Pilates does count as exercise as it is a very physical activity that helps improve both your physical strength and mental wellbeing.  I bet you can think of other low-impact workouts and activities that would also be considered exercise, for example, a gentle walk or gardening.

As I discuss in a recent blog post, while Pilates can help improve muscular strength, it isn’t as effective at building muscles as weight lifting (see: Is Pilates strength training?), while it can assist in strength training it shouldn’t be seen as a complete replacement for dedicated weight training.

Like all forms of exercise, Pilates can be gentle or very intense.  Let’s take a look at 2 examples, the first is a relaxing Pilates workout you can do before going to bed.

The second workout to try is a high intensity Power Pilates session which uses small hand weights to make the Pilates moves even more challenging.

See the difference?  This is why I love Pilates. You can tailor your workout to suit the time of day and the intensity level required.  Power Pilates is great for getting your heart rate up and is the one to go for if you want to work up a sweat.

Both of the above workouts can be done at home, if you’re new to Pilates I always recommend visiting a private tutor or fitness studio for guidance on how to get started correctly.  Doing Pilates movement incorrectly could lead to a negative rather than the positive benefits listed below, such as improved posture.

While Pilates is exercise, most of the time it isn’t cardio, as explored in this article: YES! Pilates CAN be a cardio workout, you should still do a cardio workout to help you reach your fitness goals.

Pilates benefits

Pilates is a full body exercise method that will help you do everything better. It has been found to have a beneficial effect on mental health, and it increases abdominal endurance, hamstring flexibility, and upper-body muscular endurance.

As a Pilates instructor, I practice Pilates every day and love the health benefits it provides:

  • Improves strength, balance, and flexibility;
  • Helps to reduce stress and relieve pain;
  • Strengthens the core muscles;
  • Helps improve posture;
  • Reduces back pain;
  • Reduces medical problems associated with sitting;
  • Assists in weight loss and ongoing weight management;
  • Improves quality of life.

Doing regular Pilates workouts means you are practising a whole-body fitness system. It trains the body as an integrated whole, which means that it’s not just about developing specific muscle groups or strengthening particular areas of the body.

There are knock-on health benefits to improving your core strength: A strong core helps with posture, balance, and stability. Having a strong core also helps in preventing back pain and injury.

Pilates develops strength, flexibility, posture, and attention to breath through its workouts. While this workout does focus on lower body movements like squats and lunges, upper body exercises are also included in order to provide balanced development of multiple muscle groups.

The result is an overall sense of integrative fitness that is different from other types of exercise.

I’ve found it has helped me get better at any exercise I tack on, be it aerobic activity, cardio exercise or my weekly bootcamp, my overall range of motion and physical health have improved considerably since integrating regular workouts into my life.

Pilates Equipment

Pilates workouts can be done with just your body and a mat, but if you’d like to mix things up you can make use of additional equipment.

I’ve already mentioned small hand weights, here are some other items you might want to consider:

  • Pilates ball
  • Magic ring
  • Resistance bands
  • Pilates bar
  • Exercise ball

These are relatively low cost and they can help add variety and challenge to your workout.

For those looking for special equipment, look no further than the Pilates Reformer, a piece of equipment designed specifically for Pilates.  These are challenging to use (and very expensive!), I would strongly recommend booking private lessons with a trained instructor to learn how to use one before making an investment.

Pilates reformer

Does Pilates replace [EXERCISE]?

With so many benefits, you might be wondering if this means you can cancel your yoga class / tai chi class / HIIT class etc.

While Pilates offers a wide range of benefits, it doesn’t replace all other forms of exercise.  For example, if you have a regular yoga practice which you enjoy you should continue with it, Pilates will compliment other forms of exercise you do.

There is also the social aspect to consider, if you’re attending existing classes you will likely know other members of the class, it forms not just part of your fitness routine but also your social routine, something very important for mental health.

In conclusion, Pilates is an excellent choice for people who want to improve their flexibility, strength, and stability. In fact, the benefits are so extensive that many people use it to maintain and improve their bodies after they have completed a regular program of exercise. Pilates provides a great way to train and condition the muscles in your body. It also provides a great way to target your upper and lower body strength and balance. If you are looking for a way to increase your fitness and compliment any other fitness activities you do, give Pilates a try.

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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