What Is Pilates?

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It is a form of low-impact exercise that was developed in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates. It was originally used in an exercise rehabilitation setting but is now often used as an exercise program to help with postural alignment, to increase an individual's fitness level, and for its many health benefits.


What is Pilates?

group of women exercising on pilates reformerThe benefits of Pilates are vast. For this reason, many health professionals use different exercises similar to those originally used by Joseph Pilates in their movement therapies.

The Pilates method revolves around maximizing core strength with precise and controlled movements utilizing the entire body, while at the same time, matching breathing to bodywork. It has many physical and mental health benefits as well as helps improve general fitness.

Of course, there are other central principles at play as well, such as:

  • Spinal articulation
  • Body balance
  • Flexibility
  • Increased strength of muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones
  • Whole-body activation
  • Mindfulness
  • Mind, body, and spirit connection


Basic Pilates Exercises

The most basic exercises in a Pilates practice include movements that work to improve mobility and strength. These Pilates moves are often done in mat classes.

A mat class taught by a certified Pilates instructor can be offered in a group class setting similar to yoga classes or a one-on-one setting through private lessons. Pilates studios often offer both options. There are also online virtual options for both as well.

Having a good instructor or even a health professional such as a physiotherapist certified in Pilates present to provide feedback during a Pilates workout is essential especially as a beginner. This is to ensure the various exercises are being done appropriately with the correct posture to reduce the risk of injury.

The Pilates method, especially mat work focuses a lot on foundational Pilates exercises and Pilates technique. Basic Pilates exercises are often learned on a mat before being done on other Pilates equipment. This is the best way to learn because mat work is the safest form of exercise when practicing Pilates.

This type of Pilates focuses on repetitive movements to lengthen and strengthen the body's muscle groups especially the core muscles. Pilates also focuses on many other physical and mental health aspects providing health benefits. Some of these include decreasing back pain, improving functional movement, and helping lose weight.

Various exercises that are practiced in a mat Pilates class can be attempted on a different Pilates apparatus such as a reformer. Special equipment is not needed to practice Pilates. It can be used to help modify or enhance a practice though. Some Pilates equipment that may be seen in Pilates classes include a spine corrector, a magic circle, a ladder barrel, a stability ball, resistance bands, and even a tennis ball.

When using Pilates equipment for the first time, it is important to work with a qualified instructor to ensure the equipment is being used correctly and safely.


Is it the Best Cardio Workout?

Often a Pilates instructor will disagree that one of the benefits of Pilates is that it provides a cardio workout, but depends on what an individual considers to be an aerobic exercise workout.

If the criteria for answering the question is whether it can get the heart rate up or not (like common cardio exercises), then Pilates would be considered a cardio workout. Pilates can definitely increase heart rate, cause an individual to sweat, and even make someone feel out of breath.

The traditional practice developed by Joseph Pilates references the typical categorizations of exercise: strengthening, flexibility training, and cardio. These are considered strengthening exercises, not cardio.

Note: do not assume that this type of exercise is not hard work! It can certainly be challenging, and it’s also generally more of an intense workout than yoga.

Some places may offer special hybrid Pilates classes, which incorporate cardio moves with the exercise.


The Benefits

Take a look at these amazing mental and physical health benefits of Pilates classes including:

  •         Stronger core muscles including the muscles surrounding
  •         Increased muscle tone
  •         Helps improve and maintain good posture and balance
  •         Better flexibility and range of motion
  •         Greater stamina
  •         Improved calories burned helping lose weight
  •         Injury prevention
  •         Deeper, more mindful breathing
  •         A better mind-body connection
  •         Improved mental health
  •         Helps relieve stress
  •         Decreased back pain


Burn Calories with Pilates

A group enjoying pilates togetherCheck out some Pilates before and after photos online. It is immediately noticeable that Pilates works to reduce excess fat and improve body weight. Commonly individuals who practice Pilates will have increased muscle tone in the abdominal muscles resulting in flat abs or "Pilates abs". Results can also be seen in muscle groups such as the upper arm and thigh muscles, and streamline a person’s contours overall.

This is not done through strength training alone. Pilates strengthens the body's muscles, but it also burns calories. Though it may not be considered a traditional cardio workout,  it burns calories.

If someone is interested in losing weight using Pilates workouts, the practice can help by creating a larger daily calories deficit. A deficit means consumed calories per day minus burned calories per day.

A general way of achieving weight loss is to create a safe and healthy calorie deficit each day. Ideally, when a deficit of 3,500 calories in total per week is achieved (so around 500 calories per day), one pound will be lost (with consideration to the metabolic factor of the individual as well).


Pilates: Frequently Asked Questions

What Type of Workout can I Expect From Pilates?

It provides an excellent balanced body workout. Most Pilates practices include mainly stationary exercises, but this can also increase an individual's heart rate and cause them to sweat.

The greatest effect of Pilates is the conditioning of all muscle groups. It increases flexibility, provides better balance, and improves core strength.


Is Pilates for Everyone — Young and Old, Beginner and Pro?

Yes! There is Pilates for seniors, for expecting mothers or those who have just given birth, athletes, teens, or beginners. Anyone who wants to try it for the very first time can and should do it. Pilates offers fabulous training in core strength, balance, and flexibility, while also improving the mind-body balance. For those unsure of the difference between Pilates and yoga practices, our blog post on Pilates vs. yoga covers the aspects of both.


Can I Lose Weight Doing Pilates?

Yes, Pilates can help with weight loss. While most people use other cardio workouts such as swimming, running, or biking for weight loss, the workouts are the better option because they provide more toning and balanced fitness.

If considering Pilates for weight loss, we’d recommend investing in a Pilates reformer. Merrithew makes several high-quality options, including STOTT reformers or any other type of equipment.


How Often Should I do Pilates?

The more someone practices Pilates, the better they will get at it. Of course, this does not mean an individual should be going to the studio every day.

For those asking, “where can I find a Pilates studio near me?” and finding it hard to find a studio nearby, there are many online Pilates class options available for home practice.


Is Pilates a Good Cardio Workout?

It is not considered a traditional form of cardio like running, swimming, or biking. Instead, it focuses more on strengthening and toning. Still, for those looking for a great at-home cardio workout, it can be incorporated. It is also an excellent tool to use for rehabilitation purposes when an individual has an injury.





Joseph Pilates

Pilates Reformer

Pilates Equipment

Pilates Teacher Training



What is Pilates

Pilates vs Yoga 

Pilates for Beginners



Pilates and yoga - health benefits

Types of Pilates Equipment

Pilates: What It Is, Benefits, and More

Introduction to Pilates-Based Rehabilitation

What Age is a Pilates Workout Good For?

Pilates Method Improves Cardiorespiratory Fitness: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Pilates for Overweight or Obesity: A Meta-Analysis

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