Let’s be real for a sec: Pilates only seems easy—anyone who’s ever taken a class knows all those teeny-tiny movements are actually painful AF. But that begs the question: If Pilates is so damn difficult, it’s gotta be effective for weight loss, right?
Tbh, Pilates can definitely help you burn calories (and ultimately lose weight)—but its benefits go way past dropping pounds (think: better posture, improved breathing, more flexibility), and it should be part of your regular workout schedule.
“Pilates should be considered part of your self-care routine,” says Jacquelyn Brennan, CSCS, Pilates instructor and co-founder of Chicago-based Pilates + Coffee. “We all need to move our spines more, move our joints through every range of motion, and everyone needs to be breathing better.” And all of those healthy practices can lead to weight loss.
Okay, but which type of Pilates is best for weight loss?
So, when someone mentions “Pilates,” they’re likely referring to Romana’s Pilates, which features exercises that Joseph Pilates (the founder) developed, explains Gabbi Berkow, RD, CPT, a nutritionist and Pilates instructor.
Some studios are dedicated to classical or Romana’s Pilates (which is what Berkow is trained in) but there are studios that feature different Pilates-based workouts, which means they use Pilates-inspired moves, but don’t follow classical Pilates to a T. Some Pilates classes also occur on a mat, while other can occur on a reformer, which is basically a sliding platform.
Regardless, experts say that one form of Pilates isn’t superior to another to drop pounds. “For weight loss, I don’t think one type of Pilates is necessarily best,” says Berkow.
What you do want when it comes to Pilates and weight loss is an instructor who knows what they’re doing, is committed to safe movements, and will challenge you, adds Berkow. “You want to make sure your Pilates class is a workout. It shouldn’t be just a series of slow, easy stretches. Pilates has to contribute to your total daily calorie burn for it to make a difference in weight loss,” she says.
Can you get in shape by doing Pilates?
You’re not going to leave class dripping in sweat like you would after a HIIT class, but you are doing a total-body workout during every session, says Berkow. “Even though Pilates targets the core, every exercise utilizes all of the muscles in your body. Every movement works strength, flexibility, and mental control over your body,” she says. So, your answer is a resounding yes, you can absolutely get in shape with Pilates.
Another perk: Strengthening your body through Pilates and using it as a low-impact workout to round out your routine, may decrease your risk of injury, adds Brennan. Improving your posture, flexibility, and range of motion can also act as a foundation for success in other activities and workouts.
Ultimately, you’re going to get out of it what you put in. “In my 10-plus years of teaching, I’ve learned that students who have a strong Pilates practice see results quicker, as they’re able to perform their other workouts more effectively,” says Brennan. She recommends doing Pilates two to four times per week for the best results.
Can Pilates help you lose belly fat?
If you’ve ever gone to a class, you know how insane the core work is (seriously, “Hundreds” are not for the faint of heart…or abs).
While you can’t spot-reduce fat, Pilates can help you learn how to properly engage your pelvic floor and deep core muscles, says Brennan. “Pilates will teach you how to engage your muscles correctly, which will lend to increased activation during core exercises and lead to a ‘tighter tummy,'” she says.
Try these 12 Pilates exercises:
However, to see abs definition, you do have to lose the fat that sits on top of your muscles, which requires proper nutrition, says Berkow. Think: a diet rich in whole, fresh foods and a limit on overly-processed foods and snacks.
How much weight can you lose by doing Pilates?
Honestly, weight loss involves a ton of other factors, like sleep, lifestyle, and eating habits, so Pilates, regardless of how great it feels, isn’t a cure-all. Pilates will, however, deliver far more benefits than just a lower number on a scale.
First, there’s stress relief. As Brennan explains, Pilates helps you with breath work, encouraging deeper belly breaths that are in direct contrast to the shallow breathing many of us do on the reg. “Shallow breathing leads to increased cortisol levels, which contributes to weight gain. One could say that through Pilates and learning to breathe better, you’d have lower cortisol—and thus, stress—levels, something that can help you lose weight,” she says.
Feeling better, both mentally and physically, will also encourage you to take care of your body, says Berkow—and Pilates can definitely be a key part of an overall weight-loss goal.
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