Does Pilates help you lose weight? Things you didn’t know about these exercises

Published on May 30, 2022 by Cori Grămescu

Pilates is preferred by people who want to improve their health, posture and stamina and is a method that can be followed throughout one’s entire lifetime. 

Pilates is not a high-intensity workout, so when accounted for calories burned during a session, it is not as intense as group fitness classes, jogging or rowing, for example, so you may say that Pilates is not a great option for weight loss. 

However, because it is a highly personalized workout, those who engage in Pilates practice can have better fitness adherence to the method, as they progress.  

While beginner Pilates classes focus on coordination, breathing and alignment, more intermediate or advanced sequences can be a real fitness challenge, especially when integrating the pilates equipment and can help people lose weight. 

Below is an analysis of what Pilates can and cannot do for weight loss. 

Is Pilates a good option to lose weight? 

Weight loss is a complex metabolic process that starts with a sustainable caloric deficit, calculated between the total daily energy expenditure and the total calorie intake. To contribute to this deficit, in addition to watching one’s food choices and portion sizes, physical activity helps in maintaining the necessary caloric deficit for weight loss. Pilates can be an option for weight loss because its highly personalized routines offer the framework needed to improve adherence, especially among those who prefer a steady, personalized approach to improve fitness levels. 

For a beginner, a one-hour session of Pilates “burns” some 170-250 kcal. Of course, there are various other workouts that score higher in terms of caloric expenditure than Pilates, so from this perspective, Pilates could not be considered as an ideal solution for weight loss. However, because Pilates focuses on people’s wellbeing and offers great adherence rates among beginners, it should be considered as a good solution for weight loss. 

To further improve the chances for weight loss, Pilates workouts should be combined with brisk walking sessions or stationary bike workouts. 

For weight loss purposes we also need to understand that the need for a caloric deficit should be interpreted over long-term intervals. An ideal solution for weight loss should be focused primarily on improving health, wellbeing, and energy levels of people, rather than lost weight per se. It’s more important to focus on long term maintenance of results, rather than immediately visible, but unsustainable processes that drastically reduce intake calories and increase energy expenditure through intense fitness programs. 

Strategies that rely on gradually improving habits while increasing wellbeing and overall satisfaction levels are the ones that are most likely to be successful for weight loss. 

Does research support the idea that Pilates helps you lose weight? 

Pilates is a workout protocol that was first introduced to the public by Joseph Pilates in 1920 but failed to reach mainstream success until 1980. For 60 years it was a niche workout among dancers and Pilates enthusiasts, but in the 80’s it started becoming popular through Ron Fletcher’s studio in Hollywood. 

Several methods of Pilates became commercially available, as the advances in science modified the original methods’ 5 basic principles. There is also sufficient research behind Pilates and its effectiveness for weight loss. 

It appears Pilates is particularly suitable for obese and overweight people who have previously been sedentary, as one study found. “The results of this study indicate that 8 weeks Pilates exercises have positive effects on body composition in sedentary overweight and obese women. Pilates exercises can be applied for improving body composition.”[1]

The effectiveness of the method stems from starting with a mind-body connection, as some of the 5 basic principles in pilates refer to breathing, scapular and head alignment, meaning you need to stay focused on how you move and breathe throughout exercises. Furhermore, because pilates offers amazing progressions and modification, peoples benefit from proper exercise sequencing and form, offering them the motivation to comfortably advance with the workout routine. 

Another study confirms the fact that Pilates is a great way to lose weight, especially for overweight and obese adults: 

“Pilates leads to a remarkable decrease in body weight, BMI, and Body Fat Percentage in adults with overweight or obesity.[2]

However, further research is needed when it comes to determining the effects Pilates has on body composition. Even though it can be an effective method for weight loss, the evidence referring to body composition remains modest and requires further research.

“There is currently poor empirical quantitative evidence indicating a positive effect of Pilates exercises on Body Composition.[3]

How do calories affect weight loss?

As we’ve previously mentioned, the foundation of weight loss is the caloric deficit. Meaning that one must ingest fewer calories than their total daily energy expenditure, over long periods of time, to achieve a voluntary reduction in body size and weight. 

To voluntarily shed one pound of bodyweight, one must create a deficit of 3500 kcal. Should they want to lose a pound a week, they must create a deficit of 500 kcal daily from their calculated total daily energy expenditure estimate, either from food restriction, increased physical activity, or both. 

This is an approximated level, since we can rarely precisely calculate how many calories we ingest and how much energy we consume throughout the day, and these values vary significantly with hormones, genetic predisposition, and personal medical history. 

So, the best strategy is to focus less on counting calories and tracking every bite, and instead focus on long term improvement in everyday habits, consistent choice of healthy, unprocessed ingredients and constant exercise routines that you enjoy

Is Pilates considered a cardiovascular workout?  

Pilates focuses on overall flexibility, strength, and postural alignment. While some exercises are a bit more dynamic, especially on the reformer, Pilates cannot be considered a cardiovascular workout. Cardio workouts consist of any kind of vigorous movement sequences that increase heartbeat, respiration frequency, oxygen, and blood flow throughout the body, while using large muscle groups repetitively and rhythmically. In other words, cardiovascular exercise is any form of exercise that uses aerobic metabolism for energy. Because Pilates promotes controlled, ample movements and a long breathing pattern that is steady, it cannot be considered a cardio workout. 

What is the Pilates effect?

Pilates is a challenging low impact, low intensity workout routine. Its main focus is to develop strong but flexible muscles and a neutral postural alignment, as well as a strong core and mindful breathing technique. 

The Pilates effect refers to the cumulative effects observed by practitioners and people alike. Improved core muscles reduced low back pain and improved posture, improved flexibility, balance and mobility and improved body awareness are among the visible benefits of Pilates exercises. 

Pilates exercises focus extensively on the core muscles – the muscles attaching to the pelvis. The method manages to properly activate all the core muscles, in all planes of movement, thus creating a complex sequence of movements that challenge all the muscles of the core region. The result is improved efficiency in strengthening the core muscles observed in Pilates exercise, as compared to other types of exercise routines. [4] As a result, Pilates reduces back pain and improves low back stability, while addressing the muscles that stabilize the spine. [5] & [6]

Pilates as a method relies on 5 basic principles – head and cervical alignment, scapular alignment and neutral spine being 3 of them. They all refer to a healthy, neutral posture that can be obtained through Pilates exercises that act as a corrective method that addresses the muscles. While there is no possibility to address bone modifications, the overall posture can benefit from the balancing effect of Pilates exercise and its focus on improved postural alignment. [7]

Based on a sequence of exercises that combine strength and elongation movements, Pilates has a great effect on mobility and flexibility when compared to static stretches. [8] This is particularly valuable as we age since flexibility decreases with age unless properly addressed. The result of improved flexibility and postural alignment is that Pilates also offers improved balance and mobility, as a result of consistently practicing the method. 

With its focus on breath and body alignment, Pilates is known for its benefits in body awareness and stress reduction. The ample breathing pattern and its focus on active exhale has been linked to reduced stress levels. [9]

How can you lose weight better? 

Pilates is a great method to exercise and improve wellbeing levels in people, but if the main goal is to lose weight, a multi-dimensional approach may offer improved chances to lose weight. 

To improve your chances for successful weight loss the first thing you should do is to manage your food intake so that you meet your caloric deficit levels. Of course, using crave bespoke nutrition is a great way to know exactly what you should eat and what are the portion sizes recommended for your weight goal, and the generated menu is personalized for your food preferences. Start with that and add flexibility to your menu by using the food replacement calculator and our nutritionists’ support throughout your journey. 

After you create the needed caloric deficit from the food intake, diversify your overall non-fitness movement choices. Start by walking, as it is the most accessible form of non-fitness movement, and gradually add types of movement that you enjoy doing, as part of your everyday activity. Here you can consider trekking, golfing, canoeing, dancing, or dog-walking. 

Start with a plan and cultivate curiosity and pleasure. These are two components that will help you stay on track with your journey, without sacrificing the need for wellbeing and comfort. Practice curiosity towards different types of activities and foods, experiment with cooking and outdoors activities and, most importantly, have fun along the way. Many people forget how important it is to feel good daily and sacrifice it all for the sake of efficiency. Unfortunately, this strategy rarely works long term, as nobody can restrict endlessly. 

Conclusion on using Pilates for weight loss. 

Pilates can be used for weight loss and is actually a great introduction to being more physically active for sedentary, overweight or obese individuals. Its personalized approach improves adherence rates and creates the lifestyle changes necessary for improved physical activity levels. 

It is particularly effective for weight loss when coupled with a personalized dietary intervention and mild, non-fitness activities throughout the day. 

You can discover a great sequence of Pilates exercises in our app, together with a personalized meal plan and support from nutritionists.

Sources:

1.Şavkin, Raziye, and Ummuhan B Aslan. “The effect of Pilates exercise on body composition in sedentary overweight and obese women.” The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness vol. 57,11 (2017): 1464-1470. doi:10.23736/S0022-4707.16.06465-3  

2. Wang, Yi et al. “Pilates for Overweight or Obesity: A Meta-Analysis.” Frontiers in physiology vol. 12 643455. 11 Mar. 2021, doi:10.3389/fphys.2021.643455

 3. Aladro-Gonzalvo, Arian & Machado-Díaz, Míriam & Moncada-Jiménez, José & Hernandez-Elizondo, Jessenia & Araya Vargas, Gerardo. (2012). The effect of Pilates exercises on body composition: A systematic review. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies. 16. 109-14. 10.1016/j.jbmt.2011.06.001.

4. Kulkarni, Mrunal & Saini, Seema & Palekar, Tushar & Hamdulay, Nargis & Professor, D. (2020). EFFECTS OF PILATES ON CORE MUSCLE STRENGTH AND ENDURANCE IN POST 6 MONTHS DELIVERED WOMEN. 11. 136 – 151.

5.Krawczky, Bruna & Mainenti, Míriam & Pacheco, Antonio. (2016). The impact of pilates exercises on the postural alignment of healthy adults. Revista Brasileira de Medicina do Esporte. 22. 485-490. 10.1590/1517-869220162206153957.

 6. Rahimimoghadam, Zahra et al. “Pilates exercises and quality of life of patients with chronic kidney disease.” Complementary therapies in clinical practice vol. 34 (2019): 35-40. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2018.10.017 

7. Casonatto, Juliano, and Cárita Mayume Yamacita. “Pilates exercise and postural balance in older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” Complementary therapies in medicine vol. 48 (2020): 102232. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2019.102232 

8. Oliveira, Laís Campos de et al. “Comparison between static stretching and the Pilates method on the flexibility of older women.” Journal of bodywork and movement therapies vol. 20,4 (2016): 800-806. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2016.01.008.

9.Hamideh Ahmadi; Mohammad Reza Mehravar. “The effect of an eight-week Pilates exercise regimen on stress management and cortisol levels in sedentary women”. Journal of Physical Activity and Hormones, 3, 4, 2019, 37-52. 

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