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10 Surprising Benefits of Pilates

author image Linda Melone
Linda Melone is a seasoned writer and certified strength and conditioning specialist specializing in fitness and health. She also holds a B.S. in nutrition. Her work appears on WebMD, MSN Health, Shape.com, AARP, Oxygen and in many other online and print publications.

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10 Surprising Benefits of Pilates
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Pilates has become synonymous with lean, toned bodies. But the benefits of Pilates go far beyond simple core strength and flexibility. In addition to the aesthetic benefits, regularly practicing this total-body workout can ease back pain, improve bone density and boost heart rate. These surprising benefits make Pilates an effective cross-training workout and a plateau-busting change to your regular weightlifting and cardio fitness routine.

1. It Improves Bone Density
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While strength training is a known bone-density builder, Pilates also offers surprising bone-building benefits, says Elizabeth Ordway, star of the DVD “Element: Targeted Toning Pilates for Beginners.” “Bone, like muscle, is dynamic tissue and responds to resistance and weight-bearing exercises," she says. "Resistance exercise involves muscles pulling on bone to create tension, which fortifies the bone. Resistance in a Pilates workout comes from apparatus springs and resistance bands.” Ordway suggests resistance bands for side-leg and rowing series during Pilates mat workouts.

2. Pilates Promote Weight Loss
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Losing a pound of body weight a week requires a deficit of 500 calories per day. Whether you cut back on calories or combine calorie deficit with exercise, Pilates can help. The caloric burn during a Pilates workout ranges from four to eight calories per minute, depending on your intensity, according to a study by Michelle Olson, Ph.D., of Auburn University in Montgomery, Ala. As part of a weight-loss program, Olson suggests doing moderately intense workouts at least four days a week for 45 to 60 minutes, excluding warm-up and cool-down sessions.

Related: A Pilates Instructor's Secrets to Long, Lean Legs

3. It Eases Back Pain
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Back pain sufferers, rejoice! According to a study published in the Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy, subjects with lower back pain found significant pain relief after a four-week Pilates program maintained over a 12-month period. “Pilates strengthens the core to support the back, teaches proper alignment and provides gentle stretching for tight back muscles due to misalignment and overuse,” says Pilates instructor Elizabeth Ordway. Plus, Pilates addresses underlying imbalances that often lead to poor posture and back pain. Specific Pilates exercises for spine strengthening include the roll up and swan prep, says Ordway.

Related: How to Alleviate Back Pain in 11 Simple Moves

4. You'll Strengthen Your Core
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Forget crunches! Pilates strengthens your abdominal muscles, including the obliques, much more effectively. “Pilates is based on efficiently contracting your abdominal muscles with every exercise," says Christa Gurka, founder of Pilates in the Grove of Miami, Fla. "For example, during the seated arm series on the reformer, the abdominals must stay contracted to hold the spine stable to correctly perform the exercise.” In addition, Pilates targets deep abdominal muscles like the transverse abdominis as well as superficial ones like the rectus abdominis muscles that form a “six-pack.” And Gurka adds, Pilates emphasizes correct alignment and proper form, which requires abdominals to fire effectively.

Related: 19 Ab-Sculpting Pilates Moves You Can Do At Home

5. It Prevents Injuries
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Pilates helps improve flexibility, increases strength and improves balance. These factors reduce your risk of injury, says Pilates instructor Christa Gurka. “If you're able to increase your hamstring flexibility by 10 degrees, you will be less likely to hurt your back when you bend over to pick up something from the floor,” says Gurka. “Improved strength links to improved dynamic control of movement, which minimizes injury.” In addition, unilateral one-legged or one-sided Pilates improves balance and reduces the risk of falls. Lastly, Pilates provides body awareness to create efficient movement patterns, thereby reducing stress on joints, tendons, muscles and ligaments, says Gurka.

Related: 10 Types of Low-Impact Exercise That Keep You Fit and Injury-Free

6. You'll Increase Your Flexibility
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Most exercises involve movement in only one plane of motion. And usually, that's the forward-and-back motion (like in crunches). Pilates requires motion in several planes, says Pilates instructor Christa Gurka. “Pilates sessions move the spine from flexion to extension, internal rotation to external rotation and side bending, allowing an increased range of motion throughout the body.” Working within these additional planes of motion increases and improves flexibility and decreases injury risk, says Gurka.

7. It Makes a Great Cross-Training Workout
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Don't put yourself at risk for overuse injuries by never switching up your workout. Try incorporating a few Pilates sessions into the mix to keep yourself strong and prevent boredom. “Pilates works to enhance one’s body awareness through challenging positions that require optimal postural alignment,” says Pilates instructor Christa Gurka. Some of these exercises work by challenging alignment in a static position, while others require stability and alignment during movement. “This makes more efficient use of muscles, recruiting only those muscles necessary to perform the specific task,” says Gurka.

Related: 7 Cross-Training Workouts to Shake Up Your Routine

8. Pilates Improves Posture


Sitting at a desk all day and constantly looking down at a smartphone can lead to hunched shoulders and poor posture. Over time, this creates muscular imbalances. Pilates helps reverse the effects of these bad habits by creating better muscle symmetry and balance, says Allison Slapnicka, owner of Pure Pilates Austin in Austin, TX. “Pilates forces you to work only one specific muscle at a time, isolating those that may be weaker, to redevelop lost strength and create balance throughout the body.” The development of a strong core allows you to freely move through daily tasks without pain and with improved posture.

Related: 12 Moves for a Stronger Core and Better Posture

9. It Builds Cardiovascular Endurance
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Like most workouts, the aerobic benefits of Pilates varies depending on intensity. Advanced moves like the jackknife and side lift boost your heart rate well within the target zone, but prone or seated exercises such as the seated twist and leg circles cause heart rates to drop. Most advanced classes will raise your heart rate to an average of 120 to 130 beats per minute. Moving between exercises quickly and decreasing resting time works best. “In higher-intensity forms of Pilates, you go from exercise to exercise quickly, which moves the heart rate up into the aerobic zone,” says trainer Allison Slapnicka. “Keeping it up throughout the session builds endurance.”

Related: 4 Workout Mash-Ups and Why You Should Mix It Up

10. You'll Sculpt Six-Pack Abs
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Whether you want a flat midsection or serious six-pack abs, Pilates can take your abdominal workout to the next level (assuming you’re also cleaning up your diet to drop body fat around your midsection). One reason is that many Pilates movements rank higher in muscle activation than traditional crunches. For example, the roll-up movement was 245 percent more effective at targeting external obliques as compared with crunches. And the crisscross was 310 percent more effective than crunches. “Pilates works by focusing on developing strength of the deeper intrinsic muscles of the center core,” says trainer Allison Slapnicka.

What Do YOU Think?
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Are you familiar with Pilates? Have you ever taken a class? Did you know that it had all these amazing benefits? If you’ve taken a class before or practice it on a regular basis, which of these benefits have you experienced? Are there any other we missed? Leave us a comment below and let us know!

Related: A 20-Minute Stress-Busting Pilates Routine

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