Pilates promises to make you longer, leaner and more functional. In these promises, weight loss is implied — but is it realistic to expect to drop pounds with this mind-body exercise?
Yes, Pilates can help you lose weight — but the key word is help. If you take up a Pilates practice, but fail to curb junk-y eating habits and continue to sit all other hours of the day, it's unlikely to affect the scale much.
Weight Loss in a Nutshell
Weight loss can be complicated, as it deals with hormones and genetics. However, you can usually boil it down to the simple principle of "calories in versus calories out." Consume fewer calories than you burn and you lose pounds, plain and simple.
Pilates helps you burn calories, but not as many as a vigorous run or indoor cycling class. In 50 minutes of Pilates, a 150-pound woman can expect to burn between 210 and 360 calories. Exactly how many depends on the intensity of the class — advanced practitioners are usually performing moves that require more energy and muscular work, so they burn more calories.
To lose a pound of fat, you must burn 3,500 calories more than you consume. If you didn't change your diet at all and started Pilates at a beginning level, you might expect to lose a pound every 16 days or so — and that's assuming you practice Pilates daily.
To use Pilates for a really noticeable and more expedited weight loss plan, augment it with some cardio activity four to five times per week. A study of 303 women published in Clinical Interventions in Aging in 2014 showed that a weight-loss intervention consisting of Pilates and aerobic exercise added lean muscle mass and decreased fat mass.
Aim for at least 30 minutes per day, longer workouts for better results. Walking, elliptical training or a dance class all count.
If you're averse to adding cardio to your workout, you'll need to advance your Pilates practice to the intermediate or advanced level and commit to it four to five times per week for 45 to 50 minutes at a time. An advanced practice involves heart-pumping moves, such as the jack knife and side lift. Remember that practice time is in addition to the warmup and cooldown.
While burning calories is an essential part of the weight-loss equation, it's not the only part. Build lean muscle to rev your metabolism and burn more calories all day long, whether you're just sitting at the computer or when you're performing your roll-ups in class.
Pilates helps you create this lean muscle, especially in your core, or the "powerhouse," as the father of Pilates, Joseph Pilates, called it. Roll-ups, the ab series, leg circles, teasers and just about every other move works the muscles from your hips to your shoulders. It wouldn't hurt to add a couple of additional full-body weight-training workouts weekly in addition to your Pilates routine to encourage the growth of even more lean muscle, but if you're short on time these workouts might just focus on the muscles of the lower legs, arms and shoulders.
You may hear that Pilates makes your muscles longer, which really isn't possible. What Pilates can do is make your muscles appear longer. Muscle length is genetically predisposed, but whether you maximize this length when you sit and stand is another matter.
Pilates exercises strengthen deep muscles in your abdomen and back, including the transverse abdominis and the paraspinals. Standing up tall and straight becomes second nature, making you appear thinner.
The strong postural muscles you acquire through Pilates also help improve your body composition and cause you to store less fat in your midsection, showed a 2016 study published in Physical Therapy Science. The benefits to the 36 women in the study (20 practiced Pilates; 16 were in the control group with no practice) occurred after 12 weeks of three Pilates sessions per week.