The benefits of Pilates go far beyond building core strength and improving flexibility: Pilates can boost your cardiovascular fitness, ease your mind and even help you lose weight.
Plus, "Pilates is suitable for people of all fitness levels, sizes and shapes," says Mimosa Gordon, a Pilates instructor based in New York. "And when performed properly, Pilates is challenging but not super complex."
Need more reasons to give this workout a shot? We'll give you 12!
1. Pilates Improves Bone Density
While strength training is a known bone-density builder, Pilates also offers surprising bone-building benefits. "Bone, like muscle, responds to resistance and weight-bearing exercises," says Elizabeth Ordway, Pilates instructor and founder of Movement Studio LA.
"Resistance exercise involves muscles pulling on bone to create tension, which fortifies the bone." In the case of Pilates, resistance comes from reformer springs and Pilates rings.
2. Pilates Burns Calories
Pilates won't burn as many calories as, say, running for the same amount of time, but it's definitely still a calorie-crushing workout. According to research from IDEA Health and Fitness Association, you'll burn four calories per minute in a beginner's Pilates class, six calories per minute in an intermediate class and 7.5 calories per minute in an advance class.
Of course, your exact calorie burn depends on your weight, fitness level and intensity, but you can get a more customized estimate with an app like MyPlate.
3. Pilates Eases Back Pain
"Pilates strengthens the core to support the back, teaches proper alignment and provides gentle stretching for tight back muscles," Ordway says. 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, Ordway says.
4. Pilates Strengthens Your Core
Core work is a central part of any Pilates class. "Pilates is a full-body workout, but it's particularly focused on the musculature of the trunk and the hips, aka the Pilates powerhouse," Gordon says.
Pilates strengthens your abdominal muscles, including the obliques, much more effectively than traditional crunches. "Pilates is based on efficiently contracting your abdominal muscles with every exercise," says Christa Gurka, founder of Pilates in the Grove in Miami, Florida.
For example: "During the seated arm series on the reformer, you need to keep your abdominals contracted to hold your spine stable and correctly perform the exercise," Gurka says. Pilates also emphasizes correct alignment and proper form, which requires your abs to fire effectively.
5. Pilates Can Help Prevent Injury
Pilates improves flexibility, increases strength and improves balance, all of which can reduce your risk of injury. "If you're able to increase your hamstring flexibility, you may be less likely to hurt your back when you bend over to pick up something from the floor," Gurka says. Building strength, on the other hand, "means improved control of movement, which also minimizes injury," she adds.
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, Gurka says.
6. You'll Increase Your Flexibility
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, Gurka says.
"Pilates sessions move the spine from flexion to extension, internal rotation to external rotation and side bending, increasing the range of motion throughout your body." Working within these additional planes of motion increases and improves flexibility and decreases injury risk, Gurka says.
7. Pilates Is a Great Cross-Training Workout
Don't put yourself at risk for overuse injuries by never switching up your workout — we're looking at you, runners.
"Pilates is amazing cross-training for runners in particular because the stress of running passes through your core, and Pilates is a great core workout," Gordon says. "Pilates also works the full range of motion of your hip joints, which can improve your stride and general running mechanics."
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, Texas.
"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 also allows you to freely move through daily tasks without pain and with improved posture.
9. It Builds Cardiovascular Endurance
Like most workouts, the aerobic benefits of Pilates depend on your intensity. Advanced moves like the jackknife and side lift might be intense enough to boost your heart rate well within the target zone, but prone or seated exercises such as the seated twist and leg circles may be too low-intensity to have much of an effect on your heart rate at all.
"You don't stop moving during an authentic mat routine, and it can definitely count as cardiovascular work at a mild aerobic level," Gordon says. "Think a brisk walk or steady walk up a hill."
Moving between exercises quickly and decreasing resting time works best if you want to boost your cardio. "In higher-intensity forms of Pilates, you go from exercise to exercise quickly, which moves the heart rate up into the aerobic zone," Slapnicka says. "Keeping it up throughout the session builds endurance."
10. Pilates Reduces Stress
"A good Pilates workout should include both high-intensity segments (intervals) and calming, mindful work that focuses on releasing tension," says Andrea Marcellus, a certified Pilates instructor and author of The Way In: 5 Winning Strategies to Lose Weight, Get Strong andLift Your Life.
She says the biggest benefit of Pilates is the "breath principal." "By focusing on connecting your breath to your movement, you allow your central nervous system to drop for a calming effect," she says. "You also learn to breathe through discomfort, which can translate to stress management beyond your workouts."
11. Pilates Can Help You Fall Asleep
These stress-relieving benefits can also translate to better sleep: Previously sedentary people who practiced Pilates twice a week for 12 weeks reported improvements in sleep quality (and overall quality of life) in a November 2012 study in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.
This might be because Pilates helps you focus on the present, instead of ruminating on life's past and future stressors. "Being present in the room becomes a form of meditation without having to sit still and be silent," says Amy Jordan, founder of WundaBar Pilates. "We often have so much going on in our lives and taking time for a Pilates class helps us re-center both physically and mentally."
12. It Makes You Feel Good
"Pilates is mentally engaging, challenging and feels really wonderful, so it has the added benefit of being something you can really look forward to doing," Gordon says.
Jordan adds that Joseph Pilates said that "physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness" — something she sees play out in her classes. "One of the greatest rewards of this work is watching people walk into the studio stressed and hunched forward, and 45 minutes later, they walk out with a smile, standing tall and feeling amazing."
Pilates also has a steady and limitless progression, Gordon says, so even though it's suitable for beginners at any stage in their fitness journey, there's always a new challenge for more advanced Pilates fans. "It's rewarding, and it's never-ending."
Additional reporting by Linda Melone