Busting 5 Popular Pilates Ideas

Can Pilates help you lose body fat? Is Pilates an effective full body workout? Are special machines essential for a Pilates workout? Let's find out the answers to those question and more!

Brock Armstrong
5-minute read

Photo of people using a type of Pilates machine

In the article called What Is Pilates? you learned exactly what to expect from this popular form of exercise favored by everyone from singer Lady Gaga to actor Jennifer Aniston to tennis star Andy Murray and NFL wide receiver Brandin Cooks.

But can Pilates help you lose fat? Is Pilates an effective full body workout? Do you have to have crazy looking (torture chamber-esque) machines for a good Pilates workout? Well, let’s dive into five popular Pilates ideas and find out whether they are fact or fiction so you can make an informed decision about whether Pilates is right for you.

1. Pilates is a Good Way to Lose Fat

While Pilates has definite health and wellness benefits, fat loss is not its superpower.

While Pilates has definite health and wellness benefits, fat loss is not its superpower. As a matter of fact, a 2006 study that measured the effects of Pilates on trunk strength, endurance, and flexibility in sedentary adult females found that both body weight and body fat percentage was not significantly affected in adult females after performing a regular Pilates routine. A 2004 study that measured the effects of Pilates training on flexibility and body composition found that while Pilates does indeed help to improve flexibility, it does not significantly affect body composition, even after six months of practice.

Now before you get all upset and start posting nasty comments below, this does not mean that Pilates can’t indirectly help you lose body fat. Because the workout does such a great job strengthening your core and improving your flexibility without making your joints too loose (which is why many athletes like it), Pilates can help you keep mobile and active for longer, and keep you from getting sidelined with an injury. Active folks who do Pilates regularly are also more likely to engage in other forms of exercise.

Conclusion: When it comes to pure calorie burning and fat loss, there are many more modes of exercise that are more effective than Pilates.

2. Pilates is Only for Women

There are some added pelvic floor benefits that women can get from pilates but Pilates is for every gender.

What? Do people actually believe this? Apparently so. Perhaps it is because Pilates does a good job of strengthening lower abdominal and pelvic muscles that are important for pre and post-childbearing. Or maybe it is the fact that it doesn’t involve heavy metal plates, obnoxious grunting, or large amounts of high fives. Either way, it's often perceived as a women’s only activity.

Well, let’s put that idea behind us. Nothing could be further from the truth! Not only was Pilates invented by a man, Joseph Hubertus Pilates, who was so enamored by the classical Greek ideal of a man being balanced in body, mind, and spirit that he developed his own exercise system based on this concept, but many famous male athletes and action stars use it to maintain core strength, flexibility, and function, including Kobe Bryant, David Beckham, Martellus Bennett, Jake Arrieta, and Sylvester Stallone! Need I say more?

Conclusion: Yes, there are some added pelvic floor benefits that women can get from pilates (and many other good core workouts) but like any other form of movement, Pilates is for every gender.

3. You Need Special Machines for Pilates

For those of you who have never been to a Pilates studio, there are two types of Pilates workouts. One version uses a mixture of Pilates apparatus with unusual names like the Reformer, the Cadillac, and the Wunda chair. The other version uses just the floor and your body (and perhaps the odd resistance band or strap).

The machines, with their collections of springs, bars, pulleys, and straps, can give you an even more fun and killer workout, but they are not essential to a workout being aligned with what Joseph Pilates created back in 1912.

All of the fundamental movements and basic exercise principles of Pilates can be incorporated into a mat exercise program—without you having to find a special Pilates studio or invest in complex or expensive exercise equipment for your home. Part of this is due to the fact that Joseph Pilates created the majority of the program while being interned as an “enemy alien” with other German nationals during World War I. During his internment, Joseph refined his ideas and trained other internees in his system of exercise. And while he rigged springs to hospital beds, enabling bedridden patients to exercise against resistance, he also developed many movements that could be done with nothing but the floor and gravity.

Conclusion: If a friend at the gym tells you that you must be strapped to a Wunda chair in order for it to be a real Pilates class, you can say “tell that to the interned enemy aliens of 1912” and see what they say.

4. Pilates Mat Class Will Make Your Whole Body Stronger

Pilates classes that include the machines come closer to a full body workout but the mat only version does not.

In a Pilates class, you will spend a great deal of time performing abdominal, lower back, and other core specific exercises which will significantly improve your abdominal muscular endurance. If you have not been exposed in the past to weight training or strength training for your core, this will also help to develop your muscular strength.

As you know, in order to get a muscle, joint, or bone stronger, you must expose that specific area of your body to a stress. That stress can be lifting an object overhead for stronger shoulders, pushing an object with your legs for stronger thighs, or extending and flexing against resistance for stronger arms.

In many Pilates workouts that use machines, you will likely find yourself performing these activities and therefore receiving a full body workout. But, in my experience, the average Pilates class at your local gym will mainly focus on your core muscular endurance and flexibility but not on entire full body strength.

Because of this, I would encourage you to do a full body resistance training routine two or three times a week, especially if Pilates is your primary exercise method.

Conclusion: Pilates classes that include the machines come closer to a full body workout but the mat-only version does not.

5. Pilates is Only for Your Abs

As mentioned a few times in this article, Pilates is a fabulous way to strengthen all the different sections of your core (including your abs), which can be an important part of getting a flat stomach (along with a good diet).

Your abs are a part of your core and your core definitely gets a workout but there is more going on.

Far from being a great ab-only workout, you will get many other benefits from Pilates. Here are six disciplines that you will develop during a good Pilates class:

  1. Centering: Bringing the focus to the center of your body, which can teach you how to use your core muscles to generate forceful athletic movements.

  2. Concentration: Bringing your full attention to each exercise and learning how to engage in high-quality focus.

  3. Control: Performing a movement with constant control and fluidity, which can teach you how to move safely and more gracefully.

  4. Precision: Having self-awareness of your body’s minute movements and identifying the alignment of one body part relative to another. Combined with learning how your body moves through space can all help with athleticism.

  5. Breath: Using full and deep breaths during your exercises while thinking of your lungs as a bellows that pump oxygen fully in and out of your body can help with stress relief and sports performance.

  6. Flow: A focus of Pilates is performing your movements in a fluid and graceful manner and this can help you become a better everyday mover by improving your posture and coordination.

Conclusion: Your abs are a part of your core and your core definitely gets a workout but there is a lot more going on in a well thought out Pilates class. 

There you have it. While you can’t expect Pilates to help you lose significant amounts of body fat or turn you into a bodybuilder, it has many advantages which make it a worthwhile addition to your fitness regimen. If you include Pilates in your general workout routine, you will get benefits that go well beyond a flat stomach, strong pelvic floor, or the ability to workout while incarcerated. 

For more Pilates info, core tips, and to join the strong but flexible conversation, head over to Facebook.com/GetFitGuy or twitter.com/getfitguy.

Also don't forget to subscribe to the Get-Fit Guy podcast on Apple Podcasts, StitcherSpotify, Google Play or via RSS.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Brock Armstrong Get-Fit Guy

Brock Armstrong was the host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast between 2017 and 2021. He is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute. 

You May Also Like...