Scroll through social media and it won’t take long to find a photo of a Pilates reformer stretching their toned muscles, talking about their latest Pilates workout.
It seems that those who swear by Pilates have impressive flexibility and crazy-strong cores to show for it – so you’re wondering if you should try Pilates, too.
But what kind of workout is Pilates, exactly?
What is the difference between Pilates and yoga? And should you add Pilates to your exercise regimen to help you lose weight?
Here’s what you need to know.
What is Pilates?
“Pilates is a series of movements on the mat that engages the whole body. With every single exercise, there is core engagement. When you find it, you’re doing Pilates!” says Andrea Rogers, creator of Xtend Barre and XB Pilates.
Each Pilates move is designed to strengthen the body’s “powerhouse”, aka the core.
Pilates dates back to the early 1900s. Its creator, Joseph Pilates, struggled with illness as a child and developed a series of exercises to build strength.
Later, he used these exercises while incarcerated during World War I to help his fellow prisoners maintain their health.
And while modern-day Pilates workouts may incorporate the use of props and machines, many exercises — like leg kicks and clamshells — have remained the same for the past 100 years.
What are the benefits of Pilates?
- Strong core muscles: When we hear the word “core,” many of us think of our abs (and that coveted six-pack). But the core is actually a network of muscles that starts at your pelvis and continues to the base of your neck. Your core includes the internal and external obliques, the transverse abdominis, and the multifidus and erector spinae, says Erven. Developing a strong core can help improve your posture and give you a longer, leaner look.
- Increased flexibility: Feeling a little tight when tying your shoelaces? Pilates can help improve flexibility. That’s because slow, controlled movements allow the muscles to stretch further, improving range of motion over time, Erven says.
- Better muscular endurance: One study found that two one-hour Pilates sessions per week for 12 weeks were sufficient to improve abdominal endurance and upper body endurance.
- A beginner-friendly workout: Pilates can seem intimidating if you’ve never tried it, but it’s actually perfect for beginners. Pilates moves are challenging, but they can be modified for all fitness levels, meaning everyone — from total beginners to athletes — can experience the benefits of Pilates. “Movements can be adapted for all body types and all ages. A class can be taught with modifications for older teenagers,” says Andrea.
Pilates vs. Yoga: What’s the Difference?
The focus on flexibility and core strength may remind you of yoga, but there are some key differences between yoga and Pilates.
“Yoga has a history of meditative practices with vinyasa movements,” says Andrea, whose goal is to center the mind and body.
Pilates, on the other hand, tends to be more fitness-focused.
“Pilates is a modern-day movement method that focuses on achieving physical goals and increasing core strength,” she says.
There are two types of Pilates
While most Pilates workouts like XB Pilates center around the same moves, there are two main formats you can try to find the right workout for you.
1. Mat Pilates
Mat Pilates is often the most recognized and accessible form of Pilates because it can be done almost anywhere, as long as you have a mat.
“It features original core work executed with precision and focus,” says Andrea. “Extra props [like balls, resistance bands, and weights] can be included to intensify your experience.”
2. Reformer Pilates
In Reformer Pilates, a machine called — you guessed it — the reformer makes the workout more challenging.
Using spring resistance and a moving carriage, the reformer provides an unstable surface that challenges your balance when you are standing or kneeling.
Can Pilates Help You Lose Weight?
Pilates can help you lose weight, but there are many factors in the fat-burning power of the workout.
“It depends on what kind of Pilates you’re doing,” says Erven.
A slow Pilates workout designed to work up a sweat won’t have the same calorie-torching power as a fast-paced class.
“High-intensity Pilates, which burns 300 to 500 calories a workout, can help anyone lose weight if they commit to a solid nutrition plan,” says Erven.
So if weight loss is your main goal, look for a high-intensity Pilates workout — and don’t forget your nutrition.
What Should I Wear to Pilates?
The best thing to wear for Pilates is comfortable, functional and form-fitting clothing. Your outfit includes: