13 Health Benefits of Pilates

Why you should consider adding Pilates to your workout routine.

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Pilates often gets lumped together with yoga, particularly by people newer to fitness and who haven’t spent much time doing either type of exercise. 

Pilates and yoga share some commonalities: they are types of exercise that can promote core strength and body awareness and often involve performing bodyweight exercises on the floor on a yoga mat.

However, Pilates is a unique fitness discipline with its own background, exercises, goals, and workout philosophy.

The Pilates method is a form of exercise that incorporates bodyweight exercise and movements using specialized equipment, such as a reformer. It aims to improve strength, flexibility, and posture while promoting well-being and mental awareness.

In this guide, we will discuss the origins of Pilates practice in detail, the benefits of Pilates, and why you might want to consider adding Pilates to your exercise program.

A person holding onto a Pilates machine.

What Is Pilates?

Pilates is an exercise routine that involves movements on a mat and/or specialized equipment, such as a Pilates reformer. 

The foundations of Pilates are the brainchild of Joseph Pilates, who was born in Germany and moved to New York City in 1923.

There, he opened the first Pilates studio with the goal of developing a form of fitness training that could help rehabilitate injured soldiers by strengthening, stabilizing, and stretching certain muscles.

Joseph Pilates originally called his method “Controlology” based on the guiding principle that “it is the mind itself which builds the body,” emphasizing the mind-body connection in Pilates.

There are over 600 Pilates exercises and variations, many of which can be done with just your body weight, while accessories like a Pilates ring, small medicine balls, and the reformer augment others.

There are numerous health benefits of Pilates, as this fitness discipline is designed to increase muscle strength, balance, strong core control, coordination, flexibility, and mobility

A reverse plank.

Evidence suggests1Eliks, M., Zgorzalewicz-Stachowiak, M., & Zeńczak-Praga, K. (2019). Application of Pilates-based exercises in the treatment of chronic non-specific low back pain: state of the art. Postgraduate Medical Journal95(1119), 41–45. https://doi.org/10.1136/postgradmedj-2018-135920 that Pilates can improve quality of life2Karaman, A., Yuksel, I., Kinikli, G. I., & Caglar, O. (2017). Do Pilates-based exercises following total knee arthroplasty improve postural control and quality of life? Physiotherapy Theory and Practice33(4), 289–295. https://doi.org/10.1080/09593985.2017.1289578 by decreasing symptoms of depression and alleviating back pain.

Pilates is practiced by everyone from beginners just starting their fitness journey to competitive athletes3Finatto, P., Silva, E. S. D., Okamura, A. B., Almada, B. P., Oliveira, H. B., & Peyré-Tartaruga, L. A. (2018). Pilates training improves 5-km run performance by changing metabolic cost and muscle activity in trained runners. PLOS ONE13(3), e0194057. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0194057 as a cross-training workout to round out their fitness routine.

Pilates exercises are also used in injury prevention (prehab) routines and injury rehabilitation programs.4Cruz, J. C., Liberali, R., Cruz, T. M. F. da, Netto, M. I. A., Cruz, J. C., Liberali, R., Cruz, T. M. F. da, & Netto, M. I. A. (2016). The Pilates method in the rehabilitation of musculoskeletal disorders: a systematic review. Fisioterapia Em Movimento29(3), 609–622. https://doi.org/10.1590/1980-5918.029.003.AO19

Who Is Pilates Good For?

A common misconception is that Pilates is only suitable for women or only intended for women and for people who want to get “long and lean.”

But, will Pilates tone my body?

When done correctly, Pilates workouts certainly have a body-sculpting benefit. Pilates stretches and strengthens muscles of the core, legs, and upper body, but it won’t make you “longer” or taller.

With that said, Pilates’s flexibility and strengthening benefits5Monger, H., & Harrison, B. (n.d.). The Acute Effect of Pilates Exercise on Lower Extremity Maximal Strength. https://digitalcommons.wku.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1737&context=ijes make it a safe, effective, and suitable type of exercise for everyone, regardless of gender, age, body size, and current fitness level.

A pilates class.

What Are The Benefits of Pilates?

Pilates has numerous benefits, which is why it could be an effective form of exercise for just about anyone. Some of the top Pilates benefits include the following:

#1: Builds Core Strength

At its core (pun intended!), Pilates is a fantastic core-strengthening workout.

The core includes all of the muscles of the trunk from the diaphragm to the pelvic floor in a 360° arrangement.

This includes the diaphragm, rectus abdominis (“six-pack” abdominal muscles), internal and external obliques on the sides of your abs, the deep transversus abdominis muscle, the pelvic floor muscles, and the lower back muscles such as the erector spinae and multifidus. 

Pilates exercises individually target specific core muscles to build strength but also focus more universally on activating the core to improve functional movement and trunk support.

The function of the core is to stabilize the body, support good posture, and provide a stable foundation for the arms and legs to move against. 

Having good core strength can reduce back pain and hip pain by stabilizing the spine and pelvis, increasing movement and range of motion efficiency, and decreasing pelvic floor dysfunction.

A person doing a pilates exercise.

#2: Can Reduce Low-Back Pain

Because of the emphasis on strengthening the muscles in the core, Pilates has been shown6da Luz, M. A., Costa, L. O. P., Fuhro, F. F., Manzoni, A. C. T., Oliveira, N. T. B., & Cabral, C. M. N. (2014). Effectiveness of Mat Pilates or Equipment-Based Pilates Exercises in Patients With Chronic Nonspecific Low Back Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Physical Therapy94(5), 623–631. https://doi.org/10.2522/ptj.20130277 to decrease low back pain.

Pilates exercises that target the deep abdominal and spinal stabilizer muscles, such as the transversus abdominis and multifidus, not only build necessary strength in these muscles to stabilize the spine but also increase the mind-body connection or your ability to actively recruit these muscles during daily activities. 

When you activate these deep core muscles, they can help maintain proper spinal alignment and take on the workload of the movement patterns rather than defaulting to using the bones and discs of the spine itself.

#3: Improves Posture

One of the reasons that Pilates is said to make your body “long and lean” is because Pilates can improve posture, which can make you appear taller.

As mentioned, many Pilates exercises strengthen the core muscles, which allow you to keep a more erect spine and retracted shoulders.

Many of the Pilates movements also specifically target often neglected smaller postural muscles in the upper back, shoulders, neck, and chest. Strengthening these weak muscles can make it easier to maintain an upright posture without slouching as you fatigue.

In fact, one of Pilates’s primary focuses is on proper body alignment, collecting muscle imbalances, and bringing awareness to how one holds one’s body. In these ways, evidence suggests that Pilates can improve posture while sitting and standing.

A person doing a pilates exercise.

#4: Can Help Prevent Injuries

Studies suggest7Cruz, J. C., Liberali, R., Cruz, T. M. F. da, Netto, M. I. A., Cruz, J. C., Liberali, R., Cruz, T. M. F. da, & Netto, M. I. A. (2016). The Pilates method in the rehabilitation of musculoskeletal disorders: a systematic review. Fisioterapia Em Movimento29(3), 609–622. https://doi.org/10.1590/1980-5918.029.003.AO19 that Pilates can help reduce the risk of injuries in sports. This is likely because Pilates helps strengthen the core, increase body awareness, correct muscle imbalances, and develop dynamic strength. 

Dynamic strength refers to supporting and stabilizing the joints as you move. 

Creating balanced strength or correcting muscle imbalances can also prevent injuries. When synergistic and opposing muscle groups have equal strength and mobility, the risk of overpowering or overworking one muscle group is minimized.

Finally, the better your kinesthetic awareness, the more coordinated, purposeful, and accurate your movements can be, which in turn can reduce the risk of injuries.

#5: Increases Flexibility and Mobility

Among Pilates’s most notable research-backed benefits is that it can improve both flexibility,8Comparison between static stretching and the Pilates method on the flexibility of older women. (2016). Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies20(4), 800–806. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbmt.2016.01.008 how much passive stretch your muscles can tolerate, and mobility,9Ia Ferreira, M., Catiane, S., Alexandre Tavares, S., Leandro Campos, C., & Jefferson Fagundes, L. (2020). Comparison of low back mobility and stability exercises from Pilates in non-specific low back pain: A randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Spine Research2(1), 023–028. https://doi.org/10.17352/ijsr.000010 how much functional movement you have around a joint.

Having a balance between good flexibility and good mobility helps you feel limber and agile and able to perform all types of healthy movements without pain or functional limitations.10Suna, G., & Işildak, K. (2020). Investigation of the Effect of 8-Week Reformer Pilates Exercise on Flexibility, Heart Rate and Glucose Levels in Sedentary Women. Asian Journal of Education and Training6(2), 226–230. https://doi.org/10.20448/journal.522.2020.62.226.230

A pilates class.

#6: Can Improve Cardiovascular Fitness

Pilates is typically considered a flexibility modality along the lines of yoga or possibly a strength training workout. While Pilates is far from an aerobic, cardio workout like running or indoor cycling, studies suggest11Fernández-Rodríguez, Álvarez-Bueno, Ferri-Morales, Torres-Costoso, Cavero-Redondo, & Martínez-Vizcaíno. (2019). Pilates Method Improves Cardiorespiratory Fitness: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Clinical Medicine8(11), 1761. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm8111761 that Pilates can improve cardiovascular fitness.

This may be because Pilates focuses on breath work, and some full-body movements are more active, increasing heart rate and circulation. 

#7: Improve Mental Health

All types of exercise can reduce stress, but Pilates can be a particularly effective way to alleviate stress because of its deliberate focus on slow, controlled movements, breathing, and mind-body awareness. 

This type of inward, calming attention can activate the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”) and down-regulate the production of the stress hormone cortisol.

A person stretching with great flexibility, one of the benefits of pilates.

#8: Increases Proprioception 

As mentioned, one of the Pilates benefits is enhanced proprioception12Teixeira de Carvalho, F., de Andrade Mesquita, L. S., Pereira, R., Neto, O. P., & Amaro Zangaro, R. (2017). Pilates and Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Methods Induce Similar Strength Gains but Different Neuromuscular Adaptations in Elderly Women. Experimental Aging Research43(5), 440–452. https://doi.org/10.1080/0361073x.2017.1369624 or your awareness of your body in space.

It also can improve general body connectedness, helping you be more in tune with your emotions, hunger cues, stress levels, etc. 

#9: Decreases Menstrual Discomfort 

Studies suggest13Paithankar, S., Hande, D., & Abdul, A. (2016). Effectiveness of Pilates over Conventional Physiotherapeutic Treatment in Females with Primary Dysmenorrhea. IOSR Journal of Dental and Medical Sciences15(4), 156–163. that Pilates classes can decrease the severity of PMS symptoms and menstrual cramps.

#10: Improves Balance 

Pilates’s focus on core strength and body alignment has been shown to help improve balance14Hyun, J., Hwangbo, K., & Lee, C.-W. (2014). The Effects of Pilates Mat Exercise on the Balance Ability of Elderly Females. Journal of Physical Therapy Science26(2), 291–293. https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.26.291 and reduce the risk of falls, especially in older adults.15Bullo, V., Bergamin, M., Gobbo, S., Sieverdes, J. C., Zaccaria, M., Neunhaeuserer, D., & Ermolao, A. (2015). The effects of Pilates exercise training on physical fitness and wellbeing in the elderly: A systematic review for future exercise prescription. Preventive Medicine75, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2015.03.002

#11: Improves Sleep

Many people struggle with sleep, but research has demonstrated that Pilates workouts can improve sleep quality.16Ashrafinia, F., Mirmohammadali, M., Rajabi, H., Kazemnejad, A., SadeghniiatHaghighi, K., Amelvalizadeh, M., & Chen, H. (2014). The effects of Pilates exercise on sleep quality in postpartum women. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies18(2), 190–199. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbmt.2013.09.007

Someone doing a Pilates exercise.

#12: Can Support Cognitive Function

Evidence suggests17Küçük, F., Kara, B., Poyraz, E. Ç., & İdiman, E. (2016). Improvements in cognition, quality of life, and physical performance with clinical Pilates in multiple sclerosis: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Physical Therapy Science28(3), 761–768. https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.28.761 that consistent Pilates can support the growth of new neurons and can increase cerebral blood flow and the longevity and health of existing neurons.

These adaptations18García-Garro, P. A., Hita-Contreras, F., Martínez-Amat, A., Achalandabaso-Ochoa, A., Jiménez-García, J. D., Cruz-Díaz, D., & Aibar-Almazán, A. (2020). Effectiveness of A Pilates Training Program on Cognitive and Functional Abilities in Postmenopausal Women. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health17(10), E3580. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17103580 have been shown to help improve memory, learning ability, and executive functioning. 

There is also evidence to suggest that Pilates routines can enhance motivation.

#13: Can Strengthen the Immune System 

Like other forms of exercise, evidence suggests that Pilates can boost the function of the immune system.

So, what does Pilates do?

As can be seen, Pilates has a multitude of physical and mental benefits, making it an excellent whole-body workout for any type of athlete and those at any fitness level.

For specific core-strengthening Pilates exercises, read the following article:

References

  • 1
    Eliks, M., Zgorzalewicz-Stachowiak, M., & Zeńczak-Praga, K. (2019). Application of Pilates-based exercises in the treatment of chronic non-specific low back pain: state of the art. Postgraduate Medical Journal95(1119), 41–45. https://doi.org/10.1136/postgradmedj-2018-135920
  • 2
    Karaman, A., Yuksel, I., Kinikli, G. I., & Caglar, O. (2017). Do Pilates-based exercises following total knee arthroplasty improve postural control and quality of life? Physiotherapy Theory and Practice33(4), 289–295. https://doi.org/10.1080/09593985.2017.1289578
  • 3
    Finatto, P., Silva, E. S. D., Okamura, A. B., Almada, B. P., Oliveira, H. B., & Peyré-Tartaruga, L. A. (2018). Pilates training improves 5-km run performance by changing metabolic cost and muscle activity in trained runners. PLOS ONE13(3), e0194057. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0194057
  • 4
    Cruz, J. C., Liberali, R., Cruz, T. M. F. da, Netto, M. I. A., Cruz, J. C., Liberali, R., Cruz, T. M. F. da, & Netto, M. I. A. (2016). The Pilates method in the rehabilitation of musculoskeletal disorders: a systematic review. Fisioterapia Em Movimento29(3), 609–622. https://doi.org/10.1590/1980-5918.029.003.AO19
  • 5
    Monger, H., & Harrison, B. (n.d.). The Acute Effect of Pilates Exercise on Lower Extremity Maximal Strength. https://digitalcommons.wku.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1737&context=ijes
  • 6
    da Luz, M. A., Costa, L. O. P., Fuhro, F. F., Manzoni, A. C. T., Oliveira, N. T. B., & Cabral, C. M. N. (2014). Effectiveness of Mat Pilates or Equipment-Based Pilates Exercises in Patients With Chronic Nonspecific Low Back Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Physical Therapy94(5), 623–631. https://doi.org/10.2522/ptj.20130277
  • 7
    Cruz, J. C., Liberali, R., Cruz, T. M. F. da, Netto, M. I. A., Cruz, J. C., Liberali, R., Cruz, T. M. F. da, & Netto, M. I. A. (2016). The Pilates method in the rehabilitation of musculoskeletal disorders: a systematic review. Fisioterapia Em Movimento29(3), 609–622. https://doi.org/10.1590/1980-5918.029.003.AO19
  • 8
    Comparison between static stretching and the Pilates method on the flexibility of older women. (2016). Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies20(4), 800–806. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbmt.2016.01.008
  • 9
    Ia Ferreira, M., Catiane, S., Alexandre Tavares, S., Leandro Campos, C., & Jefferson Fagundes, L. (2020). Comparison of low back mobility and stability exercises from Pilates in non-specific low back pain: A randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Spine Research2(1), 023–028. https://doi.org/10.17352/ijsr.000010
  • 10
    Suna, G., & Işildak, K. (2020). Investigation of the Effect of 8-Week Reformer Pilates Exercise on Flexibility, Heart Rate and Glucose Levels in Sedentary Women. Asian Journal of Education and Training6(2), 226–230. https://doi.org/10.20448/journal.522.2020.62.226.230
  • 11
    Fernández-Rodríguez, Álvarez-Bueno, Ferri-Morales, Torres-Costoso, Cavero-Redondo, & Martínez-Vizcaíno. (2019). Pilates Method Improves Cardiorespiratory Fitness: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Clinical Medicine8(11), 1761. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm8111761
  • 12
    Teixeira de Carvalho, F., de Andrade Mesquita, L. S., Pereira, R., Neto, O. P., & Amaro Zangaro, R. (2017). Pilates and Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Methods Induce Similar Strength Gains but Different Neuromuscular Adaptations in Elderly Women. Experimental Aging Research43(5), 440–452. https://doi.org/10.1080/0361073x.2017.1369624
  • 13
    Paithankar, S., Hande, D., & Abdul, A. (2016). Effectiveness of Pilates over Conventional Physiotherapeutic Treatment in Females with Primary Dysmenorrhea. IOSR Journal of Dental and Medical Sciences15(4), 156–163.
  • 14
    Hyun, J., Hwangbo, K., & Lee, C.-W. (2014). The Effects of Pilates Mat Exercise on the Balance Ability of Elderly Females. Journal of Physical Therapy Science26(2), 291–293. https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.26.291
  • 15
    Bullo, V., Bergamin, M., Gobbo, S., Sieverdes, J. C., Zaccaria, M., Neunhaeuserer, D., & Ermolao, A. (2015). The effects of Pilates exercise training on physical fitness and wellbeing in the elderly: A systematic review for future exercise prescription. Preventive Medicine75, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2015.03.002
  • 16
    Ashrafinia, F., Mirmohammadali, M., Rajabi, H., Kazemnejad, A., SadeghniiatHaghighi, K., Amelvalizadeh, M., & Chen, H. (2014). The effects of Pilates exercise on sleep quality in postpartum women. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies18(2), 190–199. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbmt.2013.09.007
  • 17
    Küçük, F., Kara, B., Poyraz, E. Ç., & İdiman, E. (2016). Improvements in cognition, quality of life, and physical performance with clinical Pilates in multiple sclerosis: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Physical Therapy Science28(3), 761–768. https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.28.761
  • 18
    García-Garro, P. A., Hita-Contreras, F., Martínez-Amat, A., Achalandabaso-Ochoa, A., Jiménez-García, J. D., Cruz-Díaz, D., & Aibar-Almazán, A. (2020). Effectiveness of A Pilates Training Program on Cognitive and Functional Abilities in Postmenopausal Women. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health17(10), E3580. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17103580
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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