Pilates often gets lumped together with yoga, particularly by people who are newer to fitness and haven’t spent much time doing either type of exercise.
Both Pilates and yoga share some commonalities in that 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.
So, what are the benefits of Pilates? What does Pilates do for the body? Who is Pilates good for? Is it a good workout?
In this article, we will discuss the benefits of Pilates and why you might want to consider adding Pilates to your fitness routine.
We will cover:
- What Is Pilates?
- Who and What Is Pilates Good For?
- 13 Benefits of Pilates
Let’s dive in!
What Is Pilates?
Pilates is a type of exercise that involves performing movements on both a mat and/or specialized equipment, such as a Pilates reformer.
The foundations of Pilates are the brainchild of German-born Joseph Pilates, who moved from Germany to New York City in 1923, where 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,” speaking to the emphasis on 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 others are augmented by accessories like a Pilates ring, small medicine balls, and the reformer.
There are numerous benefits of Pilates, as this fitness discipline is designed to increase strength, balance, core control, coordination, flexibility, and mobility.
Evidence suggests that Pilates can improve quality of life by decreasing symptoms of depression and alleviating back pain.
Pilates is practiced by everyone from beginners just getting started on their fitness journey to competitive athletes 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.
Who and What Is Pilates Good For?
A common misconception is that Pilates is only good for women or only intended for women, and furthermore, it’s only good for people who want to get “long and lean.”
Although Pilates has been popularized by many celebrities who are predominantly women, and the messaging surrounding the benefits of Pilates is that it is a type of exercise to get you “long and lean,“ this is shortsighted and not all that accurate.
When done correctly, there certainly is a body sculpting benefit of Pilates workouts, in that Pilates stretches and strengthens muscles of the core, legs, and upper body, but it won’t make you “longer” or taller.
With that said, the flexibility and strengthening benefits of Pilates make it a safe, effective, and good type of exercise for everyone, regardless of gender, age, body size, and current fitness level.
13 Benefits of Pilates
There are numerous benefits of Pilates, which is why it could be an effective form of exercise for anyone. Some of the top Pilates benefits include the following:
#1: Pilates 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” ab muscle), internal and external obliques on the sides of your abs, the deep transversus abdominis abs muscle, the pelvic floor muscles, and the lower back muscles such as the erector spinae and multifidus.
Pilates exercises target specific core muscles individually to build strength but also focus more universally on activating the core as a whole to improve functional movement and trunk support.
The function of the core is to stabilize the body, support 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 efficiency, and decreasing pelvic floor dysfunction.
#2: Pilates Can Reduce Low-Back Pain
Because of the emphasis on strengthening the muscles in the core, Pilates has been shown to decrease low back pain.
The 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 everyday activities.
When you activate these deep core muscles, they can help maintain proper spinal alignment and take on the workload of the movement rather than defaulting to using the bones and discs of the spine itself.
#3: Pilates 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 the primary focuses of Pilates is on proper body alignment, collecting muscle imbalances, and bringing awareness to how you are holding your body. In these ways, evidence suggests that Pilates can improve posture during both sitting and standing.
#4: Pilates Can Help Prevent Injuries
Studies suggest that Pilates can help reduce the risk of injuries in sports. This is likely due to the fact that Pilates helps strengthen the core, increase body awareness, correct muscle imbalances, and develop dynamic strength.
Dynamic strength refers to the ability to be able to support and stabilize the joints as you move.
Creating balanced strength or correcting muscle imbalances can also prevent injuries because when synergistic and opposing muscle groups all 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: Pilates Increases Flexibility and Mobility
Among the most notable research-backed benefits of Pilates is that it can improve both flexibility—how much passive stretch your muscles can tolerate—and mobility—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 with no pain or functional limitations.
#6: Pilates Can Improve Cardiovascular Fitness
Pilates is typically thought of as a flexibility modality, along the lines of yoga or possibly a strength training workout, and while Pilates is far from a cardio workout like running or indoor cycling, studies suggest that Pilates can improve cardiovascular fitness.
This may be because Pilates focuses on the breath, and some of the movements are more active, so they increase heart rate and circulation.
#7: Pilates Decreases Stress
All types of exercise can reduce stress, but Pilates can be a particularly effective way to alleviate stress because of the deliberate focus on slow, controlled 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.
#8: Pilates Increases Proprioception
As mentioned, one of the Pilates benefits is enhanced proprioception 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: Pilates Decreases Menstrual Discomfort
Studies suggest that Pilates workouts can decrease the severity of PMS symptoms and menstrual cramps.
#10: Pilates Improves Balance
The core-strengthening focus, as well as the emphasis on body alignment, in Pilates, has been shown to help improve balance and reduce the risk of falls, especially in the elderly.
#11: Pilates Improves Sleep
Many people struggle with sleep, but research has demonstrated that Pilates workouts can improve the quality of sleep.
#12: Pilates Can Support Cognitive Function
Evidence suggests 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 adaptations 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: Pilates 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, with such a multitude of physical and mental benefits of Pilates, it can be an excellent workout for any type of athlete and those with any level of fitness.
For specific core-strengthening Pilates exercises, check out our article: 6 Pilates Exercises For A Stronger Core.