How Pilates Can Help You Lose Weight

By Victoria Everman

Longing to have the lean muscles of a dancer but have about as much rhythm as Elaine on Seinfeld? Save the money you would spend on tap shoes and invest in a Pilates class instead. Similar to yoga with its concentration on breathing, the practice of Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates in just the past century. And although you don’t usually break much of a sweat during a session, Pilates can still help you with your weight loss goals.

“Pilates can help to build and maintain lean muscle mass while you are losing weight, help to realign posture as the body's center of gravity changes, promote long elegant posture and graceful flowing movement, and keep you centered and energized — all at the same time,” says Jillian Hessel, a Los Angeles–based Pilates teacher with 26 years experience. Once a favorite of 1930s New York dancers George Balanchine and Martha Graham, Pilates now has more than 10 million followers in the United States alone.

Thanks to focusing on major muscles groups and slow, intentional movements, Pilates has become widely popularized as a perfect weight loss regimen. “I find that many people are successful losing weight with Pilates because they become much more aware of their bodies and in turn treat them better and make better food choices,” says Ana Cabán, Pilates fitness expert. After chatting with a panel of Pilates pros and diving into the fitness method’s history, we present you with the top 5 ways to become trim and toned by practicing Pilates.

1) More Muscles = More Calories Burned

Creating muscle mass is one of the best ways to increase your calorie-burning potential. Pilates can help you accomplish that in spades. “Simply stated, Pilates is strength training. We work with resistance to increase strength and hence, muscle mass. Using springs and different apparatus to increase the load to the muscles, we can affect a metabolic increase by building lean muscle mass,” says Alycea Ungaro, owner of Real Pilates NYC.

You can add a variety of tools to your basic Pilates mat routine to help tone muscles all over, and avoid boredom. “I enjoy adding bands, body rings and light weights to my Pilates routine because it provides variety and challenges muscles in a different way,” says Cabán. Resistance bands are easily portable, yet create a notable amount of challenging resistance to help firm and tone. The body ring, well known among Pilates fans, is another resistance tool used during mat exercising, often focusing on the lower body and core muscles.

2) Looking Thinner

One of the best ways to look and feel thinner is to have good posture. Pilates helps create better posture by firming not only your abs, but your back too. “All Pilates work is performed with proper alignment and attention to posture. By establishing optimal spinal alignment, you can facilitate better circulation, improved lymphatic flow and increased stamina of the muscles along the spine,” says Ungaro. Not only will toned spinal muscles help you continue to lose weight via increased metabolism, standing up straight will automatically make you look thinner, thereby increasing your confidence as well.

3) Crafting Your Core

Pilates is all about core strength. The benefits of core strength go way beyond flat abdominals, but it is the flat ab results of doing Pilates that help make it as popular as it is. Your core is made up of not only your front and side abdominals, but your entire back as well. “Pilates teaches people how to use their abdominals correctly—how to contract the abdominal wall rather than let it distend. This simple mechanism can be used 24/7 in your daily life. That is the single reason that Pilates flattens abs so quickly,” says Ungaro. Lugging groceries, toiling in the garden, reading on the beach—flat abs come in handy all the time! Both toned abs and a strong back have many benefits, such as helping to prevent injury, improve posture, reduce lower back pain and even promote proper bowel function.

4) Kitchen Inspiration

Toned core, strong back, increased metabolism — it’s easy to see how Pilates could make someone a bit more confident. “The benefits spill over into other aspects of your life. You will immediately stand taller, hold your waist tighter and feel stronger. This increased body awareness will make you less likely to indulge in unhealthy habits,” says Ungaro. Indulge—like that third or fourth cookie you had at last weekend’s barbeque? Use your newfound confidence to “tone” up your kitchen. Your local farmers’ market is full of healthy, edible inspiration that will make you think twice about the word “diet.” Seeing the incredible feats your body is capable of is incredibly motivating. You will have a new respect for your body and are more likely to take better care of it,” adds Ungaro.

5) Complete with Cardio

No weight-loss regimen is complete without good old-fashioned cardio work. Combining the strength training benefits of Pilates and a consistent cardio workout, you’ll lose weight and tone up nearly twice as fast as just doing either routine on its own. According to Cabán, you don’t need any fancy equipment either. “I enjoy walking the hills in my neighborhood. I get a great workout for both my heart and my muscles,” she says. Prefer something more challenging, or looking to add more variety? Ungaro says, “Consider swimming, running or the elliptical machine. Steady-state activity is great for cardio conditioning.”

Victoria Everman is a freelance writer, model, environmentalist, crafter and yogi in San Francisco, California, and contributes to, from which this article was adapted.