When you’re standing on your mat, soothing music in your ears and calm, controlled breaths emitting from your lungs, a Pilates workout doesn’t necessarily scream ‘calorie burn’.
However, the fitness system, founded in the early 20th century by Joseph (you guessed it) Pilates, can actually have a surprisingly significant impact on your weight loss goals – and not just for the reasons you might expect.
‘Pilates is based on resistance training, which is scientifically proven to create lean muscle. With cardio, the moment you stop exercising you stop burning calories,’ explains Natalie Ziegler, director at Core The Studio in London.
‘Pilates workouts utilise a combination of bodyweight and actual weight training, using resistance devices such as Pilates rings, Pilates bands, foam rollers, or Pilates Reformers. Since Pilates builds muscle, your body continues to burn calories all day long.’
The calming nature of Pilates actually adds to its weight loss benefits even further. ‘Stress has long been associated with overeating,’ Natalie says. ‘More stress causes the body to release more cortisol, resulting in a higher appetite.’
‘Since Pilates works on building a connection between your body and mind, it is great for relaxation and calming any binge eating nerves.’
Natalie believes that in addition to the obvious physical benefits of Pilates that the practice also encourages mindful eating – another factor which makes it ideal for those looking to lose weight as a result of their workouts.
‘Psychologists say that eaters can be categorised into two groups: those who rely on hunger to know when to eat (mindful eaters) and those who control eating through willpower (controlled eaters),’ she continues. ‘Mindful eaters are scientifically proven to spend more time thinking about food and are therefore less vulnerable to overeating. Pilates teaches you to listen to your body more, which will help you to eat less.’
As if this wasn’t enough, Pilates strengthens your core muscles, rather than just your abdominal muscles, meaning you’re toning your stomach, upper back, lower back and obliques simultaneously, whilst remaining at minimal risk of injury, thanks to the low-impact nature of the exercise.
‘Additionally, your strengthened core and improved flexibility stabilise your movements, making you less prone to accidents,’ Natalie notes.
3 golden rules for using Pilates to aid weight loss
Engage your core
Pilates is great for your abs as your core should be engaged with every exercise you do. To do this, imagine pulling your navel towards your spine then up towards your ribcage. Gently squeeze your pelvic floor muscles when you exhale.
Drink plenty of water
You should be aiming to drink at least one to two litres of water every day to help flush out your body and get rid of toxins. This will also leave you feeling fuller for longer and discourage snacking.
Eat a balanced diet
Natalie always tells her clients its 30% training and 70% diet. Exercising every day won’t get you the results you want if you’re overeating.
Pilates exercises to target belly fat
Go up onto your hands and toes, as you would a press-up, with your hands directly under your shoulders. Your legs are straight and there should be a long line from your head to your toes, with your eyes looking at the floor. Keep your weight evenly distributed and make sure you don’t drop your pelvis or hold your bum high up, so your core is really engaged. Hold for one minute if you’re a beginner, and increase time as your strength improves. Intermittently repeat throughout your workout.
To modify: Perform the plank on your forearms and lift each leg for a few seconds during the exercise.
Start by lying flat on your back on your mat. Tuck your chin in, lifting your head slightly, as though you have a small ball you are holding in place under your chin, so that the back of your neck is elongated and your throat is open. Bring your legs up to a 90-degree angle (known as a Tabletop in Pilates). Make sure that your whole back, including your lumbar spine, is touching the mat in an ‘imprinted’ position to fully support your lower back. Keeping your back flat against the mat with no gaps is crucial for engaging the core properly. From here, reach away alternate legs with a pointed toe, as though you are going to tap the floor. Only reach as far as you can to keep your back imprinted on the mat. Once you are comfortable with this exercise on the mat, upgrade to a roller, which will utilise all your muscles to hold your balance.
To modify: Use a flexed foot and tap the floor with your heels or do doubles heel or toe taps. This is great for your lower abdominals.
Lift and lower
Start by lying on your back ensuring your back is totally flat on the mat, as above. Bring yourself into an abdominal crunch prep-position, with your hands behind your head, elbows wide, and your neck curled to your chest (to avoid hyperextension). Slowly lift your legs and straighten them, squeezing your inner thighs together, and slowly lower your legs as low to the ground as you can while keeping your imprinted lower back position.
To modify: Lift your arms up straight in front of you, parallel to the ground, with your palms down.
Lie on your side with your legs together and straight, so your body forms one straight line. Lean on your elbow (of the arm on the ground) and forearm to lift your side and ribs off the floor. Place your other hand lightly on the floor in front to help stabilise you. Lift your top leg up so that it is level with your hip, keeping it straight, so there’s around a one foot gap between your feet, and flex your foot so that your toes point forward. Swing the raised leg forward as far as you can and pulse for three counts (three small kicks forward) as you exhale. Point your toes and bring your leg back in line with your other as you inhale, making sure that your core is engaged through the whole process. Repeat this five times without letting your leg drop. Repeat on other side.
Lay on your right side with your legs straight and together, propping yourself up on your right elbow and forearm. Push yourself up so your hip lifts towards the ceiling and your weight is shared between your right foot on the floor and your right forearm. Lift your left arm up in the air with your hand pointing towards the ceiling. Your body should create a straight line from your feet to your head, with your core engaged and navel pulled in towards your spine. Lift your hip up towards the ceiling and down again, pulsing, insuring your hips do not drop below the straight line. Pulse 10 times and reset. Repeat on other side.
Back extension with rotation
Lie flat on your stomach and rest your forehead on the back of your hands, with your palms on the floor and elbows out to the side. Lay your legs and feet hip width apart and engage your core with our navel pulled in towards your spine and up to your ribcage. Lift your head, shoulders and chest off the floor, engaging your back muscles. Rotate your upper body to one side, back to centre, and then lower. Repeat this on the other side, keeping your core engaged, and alternate sides until you have done seven on both sides.