What is Pilates Anyway?

Nicky doing a bicycle crunch.

Nicky doing a bicycle crunch.

Yesterday I ran across a YouTube video of a (rather obnoxious) guy with very negative opinions on Blogilates, and really Pilates in general.  While I believe this guy’s true intent was to get attention, be it negative or otherwise, the method this vlogger chose to get his opinions across was very demeaning, insulting, and quite frankly, bullying.  He attempted, however ineffectually, to discredit every valid point anyone tried to make to counter his arguments in the comments, and even resorted to personal attacks and insults when he couldn’t find any further valid  or proper means of debate.  However, my experience in listening to what he had to say (even though he did not respond in kind) inspired me to do some “real” research on the matter.  And by “real,” I do not mean the kind you’ll find some average Joe writing about on bodybuilding.com.

Any basic internet search will tell you that Pilates was created in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates, whose job at that time was to help injured soldiers while serving in the military.  (In other words, people have been practicing Pilates for nearly a century!!)  The techniques were used mainly by dancers until the recent decade when Pilates really became popular in the mainstream fitness community.

The definition of Pilates, according to a peer-reviewed study by Wells, Kolt, and Bialocerkowski (2012), based on a review of 119 various scientific, peer reviewed articles on Pilates, is the following:

“Pilates is a mind-body exercise that requires core stability, strength, and flexibility, and attention to muscle control, posture, and breathing. Exercises can be mat-based, or involve the use of specialised equipment. Traditional Pilates principles of centering, concentration, control, precision, flow, and breathing may be relevant to contemporary Pilates exercise” (p. 258).

(Wells, Kolt, & Bialocerkowski, 2011, p. 254, Table 1)

(Wells, Kolt, & Bialocerkowski, 2012, p. 254, Table 1)

So what are the actual benefits of Pilates?  

According to Cruz-Ferreira, Fernandes, Laranjo, Bernardo, and Silva (2011), Pilates improves flexibility, dynamic balance, and enhances muscular endurance.

Emery, De Serres, McMillan, and Cote (2010) state:

“The Pilates training program was effective in improving abdominal strength and upper spine posture as well as in stabilizing core posture as shoulder flexion movements were performed” (p. 124).

Rogers and Gibson (2009) completed a study on novice adults doing an 8 week Mat Pilates Program for just 3 days a week.  The results of that study:

“Compared to an active control group that showed no improvements, those in [the mat Pilates program] significantly improved relative body fat (-1.2% BF), sit-and-reach (+7.5 cm), shoulder reach (+6.9 cm), curl-up (+14 reps), and low back extension (+7 reps) scores, as well as circumferences at the waist (-2.7 cm), chest (-1.7 cm), and arm (-0.5 cm)… Body composition, muscular endurance, and flexibility significantly improved after 8 weeks of traditional mat Pilates” (p. 569).

Erkal, Arslanoglu, Reza, and Senel (2011) also completed a study implementing an 8 week Pilates program for middle-aged sedentary women and made the following findings:

“As a results of this study; significant decrements were observed in percent body fat of women in Pilates exercise group (p<0,05)… As conclusion it could be said that; this type of regular pilates exercises are effective on reducing percent body fat of middle aged sedentary women” (p. 86).

Erkal, Arslanoglu, Reza, and Senel (2011) referenced the work of Jago, Jonker, Missaghian (2006) stating:

“R. Jago et al. (2006) observed significant decreases in BMI after 4 week pilates exercises in young girls” (p. 88).

Erkal, Arslanoglu, Reza, and Senel (2011) posted the following table listing various Pilates warm-up moves and exercises that I think is an excellent exhibit.

Pilates Matwork Exercises

(Erkal, Arslanoglu, Reza, and Senel, 2011, p. 87, Table 3)

Bottom line… Pilates is an effective workout for what it’s purpose is.  When combined with cardio and clean eating with calorie deficit (burning more calories than you eat), you WILL see the results you want.  Don’t be afraid to incorporate some weights into the Pilates exercises like Blogilates advocates doing… “You better be going heavy.  And don’t you dare worry about getting bulky.  It’s not gonna happen.  How you sculpt nice muscles, you’re gonna lift heavy.” (Cassey Ho, 2:55-3:02 in the video).



Note: All references are peer-reviewed scholarly articles based on true scientific research.

  • Cruz-Ferreira, A., Fernandes, J., Laranjo, L., Bernardo, L.M., and Silva, A. (2011).  A Systemaic Review of the Effects of Pilates Method of Exercise in Healthy People. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation; 92(12), 2071-2081.
  • Emery, K., De Serres, S. J., McMillan, A., and Cote, J. N. (2010). The Effects of a Pilates Training Program On Arm-Trunk Posture and Movement. Clinical Biomechanics; 25(2), 124-130.
  • Erkal, A., Arslanoglu, C., Reza, B., and Senel, O. (2011). Effects of Eight Weeks Pilates Exercises on Body Composition of Middle Aged Sedentary Women. Series Physical Education and Sport/Science, Movement and Health; 11(1), 86-89.
  • Jago, R., Jonker M.L., Missaghian, M., Baranowski T. (2006). Effect of 4 Weeks of Pilates on the Body Composition of Young Girls, Prev Med.; 42(3);177-180.
  • Rogers, K., & Gibson, A. L. (2009). Eight Week Traditional Mat Pilates Training-Program Effects on Adult Fitness Characteristics. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport; 80(3), 569-574.
  • Wells, C., Kolt, G. S., & Bialocerkowski, A. (2012). Defining Pilates Exercise: A Systematic Review. Complementary Therapies in Medicine; 20(4), 253-262.