Is Pilates good for weight loss? How it can transform your body shape

It can trim inches off your waistline, but can Pilates help you lose weight? We’ve got the answers.

When we talk about Pilates, most of us have a vision of a low-impact, mat-based class.

Pilates has a host of benefits for mind and body, including better posture, flexibility, a stronger core and improved breathing.

But is Pilates good for weight loss? We get the expert advice on how we can lose weight and trim inches off our body shape.

A group of people in a pilates holding a ballCredit: Shutterstock / BearFotos
Pilates suits all ages and abilities – but can it help us lose weight?

Pilates for weight loss: what the research says

Pilates is more popular than ever, with more than 12 million of us practising the discipline regularly. It benefits people of every age and ability, with dozens of different styles that include mat workouts, Pilates for runners and the machine-based Reformer Pilates.

Nick Mitchell, is a best selling fitness writer and the CEO and owner of Ultimate Performance, a global personal training company that specialises in body transformation. He says: “Pilates is a low-impact form of exercise that people of all ages can safely do. It focuses on building core strength, balance mobility and flexibility, and will certainly help keep you feeling supple.

“Pilates is good for improving posture and flexibility, reducing back pain, and generally increasing overall health and wellbeing. And, because it’s low-impact, there is very little risk of injury and it’s a lot easier on your joints than, for example, pounding the treadmill seven days a week.”

However, despite its benefits, Pilates isn’t the first exercise that springs to mind when we are looking to burn calories and shed some weight.

A woman with a tape measure around herCredit: Shutterstock /Krakenimages.com
To lose weight we need to eat fewer calories than we burn

There is little research to suggest anything different, but some studies have demonstrated that Pilates could help weight loss in people who are overweight or obese.

A small 2017 study found practising Pilates for eight weeks had a positive effect on a group of 37 overweight or obese women. While a 2021 analysis of current data concluded that Pilates can lead to significant weight loss, BMI and body fat percentage for people who are overweight or obese.

However, a 2015 study of women aged 59-66 found practising Pilates for 12 weeks resulted in no change in body composition. But the participants did benefit from the programme as they all saw an increase in their core, upper and lower limb strength. Researchers concluded the reason for the lack of weight loss was because the women taking part didn’t change their diet during the study period.

How we lose weight

To lose weight we need to consume fewer calories than we burn.

“Maintaining a healthy weight as we get older is essential,” says Mitchell.

“Weight gain, particularly as we age, is linked to a complete witch’s brew of ailments, such as late-onset diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems and mobility issues, to name but a few.

“Remember the simple science behind weight loss. To lose weight, your body needs to be in a calorie deficit. In other words, you need to be consuming less calories per day than you expend through exercise and daily activities.”

There are dozens of online programmes, diet books and in-person classes to help you do this. But a great place to start is with the NHS, which has a free weight loss plan.

Pilates for weight loss – an expert’s view

We asked Mitchell whether Pilates is a good exercise if you want to lose weight.

He said: “Pilates is very popular with people of a certain age, and it’s easy to see why, because it does have a lot of benefits.

“However, is it the optimal exercise modality for weight loss? No. Pilates focuses on mobility and balance, both of which are very important as we age, but is not as effective as lifting weights or traditional aerobic workouts for weight loss.

“If you really want to lose weight, you need to address your diet. No exercise modality on the planet is going to help you lose weight if your diet is poor. That is true regardless of whether you’re doing Pilates, weight training, running, cycling or swimming.

“So, the first thing you need to do to maintain a healthy weight is look at your diet. How many calories a day are you consuming? Are you really in a calorie deficit? What sort of foods are you eating? Is your diet high in good-quality proteins and vegetables, or is it full of highly processed convenience foods?”

Try dynamic Pilates for weight loss

Nutritionist and founder of Power Pilates UK, Korin Nolan, argues that if you want to lose weight, Pilates can be an important exercise.

However, she says it depends on what form of the exercise you practise, recommending dynamic Pilates.

She says: “These classes can leave me dripping with sweat and these are the kind of workouts that result in physical change. That’s not to say that other styles of Pilates are not beneficial, but if it’s weight loss and body composition change that you are after, you need to feel challenged in whatever it is you’re doing.”

A woman with Pilates equipmentCredit: Korin Nolan Pilates
Nolan says her body was transformed by practising Pilates

Does Pilates change your body shape?

Nolan says one of the biggest benefits of Pilates in a weight-loss programme is how it can take inches off your hips, belly and thighs.

She says: “When I started Pilates, I noticed how it changed my body shape and that’s what got me hooked. A decade later, when I learned dynamic reformer Pilates, I noticed a dramatic change in my body.

“Pilates recruits deep intrinsic muscles (the ones you don’t usually use) and that’s what makes a noticeable difference. With a healthy balanced diet, the right kind of Pilates can dramatically change your body composition.”

Pilates for weight loss: final thoughts

If weight loss is your ultimate goal, then Pilates alone won’t help you achieve it. However, there are plenty of other benefits to be gained. 

Mitchell says: “I don’t want to put anyone off Pilates! I know a lot of people who swear by it and if you enjoy doing it, and you’re seeing the benefits in terms of better mobility, balance, and flexibility, then you should certainly continue to do it.

“Any form of exercise is better than no exercise. But if you really want to address your weight as you get older, I would recommend addressing your diet first, then adding in two or three strength-training sessions a week into your exercise programme.”

Nolan also says it’s important not to be too hard on ourselves during a weight-loss programme – and, most importantly, not to expect changes overnight.

She says: “We cannot expect to adopt a huge list of new habits overnight. It’s about making gradual changes and educating yourself along the way. The more you understand the reasons why you’re doing an exercise, or following a healthy eating programme, the more likely you are to stick with it.

“As individuals, we have different needs, conditions and requirements. A lot of it is about changing your mindset and taking one step at a time.”

Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her

Updated:

Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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