What Is Pilates?

Updated May 16, 2019
Woman and personal trainer using pilates reformer

Pilates is an exercise protocol first created by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century as a method by which bed-bound patients could begin to build strength. It quickly evolved into a resistance workout focused on strengthening the body's core, leading to better overall fitness.

The Principals of Pilates

Pilates is a mind-body exercise, so it must be done mindfully and with concentration. Breathing is essential in a Pilates workout and is done intentionally in certain patterns. Though there is more to Pilates than the six tenants listed below, these are important principles for anyone practicing Pilates.


Moves in Pilates require concentration and shouldn't be approached in a sloppy manner. Exercisers should focus on their movements and concentrate on proper form; it is a way for the mind and body to work in concert with one another.


Pilates honors breath as the fuel for movement; this is why specific breathing patterns are encouraged in most of the Pilates moves. Joseph Pilates encouraged full breaths to help move "stale air" out of the lungs.


While doing Pilates, exercisers should focus on their center - which is the same as the core. In Pilates, the core is considered the powerhouse of the body. A stronger powerhouse means a stronger body overall.


Being in control of your entire body throughout your Pilates movements is paramount to proper Pilates execution. It can take a great deal of control to stay aware of your body as a whole, but after much practice it becomes second nature.


Every Pilates move has specific instructions that should be followed precisely. For this reason, it's more common in a Pilates workout to do a few moves precisely than it is to do several moves without precision.


A Pilates workout doesn't feature the typical go-stop-go format as other workouts. Instead, it is a steady flow of fluid movements.

Types of Pilates

There are two schools of Pilates: classic and contemporary. Classic Pilates is derived directly from the style Joseph Pilates practiced whereas contemporary is based on his techniques, but not exactly. It's important to note that some "Pilates" classes offered at gyms or fitness centers aren't actually Pilates at all, but rather a loose interpretation of what Pilates actually is.

Reformer Pilates

The Pilates Reformer is a piece of equipment that includes sliding parts, pulleys, and various other parts. This machine harkens back to when Joseph Pilates first devised pulley systems on hospital beds to assist rehabilitation for bed-bound patients. The Reformer provides a challenging, strengthening workout.

Mat Pilates

Similarly to yoga, may Pilates takes place both standing and in positions on a floor mat. Additional equipment such as balls, bands, and weights are sometimes used in mat Pilates.

What Pilates Does

Pilates balances out the body, strengthens the core, and increases flexibility. Avid Pilates participants typically have a slender, muscular physique, similarly to classic dancers.

Weight Loss With Pilates

Pilates by itself will generally not provide weight loss, but when combined with a caloric deficit, it can help with fat loss as muscle grows. For best results, add additional exercise to your weekly regimen including cardio. You may not experience much difference on the scale, but will likely notice your clothes fitting better as you lose fat and gain muscle.

Benefits of Pilates

Pilates is an excellent addition to the workout schedule for all fitness levels. Beginners and athletes alike will benefit from a stronger core, which will promote better balance and stability. This not only makes overall movement easier, but decreases injury risk.

Suitable for Most

Exercisers with injuries that prohibit them from targeting their core muscles should not do Pilates without first checking with their physician or physical therapist. Pilates can be suitable for beginners or those who have weight issues - seek help from a credible Pilates instructor who can help you work through movements carefully and without risk of injury.

Challenging Yet Beneficial

Pilates can help you become stronger and more stable. Since it's a low-impact workout, it's a great way to gain strength without putting substantial strain on your joints.

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What Is Pilates?