Pilates may look like an intense workout but will it offer a good workout? Find out how this type of exercise changes your body.
While there are reformer exercises, for most people, pilates will come down to doing a variety of light bodyweight exercises with a focus on core muscles, flexibility, and mobility.
There are a few ways you can expect pilates to change your body.
Some of the high-level-view ones include growing and strengthening your core and potentially other muscles, improving flexibility, and potentially helping you lose some fat if your other lifestyle habits are good.
Additionally, you can expect a lot of the more precise yet valuable body changes below too.
1. Some areas may get more muscle
One of the things pilates focuses on is making your body stronger. Certain of the movements you do could even grow some muscles in a few areas.
More specifically, many pilates exercises can be challenging on core muscles around your waist like your abs, obliques, and erector spinae (lower back).
If you are not used to these movements, pilates could help you grow these muscles a small amount.
The same goes for arm exercises that are challenging enough. These will usually be the most challenging for your tricep muscles (back upper arms).
There are also pilates exercises that work your leg and upper back muscles. However, because the muscles in these areas are relatively strong, pilates may not be challenging enough to cause actual growth.
In short, if it is challenging enough for your strength level, pilates can tone certain areas of your body by growing muscles. This will mostly be the case for the core muscles.
Pilates body vs gym body
Some people really don’t want to build a lot of extra muscle and are afraid pilates might do so.
While the mechanisms behind a pilates body and a gym body are the same, pilates will generally not be challenging enough to build a lot of muscle.
You can still improve endurance in the muscles you work but adding a lot of mass/size is generally not possible with pilates.
On the other side, a gym body comes from challenging your body with more resistance (typically weights). This can add mass and size in the areas you focus on.
Something to note is that you don’t gain 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of muscle in one week of going to the gym. If you don’t like the shape your body is heading to, you can always reduce the resistance in the gym.
2. You may become more flexible and mobile
Pilates workouts also often involve a few exercises where you push your boundaries of flexibility and mobility.
Doing this to a safe extent can lead to changes in the muscles, joints, and tendons in your body over time. In turn, you could become more flexible and have better mobility in certain areas.
When it comes to pilates, these improvements will typically take place in your core muscles, hips, and shoulders.
3. Can give you more energy
While it may sound counterintuitive at first, moving more with exercises like pilates can actually help improve your energy and vitality levels and reduce your feelings of fatigue throughout the day (1).
This happens through a variety of internal processes inside of your body. However, the most important thing to know is that pilates can positively change how energetic you feel.
4. You could lose some weight
Body fat is not completely bad but many people would benefit in terms of health by losing some excess weight.
In workouts like pilates you move your body more intensely than usual. This uses up more energy which can be measured in calories.
A rough estimation is that a 155-pound person will burn around 110+ calories with a medium-intensity pilates workout of 30 minutes.
In reality, the numbers will look different for you personally due to differences in weight, body composition, hormone levels, etc.
There are definitely more intense exercises but this does show how pilates can make you leaner aka can change your body by reducing the amount of body fat you have.
One thing you do want to keep in mind is that other lifestyle habits like what you eat are important no matter what workouts you do. You can do a lot of pilates and still gain weight if these other habits are suboptimal.
5. Any back pain may be reduced
Many people experience or have experienced lower back pain at some point. Luckily, most people are not completely helpless against this.
One review of studies concluded that core strengthening exercises can be effective for reducing lower back pain (2).
More specifically, one study with 120 people observed that a core stabilization exercise program was more effective than routine physical therapy exercise for reducing lower back pain (3).
Since many pilates exercises basically come down to core strengthening exercises, you could expect some of the body changes mentioned above.
One thing to keep in mind is that you definitely don’t want to overdo it either. If you currently have any pain, you likely want to get guidance from an expert.
6. Your body can feel more balanced
A lot of pilates exercises require some extra balance in one way or another. By challenging your body in terms of balance, you could see improvements similar to training other skills.
After a few weeks of pilates, your body may feel more balanced. On top of that, better balance could also reduce your risk of things like falling.
Similar to the lower back changes, you want to make sure you challenge your balance to safe extents. There is also a way to overdo it.
7. Pilates could improve your posture
While there are still discussions about what good posture is in terms of health, most people will agree that there are certain ways of carrying yourself that look better.
Pilates can help you strengthen and improve endurance in a variety of muscles that play a role in posture in one way or another. This could help with things like keeping your body upright.
8. You may feel happier
The way you feel is the result of a variety of internal processes. At least a few of these processes are influenced by your overall health.
Additionally, doing workouts like pilates where you move your body more intensely promotes the release of endorphins.
Pilates may also make you feel happier because you know you are doing something challenging that will benefit your health in the long term.
9. Your muscles will last longer
As mentioned before, pilates is not always challenging enough to actually grow the stronger muscles in your body.
However, even if this is the case, working these muscles with pilates can still offer other benefits.
The specific point in this section is that pilates can help you improve muscle endurance. This is basically how long the muscles will be able to exert effort.
In turn, this can lead to other benefits. For example, core muscle endurance can make it easier to stand or sit up straight for extended periods of time.
10. Makes your body more injury-resistant
The next benefit of pilates is that it can change your body in ways that make it more injury-resistant.
Your body is a dynamic system that adapts itself to pressures that are not too hard.
For example, by challenging your core muscles to safe extents, your body will make this area stronger to be better prepared in the future for similar efforts.
These processes also apply to body parts like your joints and tendons. Strengthening these and your muscles typically leads to a lower injury risk in your daily life, pilates workouts, and other exercises.
Do keep two things in mind. First of all, you don’t want to challenge your body too much. You want to push your boundaries but not cross them.
Additionally, your body needs nutrients and rest time to strengthen itself. Make sure you eat well and rest as long as necessary in between pilates workouts.
11. Your body movements may be more precise
Another way pilates changes your body is that your arm and leg movements may become more precise.
The coordination of your body parts is a process of moving them and getting feedback. This helps your body adapt to what extent it moves muscles to better resemble your intentions.
Pilates workouts tend to implement this training process more than regular daily activities. In turn, you could find yourself moving your arms and legs to where you actually want them to move. Aka you have better coordination.
12. Some bones could become stronger
The next area where your body can adapt is the density of its bones.
Pilates is not the ultimate workout for this but it could positively change the bone density in body parts like your arms if these typically don’t have to do much.
Stronger bones can be helpful to reduce the risk of breaking them. Even if you are currently not at an age where this worries you, your current habits have an influence on the future state of your body.
Something to note is that if stronger bones are your goal, it is likely smarter to do exercises where you lift heavy weights instead of pilates.
13. You may feel less stress
Short periods of stress are not necessarily bad but when it becomes chronic, aka lasts a long time, it seems to be bad for human health (7).
There are publications that conclude that while more quality research would be welcome, exercise, especially aerobic movements, seems to help people feel calmer (8).
Pilates is not the most intense cardiovascular exercise out there but it likely gets your heart beating faster. In turn, this could help you feel less stressed during and a few hours after the workout.
14. Your brains could work faster
Workouts like pilates can also change your body in cognitive areas. First of all, it looks like exercise can help prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s (9).
Better brain plasticity generally helps with learning things at a faster rate, seeing connections more quickly, and remembering things better.
In short, even though there are likely better workouts for this too, pilates could help your brain work faster and more effectively.
15. Your body may perform better in sports
Better core strength, muscle endurance, balance, coordination, a reduction in injury risk, thinking more quickly, etc. are not only helpful in pilates workouts and your regular daily life.
These body changes will also likely make you perform better in many, if not all, sports.
How long does it take to see results from pilates?
How long it takes to see results from pilates depends on what results you are looking for, your current fitness level, and how intense your pilates sessions are.
A resistance training beginner could feel changes in core strength as soon as 2 weeks. Someone who is used to more intense workouts may not see any significant core mass or strength changes after months of pilates.
For a popular goal like weight loss, your other lifestyle habits play an important role. You could burn around 110 calories per 30-minute session of pilates.
If you would keep your other lifestyle habits the same, you could lose a pound of body fat with about 32 pilates sessions of 30 minutes. With daily sessions, it could take you a month to see this result.
Lastly, how long it takes to see flexibility improvements from pilates varies a lot between ages, skill levels, the exact exercises, etc. It is hard to put any general numbers on this.