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How It Works

Pull out your gym mat and get ready to do a series of movements that will stabilize and strengthen your core.

The exercises are usually done in a specific order, one right after another. The movements have names, like "The 100," Criss-Cross," the "Elephant," and the "Swan."

The moves may look simple, but they take a lot of precision and control. It's not like doing a bunch of crunches; there's a strong emphasis on technique.

You can do Pilates on an exercise mat, either in a class or at home, using a DVD. Or you can go to a gym or studio that has special equipment, in a class or with a trainer supervising you.

Pilates classes typically take 45 minutes to an hour, but you can do fewer moves in less time.

You’ll get stronger, more sculpted muscles and gain flexibility. You may also have better posture and a better sense of well-being.

Plan on doing this workout a few days a week, in addition to cardio, since Pilates isn't aerobic.

Intensity Level: Medium

It's demanding, but it's not the kind of workout that will make you hot and sweaty. It’s all about concentration and breathing. But you’ll definitely feel it in your muscles during each exercise.

Areas It Targets

Core: Yes. Your core is the main focus of this workout.

Arms: No. This workout doesn't specifically target your arms.

Legs: Yes. You’ll use your upper legs to help engage your core.

Glutes: Yes. You’ll use your glutes as you work on moves that stabilize your core.

Back: Yes. This workout focuses on stabilizing and strengthening your back as you strengthen your abs.


Flexibility: Yes. The exercises in a Pilates workout will boost your flexibility and joint mobility.

Aerobic: No. This is not a cardio workout.

Strength: Yes. This workout will make your muscles stronger. You’ll use your own body weight instead of weights.

Sport: No.

Low-Impact: Yes. You’ll engage your muscles in a strong but gentle way.

What Else You Should Know

Cost: You can do it at home for the cost of a Pilates DVD (about $15). Or you can go to a Pilates class. Expect to pay $50 or more for a private session or $10-$30 for a group session.

Good for beginners? Yes. You can start with basic exercises then try advanced moves as you get better. If you’re starting out, opt for a class or private lessons so an instructor can keep an eye on your form to prevent injury.

Outdoors: No. Expect to go to the gym or be in a room with a TV for this workout.

At home: Yes. Pull out your mat and press play on your DVD player for a convenient at-home workout.

Equipment required? Yes, you’ll need a mat. Some gyms have special machines for Pilates, called a Reformer. You can get a modified version for your home, but you probably don’t need it.

What Dr. Melinda Ratini Says:

If you are looking to strengthen your abdomen and pelvis as well as maintain good posture, then Pilates is for you. It also has a strong mind/body connection, so you may like it if you enjoy yoga but need a more intense core workout.

Pilates is great for strengthening and toning your core and for increasing your flexibility, but it’s not a comprehensive strength building program. You will need to supplement it with some other exercises if you want to build up your arm or calf muscles. Talk to your trainer to see what would be best. And don’t forget your cardio!

Pilates involves precise moves and specific breathing techniques. It’s not for you if you prefer a less structured program. It also won’t fit your needs if you are looking for an aerobic workout.

Pilates can be very demanding, so start slowly. Instructors do not have to be licensed, so it’s best to get recommendations before selecting one.

Is it good for me if I have a health condition?

You can tailor Pilates to your individual needs, so it can be a great addition to your aerobic workout, even if you have health issues like heart disease, high blood pressure, and cholesterol. Check with your doctor first.

If you have diabetes, you may need to make some adjustments in your diabetes treatment plan, since adding muscle mass helps your body make better use of glucose. Your doctor can tell you what changes you need to make. Tell your instructor that you have diabetes and particularly if you have any complications such as diabetic retinopathy. You may need to avoid certain Pilates moves.

If you have arthritis, a strength-training program such as Pilates is a very important part of your exercise program. Research shows that a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training can help curb symptoms, maintain balance, keep joints flexible, and help you get to and keep an ideal body weight.

If you have had a recent back or knee injury, put off Pilates until your doctor clears you. Pilates strengthens the thigh muscles (quadriceps), and this may help prevent arthritis and knee injuries. It may also help prevent greater disability if you have arthritis.

Pilates may also be good if you have chronic low back pain. It will help strengthen your weak core muscles that may be adding to your pain. For the best results, seek out a Pilates instructor who has at least several years of experience working with people with low back pain.

If you are pregnant and are already doing Pilates, check with your doctor. She will probably let you continue as long as your pregnancy is going well. There may be some changes needed as your belly grows. For example, after your first trimester you shouldn’t exercise while lying flat on your back because this reduces blood flow to your baby. There are also special Pilates programs for pregnant women that you can try.

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