Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on May 02, 2024
6 min read

Pilates is a type of exercise and body conditioning first used as a way for dancers to recover from injury. Today, people other than dancers do Pilates for its health benefits. It highlights precise movements, controlled breathing, and muscle engagement, enhancing muscle tone and stability. 

Who created it?

Joseph Pilates, a native of Germany and physical education advocate, developed his fitness philosophy while imprisoned off the coast of England during World War I. He and other "physical culturists" led daily exercise routines for thousands of inmates. Pilates immigrated to the U.S. in the 1920s, where he refined his method with the help of his partner Clara Zeuner. His studio in New York City attracted dancers looking for ways to recover from injuries.

Pilates vs. yoga

Yoga emphasizes mind-body connection and offers physical benefits like strength, flexibility, and balance, often with meditation. Pilates focuses on core strength through structured exercises and slowly gets more challenging. There are various forms of yoga, while Pilates typically follows a standard set of exercises with the chance to advance with help from an instructor.

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 gym or studio with special equipment and a trainer who can supervise you, or at home using streaming or video services. 

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 you'll get more flexible. You may also have better posture and a better sense of well-being.

Since Pilates isn't aerobic, plan on doing this workout a few days a week along with cardio.

Intensity level: medium

It's demanding, but not the kind of workout that always works up a sweat. It’s all about concentration and breathing. But you’ll feel it in your muscles during each exercise.

Areas it targets

Pilates’s main focus is on your core, but you can expect strength gains in your arms and legs. Positions and movements used to activate your core rely on your arms and legs to control or apply loads to the core, which will benefit from Pilates.

You could use different types of equipment in your Pilates workout, including:

  • Resistance bands
  • A reformer
  • Foam rollers
  • Barrels
  • Bars
  • A mat or blanket

Pilates machine

Also called a reformer, this is an exercise machine used for Pilates. You push and pull its moveable carriage to perform each exercise.


You'll use a mat on the floor to do Pilates, using gravity and your body weight for resistance.



Pilates may offer different health benefits, but the science behind it is unclear because researchers have only carried out small-scale studies. It could help with: 

  • Pain relief, especially for lower back issues
  • Core strength
  • Posture
  • Flexibility
  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Body awareness
  • Stress relief
  • Overall mental well-being

Here are some tips if you're thinking about starting Pilates:

Talk to your doctor. This is especially important if you have health concerns or are recovering from an injury. 

Find a qualified instructor. Whether you're taking in-person or online classes, look for an instructor who's part of a professional organization or get a suggestion from someone you trust.

Begin slowly. Even if you're experienced in fitness, this will help you avoid injury. 

Choose a mat or reformer. Don't assume mat exercises are easier than using a reformer; both have benefits and challenges.

Consider your needs and budget. Consider studio vs. home practice, group vs. solo, and mat vs. reformer, based on your preferences and budget.

Who can do Pilates?

Pilates suits all fitness levels, offering a variety of exercises and stretches that use your body weight or equipment. Talk to your doctor before starting a new fitness program, especially if you:

  • Have had recent surgery
  • Are pregnant
  • Are a man 45 years or older or a woman 55 years or older
  • Have a health issue such as heart disease
  • Have an injury to your bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, or muscles
  • Haven't exercised recently
  • Are overweight or obese

How often should you do Pilates?

For the best results, try to do Pilates two or three times a week.

Pilates includes techniques for:

  • Breathing
  • Concentration and control
  • Mindfulness
  • Precise movements
  • Keeping your body aligned



Pilates involves a series of precise movements to strengthen your core muscles while making you more flexible. You'll typically do it on a mat or with special equipment. Classes usually last 45 minutes to an hour. They focus on controlled techniques rather than intense cardio, making it suitable for beginners and those with health conditions like arthritis or diabetes, though you should talk to a doctor first. Pilates enhances posture, muscle tone, and joint mobility without high impact.

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 diseasehigh blood pressure, and high 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 – especially 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.

Ask your doctor if Pilates would be a good choice 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, check with your doctor. They will probably let you continue Pilates if you are already doing it, 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.

Is Pilates a good way to lose weight?

Studies suggest that Pilates can help people who are trying to lose weight. Researchers analyzed data from 11 studies involving nearly 400 people. They found that Pilates lowers body weight, body mass index, and body fat percentage in overweight or obese people. Larger studies are needed to understand the impact of Pilates on weight loss.