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Is Pilates Effective for Weight Loss?

By Pamela Ellgen

To lose weight from stored body fat, you must burn more calories than you consume. Calorie burning happens through exercise, daily activities and your basal metabolic rate, or BMR, which is determined by your weight and percentage of lean muscle mass. Pilates burns a moderate number of calories and contributes to muscle development for increased BMR.


Pilates offers numerous fitness benefits, such as improved core strength, flexibility, balance and coordination, but it does not provide aerobic fitness. However, working with a Pilates jump board allows you to add an aerobic component to the workout. With this device, you can perform jumps and other maneuvers that increase your heart rate. A 2005 study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise found an advanced mat Pilates routine commensurate to walking at three to four miles per hour, bringing heart rates to about 62 percent of maximum, falling just shy of the American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendations for aerobic activity. Moreover, a study published in the March 2010 issue of the “Journal of the American Medical Association” found that while 60 minutes of walking helped healthy-weight women maintain their shape, overweight women needed greater intensity to lose weight. The study did not ask participants to change their diets.

Study Design

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse conducted the ACE study which followed 15 healthy young women through two mat Pilates routines, a beginner and an advanced routine. All of the women had at least an intermediate understanding of Pilates and were allowed to practice the routines prior to testing. Researchers measured the women’s perceived rate of exertion, oxygen consumption, heart rate and calories burned during each routine. They did not analyze heart rate or oxygen consumption following the routines.


Although both routines failed to elevate heart rates to an aerobic level, the perceived rate of exertion indicated a far more challenging routine than heart rates would suggest. Women in the beginning routine experienced a perceived rate of exertion of 14--or moderately hard--on the Borg scale of 6 to 20. The women performing the advanced routine reported a rate of 16, or very hard. These results indicate a high level muscular conditioning, which is absent in many cardio routines. Additionally, the women in the beginning routine burned 175 calories in 50 minutes, and in the advanced routine burned 254 calories.


The caloric expenditure of these routines compares to activities such as low-impact aerobics, which burns 310 calories, walking at 4 miles per hour, which burns 269 calories and general weightlifting, which burns 179 calories in the same amount of time given an exerciser of similar weight. Compare these caloric expenditures to that of running at the moderate pace of five miles per hour, and running clearly outperforms Pilates with 441 burned in 50 minutes. However, calories burned don’t tell the whole story. Pilates builds lean muscle tissue for greater calorie burn even after the workout is over, making a direct calorie-for-calorie comparison difficult.


To burn the greatest number of calories in your Pilates routine and thereby lose the most amount of weight, perform exercises that required total-body stabilization, such as side planks. Also perform exercises in quick succession to maximize calorie burn. If a move feels too easy, replace it with a more challenging exercise. Also couple your Pilates routine with a reduced-calorie diet to see results even more quickly.

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