Can Pilates Make You Lose Weight?

Separating the Marketing from the Truth: An Expert Offers Her Insights

This is a guest post from pilates pro Zoe Anderson of

Pilates and Weight Loss

So… is pilates really the new diet pill that some make it out to be? Can I feel like a celebrity for only an hour of effort a day and lose 65 pounds while obtaining a rock hard bum?

Whether you want to call it a fad – or mere misrepresentation – using pilates to lose weight is not a good idea. It’s just not the most efficient method. However, Pilates is unique in that it can change your body shape without affecting your body weight significantly. Think of it as sculpting.

Let’s break this down.

How To Lose Weight

Simple. You need to burn more calories than you consume.

A six-month long study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (Redman,, Effects of Calorie Restriction…, 1/2007) confirmed that weight loss is based on calories. Your caloric intake needs to be less than your calories exerted. (Editor’s note: to both lose weight and maintain good health, the type of calories you consume also matter.)

It is possible to lose weight without exercise – but it gets pretty difficult, especially with those trendy high-sugar coffee drinks that we can’t seem to resist. And as we all know by now, exercising has a whole slew of other added benefits that should be reaped!

Calories Burned: Pilates Exercise vs. Other Exercise

If we need to exert more calories than we put into our bodies, then we need to know how many calories we exert during exercise.

General Exercise

The Mayo Clinic conducted a study using several hundred people, weighing around 145* (please see editor’s note) pounds, to find the calories burned during one hour of various forms of exercise. The results were as follows:

* Aerobic Dancing 416
* Backpacking 448
* Badminton 288
* Bicycling (outdoor) 512
* Bicycling (stationary) 448
* Bowling 192
* Canoeing 224
* Dancing 288
* Gardening 256
* Golfing 288
* Hiking 384
* Jogging (5 mph) 512
* Racquetball 448
* Rope Jumping 640
* Running (8 mph) 864
* Skating 448
* Skiing (cross-country) 512
* Skiing (downhill) 384
* Stair Climbing 576
* Swimming 384
* Tennis 448
* Volleyball 192
* Walking (2 mph) 160

Pilates Exercise

On, which I found to be the most thorough source, I found the following information for a 145 lb* person doing pilates for one hour:

* Beginner level pilates 241* calories

* Intermediate level pilates 338*

* Advanced level pilates 421*

If I plugged in someone who weighed less than 145* lbs, the amount of calories burned was, of course, less.

Pilates and Weight Loss: The hard numbers

When pilates is compared to the general exercise list – the calories burned are mid-way between the extremes of running and walking. So, it is possible to lose weight while using pilates as a source of exercise. However if I were only looking to lose weight I would not recommend pilates because it is simply not the most efficient way to lose weight. In a day and age where time somehow equals money – efficiency (and effectiveness) is key. There are many other ways to lose weight that will get you greater and quicker results. But no matter which type of exercise you choose, you still need to take food consumption into consideration.

Pilates Goes Far Beyond Weight Loss

I don’t get many athletes who seek me out as a pilates instructor and say “I want to lose weight.” However, I love having clients of many different shapes and sizes who come to the pilates studio for a myriad of reasons. These benefits of pilates that people of all sizes can reap are as follows:

* improved posture
* full body tone
* relieved back pain
* increased joint mobility and control
* increased flexibility
* improved sports performance
* off season conditioning, etc.

Misrepresentation in Pilates Marketing

1- So why do some pilates ads demonstrate a 300+ lb. person shown as losing 150 lbs. via pilates?

It should be noted that someone who is larger/has had little activity for an extended amount of time will lose more weight than a fit person. For instance, someone who hasn’t exercised in a couple of years will lose more weight from pilates (or any other amount of moderate activity) than the recreational cyclist.

2- Certain pilates programs can be modified to help boost weight loss, but this does not mean that all pilates workouts are going to help you lose weight. The type and level of workout you participate in can really make a difference in how many calories you burn. Pilates classes and privates are taught very differently all over the world. Some classes are slower and based more on principles, some are moderate, and some are geared towards weight loss by doing rapid fire workouts with added pilates props like the jump board to the reformer. It has been noted that doing a cardio form of exercise prior to a pilates workout helps the heart rate stay higher during the pilates workout. Minimizing the breaks between exercises also helps to keep the heart rate high.

3- Pilates does have some extraordinary effects on the body.

Pilates really does change the shape of the body by building leaner muscles instead of bulky ones. Pilates is also a full body method so it tones the entire body during each session, instead of specific spots. Because of this your entire body will look “tighter.” In pilates there is also a large focus on the center or “core” and as a result your waist will lose inches. So your clothes may be a little loose in the waist, you may stand taller, and your muscles may lean out but for the most part you will still be the same size. It will be an optical illusion that you lost some weight, if you did not alter your diet or do any supplemental training.

The bottom line is: do pilates for some of the great benefits that are above and beyond weight loss. If you walk into a pilates studio expecting to lose weight you probably won’t find that, become frustrated with pilates, and never come back again. We instructors hate to see that happen – all because of some bad marketing industry. Pilates has some serious bragging rights – losing weight is just not one of them.

Did you like Zoe’s post? Have you had any experience (positive or negative) with pilates? What are your thoughts, Apples?

*EDITOR’S NOTE 9/20/07 11:39 a.m.: The author has requested an update to some of the weight and calories burned numbers in this post. Changes have been made and are noted with an asterisk.

Further Reading:

The 7 Habits of Thin (Healthy) People

Weight Loss Plateau

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