Unlike a gym workout, it doesn’t require a ton of home gym equipment and the bounty of free Pilates workouts online is increasing rapidly. Not to mention the benefits of strengthening and lengthening your muscles with low-impact resistance training like Pilates – a real godsend for those with finicky joints.
Not sure where to start? Well, reader, you’re in the right place. Read on for your Pilates for beginners need-to-knows, what to look for if you’re searching for Pilates online, the 45 best pilates YouTube workouts, and our best tips for ensuring a successful Pilates workout. Phew, that’s a helluva lot. Let’s get into it.
What is Pilates?
In New York in the 1920s, Joseph Pilates devised more than 500 moves, 34 of which were mat-based exercises. He drew of methodology he’d developed while working as an orderly in the Isle of Man in the latter half of WWI, where he worked with patients injured in the war.
Now, his revolutionary regime is recognised globally as a way to strengthen the body. Pilates workouts help improve flexibility, balance and core strength, and are particularly effective if you suffer from back pain. Research published in the journal PLOS One in 2014 showed that Pilates can both effectively ease back pain and boost functional movement when compared to traditional methods like massage therapy and other forms of exercise.
8 benefits of Pilates workouts
- Improves flexibility
- Improves core strength
- A challenging low-impact form of exercise
- Can improve posture and stability
- Can be done with no equipment
- Increases flexibility and range of motion
- Improves muscular endurance and strengthens muscle tissue
- Can be done after injury or as part of physical rehabilitation therapy
What kind of workout is Pilates?
‘Pilates is a low-impact flexibility and muscular strength and endurance movements combined,’ explains Aimee Victoria Long, PT & founder of Body Beautiful Method.
‘Pilates emphasises correct postural alignment, core strength and muscle balance. It is great for ironing out muscular imbalances, injury rehabilitation and injury prevention.’
There are many forms of pilates:
- Classic Pilates: The traditional Pilates exercises as devised by Joseph Pilates, performed in the same sequence each time
- Mat Pilates: 34 mat-based exercises by Joseph Pilates, plus other mat exercises
- Contemporary Pilates: A mix of traditional and new Pilates exercises, performed in varying sequences using a range of small pieces of equipment
- Reformer Pilates: A dynamic form of Pilates using a ‘Reformer’ to add resistance and challenge stability
- Clinical Pilates: Injury and rehabilitation-specific exercises, prescribed by physiotherapists
‘I’d suggest trying out the different forms to find out what works best for you and what you enjoy the most,’ advises Long.
Does Pilates count as exercise?
‘Pilates is most definitely exercise and when performed correctly it’s very challenging,’ says Long. ‘As an exercise, it counts as a muscle-strengthening workout. Plus, you’re able to work the whole body through Pilates. It challenges your lower and upper body and demands core strength.’
Is Pilates safe during pregnancy?
You betcha. In fact, if you’re expecting, Pilates might be one of the best ways to move your blossoming bod, says Hollie Grant, Pilates instructor and founder of The Bump Plan. ‘Not only is it safe, but it’s the exercise I strongly believe all pregnant women should include in their fitness plan.’
Here are some of the benefits for mums-to-be:
- It strengthens muscles most affected by pregnancy (like abs, glutes and pelvic floor)
- It’s low-impact
- It can reduce back pain
- It helps keep you mobile
- It improves balance
‘It is incredibly safe, yet very effective, and it means that many women can still feel the “burn” during their pregnancy, whilst knowing their babies and their own health isn’t compromised,’ Hollie says.
Can you start Pilates during your pregnancy then? ‘If you didn’t practice Pilates before pregnancy, it’s the perfect time to get started, and it’s never too late! Many of my clients turn up to class on their due dates!’
Is 20 minutes of Pilates per day enough?
Short on time? When it comes to bang-for-your-buck sessions, Pilates delivers.
‘When it comes to something like Pilates it’s more advantageous to do a little bit every day, rather than an hour-long class once in a blue moon,’ Hollie says. ‘Little and often will help lead to sustained change, and really help you to understand the basics of Pilates.’
‘My clients often describe how they are more in tune with their bodies for the rest of the day after practicing Pilates and they feel less pain – why wouldn’t we want that every day?’
Can you do Pilates at home?
Yes, there are styles of Pilates that require some hefty equipment (think the reformer, Cadillac, Wunda chair), all you need for Pilates is a mat.
‘We use bodyweight as our resistance,’ Hollie says. ‘Now don’t think that means it will be easy – your body might weigh 60kg or more – those kettlebells you think are heavy at the gym are probably more like 10kg.’
Can Pilates help you lose weight?
As always, the answer to this one is: it depends.
Effective weight loss is multi-faceted, so it’s difficult to pinpoint one thing that specifically results in weight loss, says Hollie. ‘It’s affected by sleep quality, hormones, stress levels, diet and activity levels.’
A lot to consider, then. However, a calorie deficit – burning more calories than you consume – can often help people reduce their weight. The calorie deficit largely depends on how much you eat, but any activity can certainly help raise the roof on your daily energy expenditure, or calorie burn.
Cardio is often touted as the best way to up that daily burn – which, of course, Pilates is not. ‘Pilates is not aimed at cardiovascular strength, it is aimed at muscle strength,’ Hollie explains. ‘However, if you were doing zero exercise before, and then started adding in Pilates to your weekly routine, in basic terms, yes, it could help you lose weight as you would inevitably be burning more calories moving than not doing Pilates.’
It’s worth adding that workouts that built strength and lean muscle may be a more effective (if slower) long-term solution to sustainable weight loss. Here’s more on the strength training vs. cardio debate.
Hollie is quick to add that hoping Pilates will be the magic bullet to weight loss is pretty self-defeating. ‘Putting Pilates and weight loss in the same sentence almost denigrates Pilates – Pilates is about so much more than weight loss and has the power to change people’s lives for the long term, something weight loss doesn’t necessarily deliver on.’
How is Pilates different from yoga?
They’re both done on a yoga mat (for the most part) but there are some key differences between the exercise protocols.
‘One of the main differences between Yoga and Pilates is that Pilates focuses on relaxing tense muscles and strengthening others. Yoga tends to be used for improving the flexibility of the body,’ says Long.
Is yoga or Pilates better for improving overall fitness?
‘Both disciplines have great benefits. Depending on your goals. If you’re looking to improve your core strength, Pilates is a great form of exercise. It will help improve deep core strength, muscle control & stability, posture and coordination while improving muscular endurance,’ says Long.
‘However, if you’re looking to predominantly improve flexibility and prefer to incorporate a spiritual element to your training, then yoga may be more appealing to you. That being said there’s no reason why you can’t incorporate both Yoga and Pilates into your training programme.’
So, no need to double down on one discipline – there’s myriad styles of Pilates to try and, done regularly, you’ll notice big strength gains, particularly in your deep core. Mix in with your regular workout routine and you’ll be set for success. Go on then.