Using Pilates to Get in Great Shape

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

To get in shape with Pilates is to take responsibility for your total health. Far from just physical fitness, the Pilates system was defined by its founder Joseph Pilates, as "complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit."

You can expect strength, flexibility, and a stronger core. But the primary intention of the method is much more significant. Before you jump into a class or one-on-one training session, understand some of Pilates's underlying concepts and principles. ​

Fundamental Concepts

Joseph Pilates said that the goal of Pilates was "a uniformly developed body with a sound mind fully capable of naturally, easily, and satisfactorily performing our many and varied daily tasks with spontaneous zest and pleasure." 

Symmetry and Alignment

Symmetry and alignment are the foundation of physical wellness. The majority of musculoskeletal conditions and injuries are due to poor alignment and asymmetries.

Pilates is targeted symmetrical training. By focusing on equalizing body sides of the body and balancing motion and strength, you will achieve ease of movement that you may not have experienced before.

Accessible to All

Getting in shape with Pilates is a path anyone can embark on. All Pilates exercises can be modified to meet the needs of the individual. Whether you train with the Pilates equipment or the mat exercises, you can adjust the motion and intensity to your level. 

Whatever Pilates style you prefer, working with an individual teacher is recommended to help you design the best program for your intended results. 

Core Principles

The Pilates principles are centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, and flow. These principles separate Pilates from many other workouts, which may address the physical aspects of wellness but do not work to integrate the mental and emotional elements of health.

How to Get Started With Pilates

Pilates exercise starts with the core of your body. Full breaths refresh your cells with your heart and circulatory system pumping fresh blood into your tissues. Training the deep muscles of your abdomen, back, and pelvis (your Pilates powerhouse) will support your spine, and provide stability in your pelvis and shoulders as you move.

When you strengthen and stabilize the core, you can safely move out from the center to increase the flexibility of your spine, stretch your muscles, and improve the range of motion in your joints.

Pilates Workouts

Pilates is a progressive system. If you are consistent with your Pilates training, you will add new moves and increase your stamina and intensity with each workout. As you progress, you will find that the pace of a workout picks up, as do the strength and stability challenges. 

Once you have experience with the Pilates mat work, you can add challenge and variety with Pilates equipment. You can use small equipment at home, or you can take classes at a studio to incorporate equipment like the reformer and Pilates chair

To get in shape with Pilates, Joseph Pilates recommended a minimum of 3 sessions per week. While you can do the mat work every day, equipment work should be spaced out every other day. You may begin with short mat workouts for as little as 10 minutes. Your goal is to work your way up to 45 minutes to one hour.

Whenever possible, work with a pilates instructor who can guide you through proper form and move you forward towards your goals.

How to Know if Pilates is Right for You

The best way to determine whether Pilates is suitable for you is to give it a try, either at a studio class or online. The benefit of a studio class led by an instructor is the live coaching and alignment cues and fixes that may make the experience more comfortable and enjoyable for you.

Pilates is ideal for those who want to increase their core strength, protect their back, or reduce back pain. However, if you currently have back pain or strain, it's important to discuss your plans to try Pilates with a health care provider and, ideally, go to a live class where an instructor can be sure you are modifying your movements appropriately.

If muscle building is your goal, Pilates will help you, but you may need to add in weight training as well. While able to build some muscular strength and endurance, Pilates is not challenging enough to build muscle size or strength beyond a fundamental level. Similarly, if you want to increase cardiovascular endurance or capacity, Pilates will not be an effective training method.

A Word From Verywell

Many people find Pilates to be a satisfying fitness regimen. In traditional exercise terms, Pilates is a system of moderate strength and flexibility training. You will increase your core strength and stability, helping reduce the likelihood of low back pain, which is a common complaint. Once you begin, you will start to understand all of the additional benefits of Pilates. 

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. World Health Organization. Musculoskeletal conditions.

  2. Pilates. Balanced body.

  3. Yamato TP, Maher CG, Saragiotto BT, et al. Pilates for low back painCochrane Database System Rev. 2015. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD010265

  4. Kato S, Murakami H, Demura S, et al. Abdominal trunk muscle weakness and its association with chronic low back pain and risk of falling in older womenBMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2019;20:273. doi:10.1186/s12891-019-2655-4

By Marguerite Ogle MS, RYT
Marguerite Ogle is a freelance writer and experienced natural wellness and life coach, who has been teaching Pilates for more than 35 years.