Pilates Workouts for Weight Loss

Group of young people exercising on a Pilates machine.

Kristian Sekulic / E+ / Getty Images

Beginning Pilates class or a home routine is enough to jump-start weight loss. However, as time goes by, you may find that your body becomes accustomed to your workout level. Then, you will need to increase the intensity of your workout enough to help you continue to burn extra calories.

Although Pilates is generally not a high calorie-burning activity, there are ways to increase the challenge. Here are some ideas to help you amp up your training.

Increase the Intensity of Your Routine

Pilates is sometimes done slowly, especially at the beginner and intermediate levels. This gives a student a chance to establish inner attention, good alignment, and familiarity with the exercises.

But if you want to burn calories and lose weight, you might want to create opportunities to do your Pilates with more zest. One of the best ways is to get the ​Pilates principles of breath and flow working for you and then pick up the pace.

Pilates Class

If you take a Pilates class regularly, talk to your instructor and find out if it is possible to move the class along a little more quickly. Sometimes a class needs to take that step.

On the other hand, it may be that some members of your class are not ready to increase the pace of their workouts, and you will have to graduate yourself to a more advanced class. This may mean you'll have to look for another studio or try out another teacher.

One way to increase intensity in your class is to really hone in on your form, squeezing and engaging, and trying to connect your mind to your muscles to really feel the burn. With any exercise, this can increase difficulty and muscles used, increasing calorie burn.

Pilates at Home

It is good to have a routine or two that you know pretty well if you work out at home. That way, you can focus on the breath and flow of the workout and not have to pause to review the exercise instructions or sequence.

Get to know the many Pilates mat exercises and put a routine together for yourself. Then, you can mix in new, more challenging exercises as you progress. Also, Pilates routines like quick workout 1 and level 2 strength and stretch will work very well as sets that you can memorize and flow through rapidly.

Another great way to get a weight loss workout at home is to expand your Pilates workout through online videos. Look for workouts that push your current level or add a new challenge like the magic circle, fitness band, or exercise ball.

Commit Fully to Each Exercise

Even if you can't move through a routine rapidly, make sure that you get the most out of each exercise. Stretch to your fullest length at every opportunity, go for the extra scoop of the abs, breathe deeply, be precise, and move with control and grace.

This kind of fully engaged attitude is very much in keeping with what Joseph Pilates taught. It also increases the exertion level (read weight loss potential) of your workout tremendously.

Add Equipment

Give your body new challenges. Adding equipment, or different equipment, to your workout will help build muscle and strength. Remember, muscle burns a lot of fat.

If you go to a studio to work out, you could move from the mat to the reformer. If you have been using the reformer, take a chance and sign up for a class that includes a new piece of equipment, like the wunda chair or ladder barrel.

Smaller types of Pilates equipment such as magic circles, exercise balls, and fitness bands can add extra challenges at home. They also help keep your workouts interesting. 

Equipment to Try

Use Less Resistance

If you are working out with Pilates resistance equipment, decrease the resistance level. This seems counterintuitive, but the instability that less resistance creates provides a significant challenge to the muscles as they attempt to maintain control and balance, especially the core muscles.

This technique works very well on the reformer where you can use lighter springs. You also can apply the same principle to a lighter resistance magic circle or fitness band.

You may be surprised at the level of intensity that instability can add to your workout, especially as you work to maintain precision and control during both the exertion and the release phase of an exercise, as we do in Pilates.

Workout More Frequently

Working out more often is an obvious choice for weight loss, and it can work like a charm. After all, the more opportunity you take to increase your respiration, build strength, and tone your muscles, the more weight you can lose and the trimmer you will appear. 

A good idea is to work out a minimum of 5 days each week performing moderate-intensity cardio, or 3 days if your training is high-intensity cardio. As another option, you can do 3 to 5 days of exercise if you're doing a combination of moderate and vigorous activity.

Plan and log your workouts. Keeping an exercise log helps you stay motivated, track progress, and plan improvements. This becomes even more relevant when you have a goal like weight loss

A Word From Verywell

Pilates is not known for its calorie-burning or weight loss effects, but if it is your preferred form of exercise, it can definitely contribute to your overall calorie burn. Remember that weight loss is not the best goal for everyone and does not mean you will become healthier.

However, exercise itself provides numerous benefits and Pilates is no exception. You can build a strong, stable core, improve your posture, and increase your body awareness.

3 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. American Council on Exercise. Can pilates do it all?

  2. Calatayud J, Vinstrup J, Jakobsen MD, et al. Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance trainingEur J Appl Physiol. 2016;116(3):527-533. doi:10.1007/s00421-015-3305-7

  3. Garber CE, Blissmer B, Deschenes MR, et al. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor fitness in apparently healthy adults: guidance for prescribing exerciseMed Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43(7):1334-59. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e318213fefb

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.