How Many Calories Does Pilates Burn?

Woman doing Pilates on reformer
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Pilates is a workout that can help improve posture and increase flexibility, and with mat variations, it can be performed anywhere with no equipment. Although calorie burning is not always the main reason people do Pilates, many of us, especially those interested in weight loss, would like to know exactly how many calories Pilates burns.

Unfortunately, unless you work out in a lab, measuring the calories burned doing Pilates is a very imprecise science. Understanding the factors that influence the calories burned during Pilates—and knowing how to measure calories burned—can help you get the most out of your Pilates workout.

How Many Calories Does Pilates Burn?

A calorie is a unit of measure for energy or heat. Your body converts calories from food and stored nutrition (mainly fat) into energy by way of thermal metabolic processes that release heat, thus the term "burning calories."

It takes a certain number of calories for your body to stay alive and function normally. That is your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Your BMR is influenced by your age, sex, weight, and body composition (fat to muscle ratio, for example).

Exercise—including Pilates—helps to increase your daily caloric burn. The following are average measures of doing mat Pilates for one hour at a beginner level by weight:

  • 171 calories per hour for a 120-pound person
  • 186 calories per hour for a 130-pound person
  • 200 calories per hour for a 150-pound person
  • 257 calories per hour for a 180-pound person

Calorie burn numbers will be higher than those cited for a person doing an intermediate or advanced Pilates workout.

Using a Calorie Counter for Pilates

You can see already that there are a number of variables involved in measuring the exact calories burned in a Pilates workout. When you add to that the wide differences in workout intensity available in Pilates, as well as the huge differences in intensity related to whether a workout includes Pilates equipment or not, and then which equipment and at what resistance level, it is clearly impossible to identify a specific number of calories burned that would be applicable to everyone.

However, you can estimate your calories burned using an activity calculator.

Keep in mind that most online calorie calculators only ask for your weight and duration of exercise. They do not tell you what population their baseline is taken from (such as sex, weight, level of fitness, etc.), nor do they specify what level and kind of Pilates is being performed such mat exercises versus equipment exercises or beginner versus advanced.

So, these numbers must be regarded as extremely general. Also, if you are "guesstimating," keep in mind that men typically burn more calories than women doing the same activity. Additionally, people in better shape tend to have a higher BMR but burn fewer calories a lower percentage of additional calories under exertion.

How to Estimate Calories Burned During Pilates

To get a somewhat more accurate Pilates calorie burn number, you would need to turn to measures based on your own body. There are a few ways to get the most accurate calculation for calories burned. Follow these three strategies to estimate your own personal calorie burn.

Heart Rate Monitor

The primary way to estimate calories burned is to use a heart rate monitor. Because the body requires oxygen to burn calories and the heart pumps oxygen through the body, there is a relationship between how hard the heart is working and your body's demand for oxygen with which to burn calories.

Some heart rate monitors come with projections of calories burned based on your BMR and your average heart rate during the exertion period. Very good ones will have inputs for other personal data such as weight and sex as well.

Heart Rate Calculators

Heart rate-based calorie burn calculators can also help you determine your calorie burn, and you can do it all online. As technology improves, activity monitors will be able to more accurately predict calorie burn during Pilates exercises—but they are not yet developed to monitor activity in multiple planes of movement.

Rating of Perceived Exertion

While you can track your exertion level with a heart rate monitor, you can also simply use the rating of perceived exertion scale (RPE). The scale uses a subjective experience of breathing rate, fatigue, and sweat measured on a scale from 6 (no exertion) to 20 (the most exertion possible) to help you gauge your exertion rate.

As you're performing a workout, keep checking in on your RPE. If it's an easy workout, your RPE will be close to 11 or 12. If you're performing a very hard workout, or are doing a high-intensity interval training, you may be closer to an 18 or 19. Keep calculating your own RPE throughout your Pilates session to see how hard you're working, and how many calories you're burning.

Pilates for Weight Loss

If your interest in the calories burned in Pilates is related to a weight loss goal, keep in mind that you have to burn 3500 calories more than you take in to lose 1 pound of body fat. Most people achieve that over time by reducing the number of calories they take in and increasing the number of calories they burn with exercise.

As for Pilates and calorie burning, as a form of moderate strength training, Pilates definitely has an important role in a weight loss program, and it will help you burn calories.

Elevated Metabolic Rate

In fact, resistance exercise like Pilates equipment exercise has been shown to keep the metabolic rate elevated longer after a workout than aerobic exercise.

There are many different ways to perform Pilates—including equipment-free or using equipment like the classic Pilates reformer—and certain moves will help you burn extra calories. Consider these popular Pilates moves to burn more calories:

  • Swimming: With this no-equipment move, you'll be working your arms, legs, and core. Start by laying down on your stomach, with your arms extended and your body in one straight line. Slowly lift your knees and arms off the ground, and begin to flutter kick your legs and move your arms in unison.
  • Plank jacks: Planks, the classic full-body workout move, get an upgrade with the addition of jacks. Begin in a plank position, with your wrists under your shoulders. While keeping your palms on the ground, jump your feet out as if you're doing a jumping jack horizontally. Finish the move by returning to the original plank position.
  • The Hundred: Begin by lying on the floor with your legs extended and your arms at your sides. Lift your legs either to the classic table-top position or extended into a 45-degree angle. Float your arms off the mat and reaching your fingertips forward, curling your head, neck, and shoulder blades off the mat. Pump your arms up and down at your sides, inhaling for 5 pumps and exhaling for 5 pumps. Hold the position for 100 total pumps, or approximately 10 breaths.

Frequently Asked Questions 

How many calories does a Pilates reformer burn?

Invented by Pilates founder Joseph Pilates, the Pilates reformer helps you elevate your practice. The platform-like structure includes a spring-loaded carriage which moves to help you lengthen and strengthen your body.

Because the Pilates reformer is customizable to different levels of tension and you have to use your own bodyweight to move, the Reformer workouts burn more calories than traditional mat Pilates.

Using the resistance on the reformer, a 120-pound person can burn around 180 calories while a 150-pound person can burn up to 220 calories.

How many calories does hot Pilates burn?

Hot Pilates is performed in a room heated up to 95 degrees and with high humidity, usually around 40%. The high-high and high-sweat environment works to improve flexibility and even cardiovascular health.

There is limited research that measures the caloric burn of hot Pilates, and some experts argue that it doesn't burn many more calories than regular Pilates sessions. A 120-pound person can expect to burn about 171 calories, and a 150-pound person may burn around 200 calories per 60-minute session.

A Word From Verywell

While Pilates can be a powerful weight loss exercise, the benefits of Pilates far exceed calorie burning. Pilates is not a cardio activity—such as jogging or elliptical training—that is primarily done for aerobic and calorie-burning effect. Rather, Pilates is ideal for lengthening and strengthening the muscles as well as aligning the spine to improve posture. If you're looking for a workout that can help you potentially lose weight, and increase flexibility and prevent injuries, Pilates could could be a great fit for you.

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