Measuring How Many Calories Pilates Burns

Women doing Pilates exercises on a exercising mat.
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Although calorie burning is not 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 workout in a lab, measuring the calories burned doing Pilates is a very imprecise science. In this article, we look at the factors that influence the measurement of calories burned in Pilates (and other activities) as well as some Pilates-specific variables.

Calorie Basics

A calorie is a unit of measure of heat. When you eat food that contains a certain number of calories, it means that food has the potential to release many units of heat when burned. 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). The more you exert yourself in an activity, the more your metabolic rate increases and the more calories you burn. Your basal metabolic rate is unique. It is influenced by your age, gender, weight, and body composition (fat to muscle ratio for example). The amount your metabolism will increase with exertion beyond your basal metabolic rate is also influenced by those factors as well as the intensity and duration of the workout.

Pilates and Calorie Calculators

You can see already that the number of variables involved in measuring the exact amount of calories burned in a Pilates workout is considerable. 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 or not a workout includes Pilates equipment or not, and then which equipment and at what settings, it is clearly impossible to identify a specific number of calories burned that would be applicable to everyone.

There, however, some very general estimates made about the number of calories Pilates burns. My survey of online calorie calculators showed an average measure of all doing mat Pilates at a beginner level

  • 191 calories per hour for a 120lb person
  • 206 calories per hour for a 130lb person
  • 238 calories per hour for a 150lb person
  • 286 calories per hour for a 180lb person

Obviously, calorie burn numbers would be higher than those cited for a person doing an intermediate or advanced Pilates workout. To give you some perspective, one calorie calculator projected 360 calories per hour for a 120lb person and 432 per hour for a 150lb person doing advanced Pilates.

Keep in mind that most online calorie calculators only ask for weight and duration. They do not tell you what population their baseline is taken from—gender, weight, level of fitness, etc. nor do they specify what kind of Pilates is being performed — ​mat exercises, equipment exercises, or level. 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. Persons in better shape tend to have a higher BMR but burn fewer calories a lower percentage of additional calories under exertion.

Calories Burned and Your Body

To get a somewhat more accurate Pilates calorie burn number, you would need to turn to measures based on your own body. The primary way to do this 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 to burn calories with.

Some heart rate monitors come with projections of calories burned based on your BMR and an average of the heart rate you have during your exertion period. Very good ones will have inputs for other personal data such as weight and gender as well. You can also find heart rate-based calorie burn calculators online. As technology improves activity monitors will be able to predict calorie burn during Pilates but they are not yet developed to monitor activity in multiple planes of movement.

Given the array of variables involved in trying to pinpoint calories burned in Pilates, a more practical solution is to pay attention to your own exertion level as that correlates with burning more calories, and it happens to be the variable you have the most control over. You can do that with a heart rate monitor. You can do that more easily by using the perceived rate of exertion scale which uses a subjective experience of breathing rate, fatigue, sweat measured on a scale from 6 (no exertion) to 20 (the most exertion possible)to help you gauge your exertion rate.

Burning Calories for Weight Loss

If your interest in the calories burned in Pilates is because you want to lose weight, keep in mind that you have to burn 3500 calories more than you take in to lose one pound. 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 moderate strength training Pilates definitely has an important role in a weight loss program and it will help you burn calories. In fact, resistance exercise, like Pilates equipment exercises, have been shown to keep the metabolic rate elevated longer after a workout than aerobic exercise. However, the benefits of Pilates far exceed calorie burning and Pilates is not one of those cardio activities, such as jogging or elliptical training, that are primarily done for their aerobic and calorie burning effect.

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