Pilates for People With Larger Bodies

Woman doing plank with instructor adjusting her form
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If you have a larger body size, exercise can be intimidating, and an exercise class even more so. Add to that the reputation Pilates has for creating lean bodies, and you might think everyone in a Pilates class will be agile, toned, and slim, and you won't fit in.

Happily, that's just one of the myths about Pilates. Pilates is actually well-suited for people with larger bodies. And it offers a variety of benefits for people of all body sizes.

Benefits of Pilates for Larger Bodies

People of all sizes, shapes, and ages can take Pilates classes. They are there to take advantage of the many benefits of Pilates. A regular Pilates practice can:

  • Increase the strength and coordination of the muscles of the core of the body. These are the muscles that support the spine and organs.
  • Improve alignment and posture, relieving stress on joints and muscles
  • Reduce back pain, which can be a side effect of carrying extra weight
  • Increase flexibility to improve range of motion and general fitness
  • Build muscle, helping to support joints and reduce the risk of pain and injury
  • Improve balance, which can help reduce the chance of falls and increase the ability to perform other exercises and daily functions

Why Pilates Is Well-Suited for Larger Bodies

Pilates is a low-impact exercise format that doesn't require a high level of cardiovascular or muscular fitness to get started. As long as you make necessary adjustments to suit your starting point (an instructor can guide you on this), you should find Pilates accessible.

Exercises Are Low-Impact

Pilates exercises are done on a mat or various types of Pilates equipment. Either way, mat or equipment, Pilates exercises are generally done lying down, sitting, or sometimes kneeling. There is no jumping or high-impact load-bearing on the joints.

These positions make Pilates exercises well-suited for larger people who may not be comfortable standing for long periods or doing high-impact exercises. They may also be better suited than workouts that require a lot of shifts of weight.

Exercises Are Adaptable

Pilates exercises can be modified for different fitness levels and physical needs. An experienced instructor will adjust mat exercises and/or equipment set-up to help you gradually improve strength and endurance, working your way into Pilates exercises.

Pilates Equipment Is Sturdy

If you are concerned about your size with regard to Pilates equipment like the reformer, tower, or Pilates chair, don't be. Professional Pilates equipment is very sturdy. It's made of heavy-duty wood, metal, strong springs, and leather straps.

Pilates equipment will hold you, even if it is scary-looking. This is not necessarily true of Pilates equipment made for home use. And you may encounter a Pilates studio that has not invested in good equipment, but that is rare.

How to Get Started With Pilates

A Pilates studio should be a place where you feel welcome. Try out several studios or online options to see which one is the best fit for you. Look for studios with professionals that know how to assist beginners and give instructions for modifications to exercises, should you need them.

People with much larger bodies (height or weight) may want to start with a private lesson. This will enable your instructor to find the best modifications and props for you. It will also help the instructor suggest classes and let you get comfortable with the exercises and equipment.

Pulling in Your Abs

You are going to be hearing a lot about pulling your abdominal muscles in or scooping your abs. If you have extra weight in your midsection, that is not going to look very dramatic. That's OK. Looks are not the point. You will be able to feel it and an experienced instructor will recognize the effects of your work as it is reflected in your alignment and how you are moving in an exercise.

What to Wear for Pilates

You can wear comfortable T-shirts and sweats for Pilates, as long as they allow the instructor to see your body enough to correct potential form issues. Clothing should be lightweight and breathable. Ideal clothing for Pilates includes:

  • Leggings or shorts that you can move in freely, without thick waistbands that can dig into the skin
  • T-shirts or tank tops that aren't too baggy or loose (these can get caught in equipment)
  • Grippy socks

A Word From Verywell

Pilates can be a great way to build strength, and the low-impact nature of the exercises makes them a great choice for people with larger bodies Not every larger-bodied person wants to lose weight or needs to lose weight for health reasons. However, Pilates is very supportive of weight loss. For the best weight loss results, combine Pilates with cardio exercise and a safe weight loss diet.

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.