Pilates Exercise for Overweight and Plus-Size People

Woman doing plank with instructor adjusting her form
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If you are overweight or just a big person, 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 plus size people.


People of all sizes, shapes, and ages take Pilates classes. They are there, as you would be, to take advantage of the many benefits of Pilates.

Among the significant benefits of Pilates for plus size and overweight people is that it increases the strength and coordination of the muscles of the core of the body—those that support the spine and organs.

When the core is strong, alignment and posture improve, relieving stress on the joints and muscles. This is one of the reasons Pilates is often recommended for back pain as well. Increased flexibility, muscle tone, and balance are nothing to scoff at either.

Pilates Exercises Fit Plus Size People

Pilates exercises are done on a mat or on various types of Pilates equipment. Either way, mat or equipment, Pilates exercises are generally done lying down, sitting, and sometimes kneeling. These positions make Pilates exercises well-suited for larger people who may not be comfortable standing for long periods or in exercise systems that require a lot of shifts of weight.

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

If you are significantly overweight or extra tall, you might 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.

Pilates Equipment

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. We're talking heavy-duty wood, metal, strong springs, 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 find a Pilates studio that has not invested in good equipment, but that would be a rare instance.

Being Comfortable at the Studio

A Pilates studio should be a place where you feel welcome. If you try one and you don't feel good there, it's worth trying again. Studios can have very different "vibes." If you have concerns about your size, call the studio and speak with the owner or an instructor. That way they can reassure you, or let you know if they can't work with you for some reason. If you get a receptionist and you don't feel secure with their answers, ask to have an instructor or the studio owner call you back.

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.

Workout Clothing

Pilates is not hard to dress for. T-shirts and sweats are fine as long as they don't reveal too much and allow the instructor to see your body. But workout clothing can be more fun than that.

Pilates and Weight Loss

Despite our national obsession with weight loss, not every large person wants to lose weight or even needs to lose weight. However, Pilates is very supportive of weight loss. For the best weight loss results, combine Pilates with cardio exercise and an appropriate weight loss diet.

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