5 Reasons Pilates Isn't Giving You a Flat Tummy

Beautiful blonde girl exercise Pilates.

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Pilates exercises are great for toning and strengthening the abs, so if you have been doing your Pilates properly and your belly is still sticking out, you might be tempted to quit and head for the couch. Before you do, take heart.

While having a "flat belly" is something a lot of people desire, no one has a perfect midsection. Age and DNA have a lot to do with how your body fat is distributed, and often they send it straight for the belly. You might have six-pack abs, just hidden under a layer of fat that is tough to get rid of—and that's perfectly OK.

What's more, strengthening your core through Pilates has many benefits beyond creating killer abs: It can prevent poor posture, protect your back from injury, and improve your workout performance.

So how do you make sure that you're getting the core-strengthening benefits of Pilates? Here are a few key questions to ask yourself as you begin your workout routine.


Watch Now: 5 Common Ab Myths Debunked

Am I Engaging My Core Correctly?

Many people learn to do sit-ups and crunches in a way that shortens the rectus abdominis muscle, making it stick out out at your middle instead of creating long, flexible muscles. If you do Pilates exercise in the same way, you won't achieve core strength and long, lean ab muscles.

If you think this might be your problem, work on correcting your form and engaging all your abdominal muscles, as well as the lats, paraspinal muscles, hip flexors, and glutes, to keep your spine safe and stable. Hint: Picture “zipping up” your abs—bringing your navel up and toward your spine.

Am I Using Too Much Momentum?

To get the maximum core benefits, it's important to move with control during Pilates exercise. For example, in the roll over, you need to use your muscles, not momentum, to raise and lower your legs. Similarly, in the seal, you need to deepen the lower abs to go backward and come back up by working the abs and breath, not by throwing your legs up by pulling up with your back. 

Is My Workout Well-Rounded?

In order to get flat abs, you need to burn fat by exercising your entire body and eating fewer calories. Also, since weight loss happens all over the body, you need to keep your workouts balanced. Spot reduction is a myth; no matter how much you work your abs, you won't get a flat belly unless you lose fat everywhere.

Varying your workouts, including scheduling rest days for your abs, is the best way to ensure your workouts are well-rounded.

Am I Eating the Right Pre-Workout Snack?

There is a fine line between eating recently enough to have steady energy for a workout and being too full. You can't have eaten too much and get a great scoop on the abs.

What should you eat before Pilates? The shortest answer is that many people depend on a small snack to fuel their workout, something with a little protein, healthy fat, or complex carbohydrate, like a handful of nuts or a protein smoothies. But you don't want to consume more energy than you need.

Of course, you have to be the judge of the actual exertion level of your workouts and what you really need. In general, however, it's best to eat your snack not too long before a workout, along with eating healthfully throughout the day.

Are There Other Causes for Abdominal Bloating?

Retaining water can make you look and feel bloated. The amount of water your cells retain has a lot to do with the balance of sodium and potassium in your body fluids. Gas can make you bloated, too.

Common causes of abdominal bloating include:

  • Too much salt (sodium) in your diet
  • Fluctuating hormones (PMS, for example, is famous for causing water retention)
  • Digestive problems like constipation or gas
  • Food intolerances

Even if you are retaining water, it is still important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Drinking enough water will help your body balance minerals like sodium and potassium and maintain your blood pressure.

A Word From Verywell

Even if you don't get a six-pack, you're still getting stronger—and that's a big win. By focusing less on having a perfect midsection and more on perfecting your form, you'll reap the core-strengthening benefits of Pilates in no time.

2 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. Tolnai N, Szabó Z, Köteles F, Szabo A. Physical and psychological benefits of once-a-week Pilates exercises in young sedentary women: A 10-week longitudinal study. Physiol Behav. 2016;163:211-218. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2016.05.025.

  2. Watso JC, Farquhar WB. Hydration status and cardiovascular function. Nutrients. 2019;11(8):1866. doi:10.3390/nu11081866.

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.