Pilates and Body Composition
Claire Darlington M.Sc
Claire has an M.Sc in weight management and has an undergraduate degree in Sport & Exercise Science. Claire is an international presenter, guest speaker and regularly contributes to fitness magazines. Amongst her many teaching fields Claire is a specialist Pilates trainer and the founder of the STRIDE project, a successful 12-week weight management programme aimed at de-motivated teenagers. Claire also specialises in, pre and post natal as well as outdoor fitness. Claire is an assessor and tutor for Drummond Education, teaching Mat work Pilates, Outdoor Boot Camp, and the Children’s Fitness Toolbox.
Is Pilates good for reducing body fat?
With all the recent media hype surrounding ‘Pippa’s bum’, I often have clients ask me, can I achieve a bottom like hers, or ‘will I end up with a ‘Kylie Minogue waist’? My answer has always been, if you combine Pilates with a healthy diet and some cardiovascular workouts, or indeed, another form of heavy resistance programming, then you will notice a difference in your body composition, but Pilates alone, probably not.
Although control or modification of body composition (BC) was not the primary motivation for Joseph Pilates in the early 30’s; recently, his exercises and methods have become popular.
Joseph Pilates created a body conditioning method first called ‘Contrology’ and introduced this method in the United States between 1930 and 1940 attracting choreographers and dance instructors who used his exercises for rehabilitation. After Pilates’ death in 1967, the method became more widely spread and was introduced to other areas, under the name ‘Pilates’ Today, dancers, athletes, and many other groups use Pilates for rehabilitation and to increase their physical activity and fitness.
Few studies have been conducted on the effects of Pilates on BC. Only 8 studies using Pilates alone. One of these studies reviewed the evidence of Pilates on BC. The main conclusion taken from the review, suggested that there was not a great deal of evidence indicating a Pilates alone can have a conclusive effect on BC. The review did show that Pilates mat practice for 60 min, 5 times/week, for 4 week (intervention type I), and 2 to 3 times/week, for 8 to12 week (intervention type II), tended to be the best interventions for showing a positive change in BC.
The review showed that there was a trend toward reductions in body weight and percentage body fat in the type I interventions as far as more practice hours per week, as opposed to the longer interventions with fewer practice hours per week (type II), where body weight and fat mass tended to increase. This suggests that as advanced practitioners of Pilates if working with clients who require BC changes it may be best to programme these clients on more intense programmes with more hours per week.
Another study that looked at the effects of Pilates, three times a week for a one hour session, concluded, that in sedentary females, there was a significant decrease in body fat and waist size following eight weeks of Pilates. The results were significant (p<0.05), fat percentage( 7.3%), fat body mass (8.5%) and waist circumference (4.6%). This supports the view that Pilates can have a significant impact on BC and can be successfully included in any weight management programme along side other successful training methods.
It is difficult to prove cause and effect with any research study on weight management unless your keeping your subjects in a laboratory and it is difficult to confirm the exact sequence or routine of Pilates exercises used during the research design process. With this is in mind, as practitioners it is difficult to confirm whether Pilates alone can reduce body fat, however, as the body of evidence grows there it does seem there does seem to be a positive link.
1. Aladro-Gonzalvo, A.R., Machado-Diaz, M., Moncada- Jimenez, J., Hernandez- Elizondo, J. & Araya Vargas, G. (2012). The effect of Pilates exercises on body composition: a systematic review. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 16(1):109-14
2. Ali,O.Z., Esfarjani, F., Bambaeichi, E. & Marandi, M. (2010). The effects of Pilates exercise on blood pressure and selective physical fitness components in sedentary overweight females. British Journal of Sports and Medicine. 44
3. Latey, P. (2001). The Pilates method: history and philosophy. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapy. 4, 275-282.
4. Jago, R., Jonker, M.L., Missaghian, M. & Baranowski, T.( 2006). Effect of 4 weeks of Pilates on the body composition of young girls. Preventive Medicine 42, 177-180.
5. Pilates, J.H. & Miller, W.J. (1945). Pilates’ Return to Life through Contrology. Pilates Method Alliance, Miami.
6. Segal, N.A., Hein, J. & Basford, J.R. (2004). The effects of Pilates training on flexibility and body composition: an observational study. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 85, 1977-1981.
7. Sekendiz, B., Altun, O., Korkusuz, F.& Akin, S. (2007). Effects of Pilates exercise on trunk strength, endurance and flexibility in sedentary adult females. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 11, 318-326.
8. von Sperling, M. & Brum, C. (2006). Who are the people looking for the Pilates method? Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 10, 328-334.