What is Pilates? Sure, we know it’s the workout of choice that A-list stars like Kate Hudson, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Miranda Kerr and Reese Witherspoon post on their Instagram accounts—all lithe limbs, leggings and perfect posture. But if you’re still a little confused about, say, what exactly Pilates is, you’re not alone.
In fact, Google racks up an impressive number of searches every single week, with people asking the exact same questions: What are the key benefits of Pilates? Is it good for weight loss? Is it an effective way to tone up? What do you even do in a Pilates class?
So to help sort the reformer benefits from the merits of the mat (more on this in a moment—stick with us), and to breakdown just why so many supermodels (e.g., Karlie Kloss, Rosie HW, Miranda Kerr and Sara Sampaio) love Pilates, we’ve called on two of our favourite experts in the field.
Cue Hollie Grant, aka the award-winning PilatesPT and founder of personal training programme The Model Method, plus Jess Schuring, Pilates coach to Hollywood’s A-list (Kate Hudson is a fan) and founder of Heartcore Fitness studios.
Keep scrolling for everything you need to know about Pilates, including what it can do for your body and how to find a great instructor.
What exactly is Pilates?
While yoga has been around for centuries, Pilates isn’t quite as ancient. But nevertheless, it’s earned its place as the number one A-list workout, thanks to a unique ability to build and strengthen muscles, while also realigning your posture, improving your flexibility and boosting endurance, too.
Add in the fact that it is all done through steady, low-impact movements, and there you have a workout that everyone can get involved in, regardless of ability, injury or experience.
Originally developed in the 1920s by one Joseph Pilates (who actually called it ‘contrology’ for several decades), the method was founded on the idea that the mind and body are intricately connected. Naturally, that’s a message still resonating with wellness fans today.
“Absolutely, our mind and bodies are one,” says Schuring.“The more we can establish that connection within ourselves, the better we understand how each influences the other, which in turn helps us feel in-sync.
“In Pilates training, we connect movement with breath, and move in a controlled way that automatically allows us to feel more present, aware and connected with ourselves.”
What happens during a Pilates class?
Well, this largely depends on what type of Pilates class you’re doing—yes, there are several different types, which we’ve broken down for you right here.
While yoga classes tend to differ in the the style and speed of the flow, the main factor to consider in Pilates is the kind of equipment you prefer to use.
The most common types of class tend to focus on either Reformer Pilates, which is done on a small bench featuring a range of levers and pulleys, or on a mat with a just few pieces of extra kit (such as hand weights, magic circles and stretch bands).
Not sure which is best for you? Grant breaks it down here: “I am biased as I love Reformer Pilates but in summary—Mat Pilates uses your body weight and small props to assist the exercises or challenge you further. The Reformer, meanwhile, has springs, straps and pulleys that open up a whole new repertoire of exercises.
“We often say that it is easier to keep good technique on a Reformer as you are held in place, but don’t think that Reformer is easier! Pretty much any mat movement you can think of can be done on a Reformer too, and it’ll help you find muscles you never knew existed.”
Why should I try Pilates?
“Pilates works on creating a strong, functional body, and one of the biggest by-products from this form of exercise is an increase in flexibility too,” explains Grant.
“As we address muscle imbalances in the body, we open up our joints to a greater range of movement. Those who practice Pilates regularly find that they experience fewer injuries, reduced back pain and have a stronger core.
“In my opinion, it really is the kindest thing you can do for your body, and is the antithesis of aggressive, stressful workouts.”
Is Pilates good for weight loss?
“Ah, this is the million-dollar question! If you’re coming to Pilates after a period of doing no exercise whatsoever, then any increase in activity is going to assist weight loss,” says Grant.
“But Pilates is not about weight loss—and we need to remember that weight loss is not the holy grail.
“In the seven years I have been an instructor, I have found combining Pilates with a cardiovascular form of exercise to be the perfect combination from a health point of view. This is why I created The Model Method, which is the perfect combination of HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) and Dynamic Pilates.”
Will I build strength and muscle doing Pilates?
“Yes. I’ve seen incredible transformations in my clients simply from doing Pilates,” says Schuring. “It’s a great way to help tone and strengthen your body, replacing extra fat with well-earned muscle tone.
“We work the body in a fully functional way, using spring resistance and controlled movements, without resting in between moves. So you’ll actually feel a change after just one class and start to notice visible results within two weeks.”
How do I find a good Pilates class?
According to both Schuring and Grant, it’s worth doing some research before you fully commit to one Pilates class or instructor.
“It’s wise to find out where their qualifications are from,” says Grant. “There are various main schools of Pilates (such as STOTT and Body Control) that teach only Pilates, while there are also personal training schools that offer short, two-day courses to those already PT trained. These, in my opinion, are very basic and not ideal for group classes.
“Pilates instructors vary greatly and if you attend a session with one instructor and find it boring, you should try someone else. Often it’s not Pilates that is the problem, it’s the instructor or studio. Your instructor should mention the breath throughout each exercise and also something called Pelvic Placement. If they aren’t, they are missing out on some of the most important fundamentals of Pilates.”
Anything else a total beginner needs to know?
“Starting anything new can feel a bit intimidating, as you don’t know your way around yet,” says Schuring.
“My advice would be this: Don’t compare yourself in class to others, as they may have taken a lot more classes than you. Instead, enjoy your own journey, remember to stay consistent for optimal results (two sessions per week minimum), and most importantly, have fun!”
Pilates for beginners kit:
Opening Image: @karliekloss/Marks & Spencer.