When you take up a new sport or exercise regime, you naturally want to know how the new activity can benefit you. With Pilates, we know how beneficial it is for your flexibility, spine, core muscles and to alleviate back pain. But very often friends ask me, does Pilates help you lose fat as well?
I hadn’t really considered that when I initially started Pilates as I always thought this type of workout is primarily to help you gain strength and stability to prevent your spine from injury. Likewise, I was convinced that I would have to follow a vigorous exercise program, go running or cycling, if I wanted a workout good for slimming.
Well, you might have heard it often enough that cardio workouts are the way to go for burning fat. But not everyone can face it or wants to engage in vigorous cardiovascular activities – after all they can be quite harsh on your joints and ligaments. And is this actually true? Do only cardio workouts have a slimming effect?
The clear answer is ‘no’ – something I found out after having practised Pilates for a while. Apart from the expected results, such as a pain-free back, improved posture and a stronger core, my wobbly areas were gone. To me, this was a very amazing side effect. So how is this possible? Why can you lose fat by doing Pilates?
Strength training workouts can be more effective than cardio workouts
First of all, Pilates is clearly no cardiovascular exercise program. Whilst you surely get hot doing it, you won’t get out of breath as you do with running, cycling or aerobics. Instead, Pilates is a type of strength and muscular endurance training like weight lifting, although with very different principles.
According to exercise physiologist and researcher Grant Tinsley, the distinct advantage of strength training over cardio workouts is the fact that it increases your ‘resting metabolism’ meaning you burn more calories while you rest. So even though you will burn more calories when running for an hour than when doing a Pilates workout for the same time, in the long term, your body will burn calories faster overall as a result of strength training.
The reason for this is the fact that strength training builds more muscles than cardio workouts and muscles burn calories. So, when you increase your muscle mass, you will increase your metabolism making your body burn more calories when resting.
How much you will actually burn in a workout depends on various factors, such as your height, weight, sex and age, but also on the amount of time you spend on exercising. For example, according to ILiveSlim, you will burn around 120 calories during a one-hour beginner’s Pilates workout when you weigh 125 lbs, compared to 336 calories when you weigh 200 lbs. It shows that the more you weigh, the more you will burn. Isn’t that fantastic?
Pilates builds muscles, strength and stamina the safe way
A good Pilates workout will target a comprehensive range of muscle groups although the main focus is usually on your core muscles to build abdominal and lower back muscular endurance. If you are not only doing Pilates to tackle particular health issues, such as back or neck pain, but want to get the best slimming effect from this exercise program as well, it’s important to target your exercises accordingly to gain full body strength.
A great way of putting together a balanced routine is by adding some small Pilates home equipment, such as a resistance band, magic circle, foam roller or an exercise ball. However, don’t rush your exercises – it won’t improve your results! Remember that Pilates is about slow controlled movements and not about repeating movements as quickly as you can. You need to be fully in control of each movement to engage the correct muscles and to avoid the risk of pulling a muscle.
To get ideas for some Pilates workouts to help you lose fat, you can look at some YouTube videos. Alternatively, you can follow a proven method like The Bodyweight Pilates Method. Also, plan to exercise every day for best results. If you do one workout a week, it will, of course, take longer to notice a difference in your body than if you practise 30 minutes each day.
The best exercise program only works when you sleep enough
I always thought that the more active you are, the more calories you burn, and the less you sleep, the more time you have for being active. So, I was very surprised when after my initial amazing results, all of a sudden, I seemed to put on weight. Also, despite of doing my Pilates exercises regularly, my overall strength seemed to be declining and I found it harder to hold the Plank position for as long as I used to.
Can you imagine how worried I was? My first thought was, ‘had I developed some sort of health issue’? What was going on? I decided to consult my sister-in-law, who is a doctor, about it to find out what the reason for my declining strength and weight gain could be. After a long conversation, she pointed out that my recent lifestyle obviously had caused sleep deprivation. And this sleep loss was most likely the culprit for these changes.
Sleep loss – really? How? Apparently, when you don’t sleep enough, your body produces more cortisol – a stress hormone that makes you store fat. Also, the hormone ghrelin is stimulated making you feel hungry and crave for sweet food. As a result, you snack much more and easily eat 300 extra calories per day – the equivalent of two mini Magnums.
In addition, not sleeping enough can affect your muscle building process and strength. After exercising, your body recovers and builds muscles while resting, and most efficiently during sleep. If you don’t get enough quality sleep, this process cannot be completed resulting in lean tissue or muscle loss instead of fat.
How much sleep is enough?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, on average, an adult needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep. These numbers refer to quality sleep and not to time spent in bed. To find out what your individual sleep requirement is and whether your sleep is adequate, you need to ask yourself the following:
- Do you generally feel fit, happy and productive?
- Is it easy for you to stay awake throughout the day or do you feel in need of caffeine?
- Do you fall asleep easily after going to bed and mostly sleep through the night?
Generally, there are too many people suffering from sleep deprivation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of American adults don’t get enough sleep, putting their health at risk.
So, sleep is a very important factor in our lives and should therefore be made a priority. Make sure you schedule sleep like your Pilates workouts and any other daily activity. Also, don’t postpone your bedtime to get all the things on your to-do list done, but postpone these items and keep your bedtime instead.
Pilates and sleep equals strength, health and a lean body
For me, this correlation between sleep, Pilates workouts and muscle gain or fat loss was quite a revelation, although it makes perfect sense that you need sleep and exercise to be fit and healthy.
So, if you practise Pilates regularly making sure you target all your muscle groups, you will be able to lose fat building muscles and strength instead, provided this is supported by enough sleep. You will boost your ‘resting metabolism’ making you burn more calories whilst you sleep. As a result, you will have a leaner and stronger body and feel fit and productive.
Sounds good? I think it does. For me, Pilates is a real win-win exercise program.