10 Benefits of Pilates to Look Good and Feel Even Better

Pilates enhances strength, postural alignment, mood, and importantly, promotes body flexibility. Regular practice stretches muscles, increasing limberness and joint range of motion.

10 Benefits of Pilates to Look Good and Feel Even Better
16 min readAugust 3rd, 2023
SLWritten By Sara Lindberg

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a mind-body workout that combines physical movement with controlled breathing and focused concentration.

The specific Pilates exercises target your powerhouse muscles (aka, the core), including the abdominal muscles, lower back, and hips. By activating and strengthening these muscles, you can develop a stable and strong center, which helps to keep you upright and injury-free, and supports your spine as you tackle daily activities.

Pilates classes are centered around six key principles: breath, concentration, centering, control, precision, and flow.

These principles allow instructors to structure workouts that help you build core strength, improve posture, increase flexibility, increase energy, and strengthen the mind-body connection. Most Pilates movements are done on a mat or with special equipment like the Pilates Reformer, Cadillac, or Chair.

Developed by Joseph Pilates in the late 1920s, this popular workout method has its roots in the dancing community as a way to prevent and treat injuries.

When Joseph Pilates passed away in 1967, his students continued to develop and teach the technique, passing it on to dancers, athletes, rehab centers, fitness enthusiasts, novice exercisers, older adults, and anyone else looking to unite the mind and body to improve physical health, mental well-being, and self-awareness.

Top 10 Pilates Benefits

Better posture, a stronger core, and improved flexibility might be why you try a Pilates class. But once you’ve devoted some time on the mat, you’ll soon discover the positive impact Pilates can also have on your mental and emotional health.

Here, we take a look at the top physical and mental benefits of participating in a regular Pilates program.

Improved Flexibility and Range of Motion

Pilates exercises can increase your range of motion and flexibility. This can help to improve your overall mobility and make everyday activities easier.

Pilates exercises promote flexibility and mobility by emphasizing controlled and dynamic movements.

Through a combination of stretching and strengthening exercises, Pilates helps to improve joint range of motion of various joints in younger, middle-aged, and older adults, according to a review of literature.

Increased Muscular Strength and Endurance

Pilates is known for its ability to create long, lean muscles. The exercises target specific muscle groups and promote balanced muscle development, resulting in improved muscle tone, strength, and endurance.

Research from an older study found that a 12-week Pilates program resulted in increases in abdominal endurance in healthy male and female volunteers aged 25 to 65 years.

Better Posture and Alignment

You might have heard that Pilates can make you appear taller, which seems like a fantastic benefit, but it’s not entirely true. While Pilates cannot make you taller, a regular practice can lead to better posture and alignment.

That’s because Pilates focuses on good alignment and posture, which is something most people need, given the prevalence of electronic devices in our lives.

Results from one study discovered that doing Pilates leads to whole-body muscle retraining, which improves the deep neck muscles to increase the craniovertebral angle and lessen neck pain.

Another study found that six months of Pilates-based exercise enhances the sagittal alignment of the thoracic and cervical spine. Sagittal refers to the plane that divides your body into left and right halves.

Enhanced Core Strength and Stability

Pilates exercises focus on strengthening the core muscles, which are the muscles that support your spine and pelvis. A strong core can help to improve posture, reduce back pain, and improve athletic performance.

Pilates focuses on strengthening the core muscles, including the abdominals, back, and pelvic floor.

Incorporating Pilates-based exercise into your fitness routine allows you to train the core muscles in harmony, which can lead to better steadiness or stability, especially when doing physical activities.

Reduced Risk of Injury

Many people choose Pilates because it is gentle on the body. Being a low-impact activity means it is a great option for people of all ages and fitness levels.

Plus, because Pilates exercises are grounded in core strength, flexibility, and proper alignment, they can be an effective tool for injury prevention and rehabilitation.

In fact, many physical therapists incorporate Pilates exercises into their rehabilitation programs to help individuals recover from injuries and regain strength and mobility.

For example, a physical therapist may use Pilates-based exercises for preventing and treating pelvic floor dysfunction in prenatal and postnatal clients.

Improved Balance and Coordination

Pilates exercises require the engagement of multiple muscle groups and the integration of the whole body. This full-body engagement helps to improve balance, coordination, and overall body control, especially in older adults, according to research.

That said, to maximize balance and coordination benefits, make sure to include plenty of standing Pilates exercises since they require weight-bearing to perform the move.

Reduced Stress and Anxiety

Letting go of stress and easing anxiety is another reason so many people flock to the mat. Exercise, in general, is an excellent tool for boosting mood and energy levels.

Mind-body practices like Pilates have the added benefit of lessening stress by encouraging relaxation and easing physical tension. It may also increase energy, elevate mood, and lessen depressive and anxious symptoms.

Increased Mindfulness and Body Awareness

When performing Pilates exercises, it’s essential to be in the moment, especially since the moves require precision, control, and coordination with the breath.

This deliberate practice can create better body awareness and, with regular practice, a more mindful experience in daily life. In fact, research from a study involving college-aged students found that participating in a Pilates method program resulted in an increase in mindfulness, which, in turn, was associated with enhanced self-efficacy, lower stress levels, and improved mood.

Improved Mental Focus and Concentration

It’s not uncommon to hear people say Pilates helps them think more clearly, which makes sense, especially when you consider that Pilates focuses on deep breathing and oxygenation, which increases blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain to support optimal brain function.

All this deep breathing and physical activity can improve memory, concentration, and boost other cognitive skills, such as verbal fluency and executive function.

Better Sleep Quality

Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the many reasons people choose to exercise. It’s also an added benefit of engaging in a regular Pilates program, according to research.

After eight weeks of Pilates exercises, college-aged participants experienced a significant improvement in sleep quality and less fatigue, with many reporting better sleep at week four. Some of these improvements may be a result of less stress, better overall health, and more mindfulness.

Pilates vs Other Forms of Exercise

Unlike cardio and resistance training, Pilates focuses on building strength and flexibility through low-impact movements that engage the core muscles.

While Pilates may not provide the same cardiovascular benefits as running and cycling, or muscle-building perks as resistance training, it offers a host of other benefits, including improved posture, balance, and coordination.

And the best part? Pilates can serve as an excellent complement to other forms of exercise and training due to its focus on core strength, flexibility, and body awareness.

By combining cardiovascular exercise with resistance training and Pilates programming, you can boost overall fitness, improve performance, and prevent overuse injuries.

Training TypePurposeActivitiesEquipment  
PilatesImprove core strength, increase flexibility, better  posture, reduce stress, prevents injuries Mat-based exercises, Reformer strength moves, Magic Circle and ball exercises, Pilates Chair and Cadillac exercises Mat, Pilates ball, Pilates circle, resistance bands, light dumbbells, larger equipment like a Reformer 
Resistance Training Build muscular strength, improve bone density, reduce body fat, reduce stress, improve athletic performance  Weight lifting, circuit training classes, CrossFit, Olympic style lifting  Dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, machines 
Cardiovascular Training Improve endurance, burn calories, boost heart health, reduce stress  Walking, running, cycling, swimming, rowing, hiking, dancing Treadmill, elliptical, bike, rower, track, pool  

How to Start Pilates Classes

If you’re ready to try out this fantastic mind-body workout, you might be wondering how to get started.

From finding an instructor to preparing for your first class, being equipped with the right information can make your Pilates journey a success. Here are some expert tips to help you do just that.

Finding a Pilates Studio and Instructor

“It's highly recommended to work with a certified Pilates instructor, especially as a beginner,” says personal trainer and certified Pilates instructor Karina Blackwood.

“They can guide you through proper form and technique, ensuring you perform exercises safely and effectively,” she adds.

Working with a certified Pilates instructor is crucial to getting safe and efficient teaching for this reason. Look for a Pilates instructor that is at the very least licensed by a renowned Pilates association like STOTT, Power Pilates, Balanced Body, or Basi Pilates.

Many studios offer trial classes or discounted introductory packages. Take advantage of these opportunities to experience the teaching style, class structure, and overall vibe of the studio. This will help you determine if it aligns with your preferences and goals.

If you’re pregnant, postpartum, healing from an injury, or have a chronic health condition, this is also a good time to ask the teacher whether they have additional training hours or ongoing education so they can alter routines to accommodate any physical restrictions you may have.

Preparing for Your First Pilates Class

When it comes to preparing for your first class, Joy Puleo, M.A., PMA-CPT, Director of Education at Balanced Body, says there are four key principles to remember:

  • Don’t forget to breathe
  • Leave the “should’s” behind
  • Do not be afraid to try
  • Take what works and leave the rest

“Pilates, while challenging and stimulating, is also a mind-body fitness medium,” says Puleo. The presence of conscious breath, the elimination of judgment of self, and the ability to move against tension are hallmarks of health and fitness.

Puleo says removing the pressure to perform, or the expectation on how we ‘should’ perform an exercise, allows for dropping in, gives permission to experience movement, and encourages the body to enjoy and open up to the possibilities.

“If we can remember these four basic tips, once we leave class and return to our daily lives, we would not only be fitter physically, but emotionally and intellectually as well,” she adds.

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What to Expect During a Pilates Class

Pilates classes incorporate various exercises, including stretches, resistance training, and balance work. Most classes combine flexibility, whole-body strength and toning, and core work.

In-person and virtual classes typically last 30 to 60 minutes, including warm-up and cool-down periods. Instructors focus on quality, not quantity of movement, which means you’ll likely do less repetitions than in a core or strength training class.

Mat Pilates classes include specific exercises that progress from basic to more advanced. While not an exhaustive list, the following foundational movements are the most common ones you’ll learn in a Pilates class:

  • The Hundred
  • Roll-Up
  • Roll-Over
  • Single-Leg Circles
  • Rolling Like a Ball
  • Toe Taps
  • Single-Leg Stretch
  • Double-Leg Stretch
  • Spine Stretch Forward
  • Open-Leg Rocker
  • Saw
  • Swan
  • Single-Leg Kicks
  • Double-Leg Kicks
  • Neck Pull
  • Shoulder Bridge
  • Jack Knife
  • The Teaser
  • Side Kicks
  • Hip Twist
  • Seal
  • Rocking
Mat Pilates Poses

Your instructor will guide you through each exercise, emphasizing proper alignment, breathing techniques, and body awareness.

You can anticipate a mix of mat-based exercises and the use of specialized equipment like the reformer, Cadillac, magic circle, spine corrector, or Pilates chair.

Each piece of equipment has additional exercises and features beyond what you can do during a mat class.

They also require different set-up and instructions than mat-based exercises, so it’s a good idea to work with a Pilates instructor while learning how to use different props and equipment.

Expert Tips for Pilates Beginners

If you're just starting out with Pilates, you might be wondering how to make the most out of your practice. While each class and instructor will have specific guidelines, there are some general tips that are applicable to all beginners.

Get the Okay Before Starting

It's always recommended to consult with your doctor or another healthcare professional before starting any new exercise program, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or concerns.

Start with the Basics

“Pilates has a progression of exercises, and it's crucial to build a strong foundation,” says Pilates instructor Karina Blackwood. She recommends beginning with fundamental movements and gradually progressing to more advanced exercises as you gain strength, control, and flexibility.

By mastering the basics, Blackwood says you build a solid foundation of strength, control, and body awareness that will support your progression to more advanced exercises.

“Trying to tackle advanced movements without a proper foundation can lead to poor form, decreased effectiveness, and potential injury risks,” she adds.

Focus on Alignment

Alignment is key in Pilates. Pilates instructor Blackwood says to pay attention to your instructor's cues about maintaining a neutral spine, engaging your core, and aligning your body correctly. This will enhance the effectiveness of the exercises and prevent injuries.

Breathe Properly

Breathing is an essential component of Pilates. Instructor Blackwood says it’s essential to practice coordinated breathing with your movements, inhaling deeply through your nose and exhaling fully through your mouth.

“This rhythmic breath will help you engage your core, enhance your stability, and promote relaxation,” she says.

To breathe effectively in Pilates, instructor Blackwood recommends the following steps:

  1. Practice diaphragmatic breathing, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
  2. Coordinate your breath with movement, inhaling during preparation and exhaling during exertion.
  3. Engage your core on the exhale by activating the deep abdominal muscles.
  4. Avoid holding your breath and maintain a continuous flow of breath throughout your practice.
  5. Stay mindful of your breath to deepen your mind-body connection.

Don't Rush the Exercises

Pilates is about quality rather than quantity. Perform each exercise with control, precision, and proper form. Avoid rushing through the movements, as this can compromise technique and limit the benefits. Focus on the details and engage the targeted muscles effectively.

Be Consistent and Modify When Necessary

As a beginner, instructor Blackwood says you may need to modify certain exercises based on your fitness level, flexibility, or any existing injuries or limitations. You can ask your instructor for appropriate modifications or alternatives to accommodate your needs.

Another thing to remember is that consistency is key to progress in Pilates. Instructor Blackwood says to aim for regular practice, even if it's just a couple of sessions per week. This will help you build strength, flexibility, and body awareness over time.

Strategies for Staying Motivated and Consistent with Practice

Pilates is a practice that requires time and patience to see significant results. That’s why instructor Blackwood says to not get discouraged if you can't perform certain exercises perfectly right away. Instead, she says to stay committed, and you'll gradually develop strength, flexibility, and improved body awareness.

With that being said, there are a few strategies Blackwood recommends that may help you stay motivated and consistent with your Pilates practice.

The first step is to define your goals for practicing Pilates. Whether it's improving flexibility, building strength, relieving stress, or enhancing overall well-being, Blackwood says having clear goals will give you direction and motivation to stick with your practice.

And make sure to acknowledge and celebrate your achievements along the way, no matter how small they may seem. Whether it's mastering a challenging exercise or consistently practicing for a certain number of weeks, Blackwood says to give yourself credit and reward yourself as a way to stay motivated.

Once you’ve set a few goals, the next step is to establish a regular schedule. Blackwood recommends treating your Pilates sessions as important appointments with yourself and prioritizing them. “Consistency is key, so find a time that works best for you and make it a habit,” she adds.

Another tip Blackwood often suggests is to find a workout buddy or join a class. “Having a workout buddy can provide accountability and make the experience more enjoyable,” she says.

Alternatively, joining a Pilates class or group can create a supportive and motivating environment. You can also try different types of Pilates classes, incorporate props like resistance bands or stability balls, or explore online tutorials or apps that offer a variety of exercises. Adding variety keeps things fresh and exciting.

And finally, remember to be patient. Progress in a Pilates practice takes time. Don't be too hard on yourself if you miss a session or if your progress feels slow.

“Approach your Pilates practice with self-compassion and a positive mindset, and make sure to celebrate the effort you put in and focus on the journey rather than perfection,” says Blackwood.

Tips for Avoiding Common Mistakes and Injuries

Pilates is a popular form of exercise that focuses on strength, flexibility, and overall body awareness. To avoid common mistakes and injuries while practicing Pilates, instructor Blackwood recommends the following tips.

Seek Professional Guidance

Start your Pilates journey by working with a certified Pilates instructor who can guide you through proper techniques and exercises suitable for your fitness level. They can help you understand the principles of Pilates and ensure you perform the exercises correctly.

Warm Up Properly

Prior to starting any Pilates session, instructor Blackwood says you should warm up your body with dynamic movements and stretches. “This helps increase blood flow, loosens up muscles, and prepares your body for the exercises to come,” she adds.

Focus on Alignment

Pay attention to your alignment during each exercise. Instructor Blackwood says to maintain a neutral spine position, engage your core muscles, and avoid excessive arching or rounding of your back. “Proper alignment helps distribute the workload evenly and reduces the risk of strain or injury,” she says.

Progress Should Be Gradual

An instructor can modify Pilates exercises to accommodate different fitness levels, so it's important to start at an appropriate level and gradually progress. Instructor Blackwood says you want to avoid rushing into advanced exercises without mastering the fundamentals first. “Building a strong foundation is key to preventing injuries,” she says.

Listen To Your Body

Be mindful of your body's limitations and any pain or discomfort you may experience during the exercises. “Never force a movement or push through pain, and always modify or adapt exercises as needed and communicate with your instructor about any concerns or limitations you have,” says Pilates instructor Karina Blackwood.

Use Proper Breathing Techniques

Breathing is an integral part of Pilates. That’s why instructor Blackwood says you should focus on coordinating your breath with the movement, using deep inhalations and exhalations.

You also want to avoid holding your breath, says Blackwood, as it can create tension and affect the effectiveness of the exercises.

Pilates Success Stories

Here are a few stories clients shared with instructor Karina Blackwood after completing her two-week Pilates Challenge:

"I started Pilates with the goal of improving my posture and relieving chronic back pain. Not only did I achieve those goals, but I also discovered a newfound strength and flexibility in my body. Pilates has not only transformed my physical well-being but has also given me a sense of confidence and inner peace I never thought possible." - Ann

"After a serious knee injury, I struggled with mobility and felt defeated. I decided to try Pilates as part of my rehabilitation process. Over time, I regained strength in my leg and improved my overall balance and coordination. Pilates not only helped me recover physically but also taught me resilience and patience. It's incredible how it transformed my mindset and gave me the courage to overcome obstacles." - Sarah

"Living with chronic stress and anxiety, I was desperately searching for an outlet that could calm my mind and relax my body. Pilates became my sanctuary. Through focused breathing and mindful movements, I found a deep sense of serenity during each session. It has taught me to be present, to let go of worries, and to embrace a more balanced and centered life. Pilates truly became my mental oasis." - Alex

"As a professional dancer, I wanted to enhance my performance and prevent injuries. Pilates became my secret weapon. It not only improved my core strength and flexibility but also helped me fine-tune my alignment and body awareness. The mental focus and discipline required in Pilates translated seamlessly into my dance practice, allowing me to reach new heights and excel in my career." - Lily

"I struggled with low self-esteem and body image issues for years. Pilates provided a safe and nurturing space where I could reconnect with my body in a positive way. Through consistent practice, I developed a stronger sense of self-acceptance and appreciation for what my body could do. Pilates taught me to celebrate my uniqueness and cherish the incredible capabilities of my own body." - Kate

Bottom Line

Pilates offers a holistic approach to fitness that centers on both your mind and body.

The exercises emphasize core strength, flexibility, and balance, which boosts your body awareness and control. It also helps you move more efficiently, reducing the risk of injuries, and improving posture.

By focusing on breathing and mindfulness, you may notice a boost to your overall mental well-being, including less stress and better relaxation. Plus, Pilates is for everyone, regardless of fitness level. The exercises are easy to modify, especially if you’re working with a certified Pilates instructor.

It’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor or another medical professional before beginning a Pilates workout, especially if you have an injury, medical condition, or any health issues that may impact your ability to participate in an exercise program.

We also recommend working with a trained Pilates instructor if you're new to the technique, have any concerns about how to carry out the exercises, or are recovering from an injury. They can assist in making sure you're carrying out the exercises properly and securely.

Here are some online directories that can help you locate a qualified Pilates instructor or studio in your area:

If you’re wanting to try a Pilates fitness app, here are some highly-rated platforms to try:

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