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The What, Who, How, and Why of Pilates from a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist: Part 4.4

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

Many people have the perception that only tall, slender folks participate in Pilates. But often this image is perpetuated by…

4. Postural Corrections

…that develop from practicing Pilates.

When clients tell me that their primary goal for their Pilates practice is weight loss, I have to be honest and explain that Pilates is probably not the most direct route to decreasing body mass. Building lean muscle mass through resistance or weight training and aerobic exercises may be more effective forms of exercise toward achieving this goal. Muscle is a metabolically expensive tissue to maintain, meaning the body spends more calories at rest to sustain larger percentages of lean muscle mass. This is also why “if you don’t use it, you lose it,” because a body cannot justify feeding muscle that is not necessary to accomplish its routine physical demands.

All that being said, any exercise program that promotes a sustainable increase in physical activity in combination with a balanced diet can facilitate weight loss. This does not exclude Pilates. Pilates does promote the building of lean muscle mass through the use of spring tension resistance training. It can also be adapted to provide aerobic-style exercise, such as with jumping Reformer classes. When used in these ways, weight loss with regular Pilates practice is possible.

However, the most likely effects on physical appearance to occur from practicing Pilates are postural adjustments. Principles of movement like axial elongation—or learning to maintain height between spinal segments— and trunk organization— or learning to knit the rib cage and neutralize pelvic orientation— often result in clients reporting “feeling taller” after sessions and appearing more confident, upright, and even willowy after prolonged practice. These postural effects can counteract the effects of gravity and age on the spine and reduce the likelihood of height loss from conditions like osteoporosis.

Often women report a stubborn “pooching” of the belly that occurs around the time of menopause, an often unwanted characteristic that despite diligent dedication to healthy diet and exercise regimen will not diminish. While this is often attributed to weight gain from hormonal fluctuations with age, it may not be true weight gain at all. This feature can actually be a consequence of declining core strength and height loss between the spinal segments, bringing the rib cage and pelvis closer together and leaving less vertical space for the abdominal contents to occupy. Therefore, the abdominal organs and tissue have nowhere to go but forward, creating the dreaded belly pooch. A Pilates program designed with the goal of postural correction can restore length to the spine, increase core strength and control, and create the appearance of a leaner, taller body shape.


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