Consider Pilates today’s best-kept fitness secret—it’s the force behind many of Hollywood's hottest bodies, and practicing it regularly results in that long-and-lean look we’re all after. And while the A-list training method used to be confined to private studio sessions, group classes have been popping up in gyms across the country, leading many fitness junkies to wonder: Should I be doing Pilates?
In a word: yes. The benefits of the core-centric practice can't be ignored. Often thought of as yoga’s younger, cooler sibling, Pilates combines the best of flexibility and strength training, tapping every muscle and transforming your body in record time. Mat classes alone can burn up to 600 calories per hour, rivaling even the most "hardcore" workouts you’re already doing.
But Pilates still feels inaccessible to many, so to get more insight into how and why you should incorporate the practice into your fitness routine, we picked the brain of Pilates pro Brooke Siler, owner of re:AB Pilates Studio and author of The Women's Health Big Book of Pilates.
You have personally trained celebrities like Madonna, Liv Tyler, Zooey Deschanel, and Kirsten Dunst, and it seems like celebrities really flock to Pilates. Why do you think it’s so popular in the celeb circle?
Whether they’re modeling, acting, or performing, celebrities are often involved in a physical art, and that necessitates a lot of control over your body. Pilates is something that combines the best of your gym workout, your yoga workout, and your cardio workout. It’s such a one-stop shop, and since celebs really value their time, a methodology that gets everything done at once is often the best fit. The aesthetic of Pilates is also very desirable. It doesn’t build bulky muscle, and it creates very streamlined silhouettes.
So for the layperson—how many times per week would you recommend doing Pilates to really start to see results? How often to get, say, Jennifer Aniston’s legs?
The more you do it, the faster you’re going to see results. What I often say is that it’s kind of like learning a new language. If you were looking to learn French, you'd have to ask yourself—if I go one hour a week, how much French am I going to learn, and how quickly am I going to learn it? Whereas if I go every day and I spend an hour, and then I’m practicing each day on my own as well, how fast will I learn it then? The reason I compare it to a language is that once you learn it, you don’t need to go that often. You can go down from 4-5 times per week to 2 times per week and still maintain your physique.
Will Pilates alone help me lose weight?
Pilates was not meant originally as a weight loss technique, so people who are looking to lose a substantial amount of weight might want to combine it with an additional bout of some kind of aerobic activity and a good nutritional program. Pilates is cardiovascular, but it’s anaerobic, so it’s much more akin to interval training—which most top trainers recommend for peak athletic performance—because your heart rate goes up and down throughout a session. So while Pilates is a great cardio workout, it’s not aerobic in that your heart rate isn’t peaked for a steady 45 minutes like it would be on a run.
Speaking of cardio: Say I’m a runner, a biker, or I play a sport. Is Pilates a good compliment to other activities?
Absolutely! That’s what’s great about Pilates—it will help you do whatever else you do that much better. I often recommend doing it with other forms of exercise. With Pilates, you’re stretching and strengthening at the same time. Many people who like to do cardio, be it running or whatever, don’t stretch, but they’ll often strength train. But if you do Pilates, you get the strength element by using your own body’s resistance, or the resistance of the equipment, and you’re getting that important element of stretching with it as well.
Are those mat classes at my gym actually beneficial? Is that “real” Pilates?
I think people think that the mat is easy and that the equipment is the hard bit, but it’s kind of the opposite. Joseph Pilates designed the equipment so that you could get strong enough to do the mat, and I don’t think most people know that. And that’s why the mat classes are watered down a lot, because they have to cater to a mixed level of students who may not be ready to manage their own bodies without any support.
And as for the benefits of mat classes, it totally depends on the teacher. A mat class at your gym with the right teacher could be phenomenal, but you may or may not be doing what Joseph Pilates actually prescribed. But if you’re doing his method with an authentic teacher who knows how to push you, then absolutely you are in the right place, and you may not need the studio.