In the ever-evolving world of fitness, Pilates has stood the test of time, proving its effectiveness not just for core strength and flexibility, but as recent research suggests, also for enhancing cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF). For fitness professionals weighing the merits of incorporating mat Pilates into their programme offerings, there’s a growing body of evidence supporting its numerous benefits.
The Comprehensive Overview
A systematic review and meta-analysis published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice (2023) recently scrutinised the impact of Pilates on CRF in healthy adults. With a vast search that scoured multiple databases, this review encompassed 12 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and a collective 569 participants1. The research painted a favourable picture of Pilates:
- Pilates showcased a pronounced positive effect on CRF, a finding that remained consistent even when the focus narrowed to only high-quality studies.
- The mode of Pilates, whether it was mat-based or equipment-centric, didn’t alter the outcomes.
- The magnitude of benefits significantly amplified when the participants practiced Pilates for a minimum of 1440 minutes – or twice weekly over three months or thrice weekly for two months.
- Interestingly, while Pilates improved CRF, its efficacy was on par with other exercises and didn’t particularly outshine them.
The above results gain further credence when juxtaposed with prior studies. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine by Fernández-Rodríguez et al. sought to determine the impact of Pilates on cardiorespiratory fitness, measured using VO2 max levels, and whether this effect varied based on an individual’s health status or baseline VO2 max. From an initial pool of 527 potential studies identified up until September 2019, 10 were included in the systematic review, and 9 were used for the meta-analysis. Results revealed that practising Pilates led to a significant increase in VO2 max. Specifically, the effect size (ES) for the Pilates group compared to the control group was 0.57, while the ES reflecting the pre-post difference within the Pilates group was 0.51. Although sensitivity and subgroup analyses yielded similar estimates, meta-regressions based on baseline VO2 max were notable. In essence, Pilates was found to enhance cardiorespiratory fitness irrespective of an individual’s health condition. Consequently, Pilates can be recommended as a beneficial exercise regimen for both healthy individuals and those with specific health disorders to boost cardiorespiratory and neuromotor outcomes.
Similarly, Rayes et al., in their 2019 study published in Peer Journals, echoed these sentiments. Their research noted the Pilates group demonstrated significant improvements in oxygen uptake metrics and in areas like lean mass, fat mass, waist and hip measurements, abdominal test performance, trunk extensor endurance, flexibility, and both functional tests. The aerobic group also saw decreases in waist and hip measurements and improvements in the abdominal test but not to the extent of the Pilates group. They concluded Pilates is an effective alternative exercise regimen for overweight or obese individuals, as it yields considerable benefits in cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition, and functional test performance.
Beyond Cardiorespiratory Fitness
For fitness professionals, these findings provide crucial insights into the potential benefits of VILPA, particularly for individuals who are not inclined or able to engage in structured exercise routines. VILPA offers a flexible and accessible way to improve health outcomes. Encouraging clients to integrate brief bursts of vigorous activity into their daily lives can be a game-changer for those struggling to find time for formal exercise.
While CRF remains a focal point, it’s worth noting that Pilates offers a plethora of other benefits. It’s renowned for improving core strength, flexibility, posture, and mental wellbeing. By incorporating Pilates, fitness professionals can provide a holistic workout experience for their clients.
The current landscape of evidence underscores the potential of mat Pilates for those keen on bolstering their CRF. By integrating mat Pilates sessions into training programmes, fitness professionals can offer a balanced mix of strength training, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness.
However, a word of caution is warranted. Despite the encouraging findings, the systematic review highlighted the low quality of the evidence available. Thus, while the results beckon with promise, they should be interpreted judiciously. As always, continuous learning and staying updated with the latest research will ensure that fitness professionals can offer the best to their clientele.
The realm of fitness is replete with trends that come and go. Yet, Pilates, with its enduring legacy and a burgeoning body of evidence supporting its merits, seems poised to remain a mainstay. For fitness enthusiasts and professionals alike, Pilates seems to be a promising avenue, not just for core strength and flexibility, but also for cardiorespiratory vigour.
- Rafaela Almeida Gonçalves Pessôa, Laís Campos de Oliveira, Gleice Beatriz Batista Vitor, Raphael Gonçalves de Oliveira. Effects of Pilates exercises on cardiorespiratory fitness: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. Volume 52, 2023. Click here to review the full research article .
- Fernández-Rodríguez R, Álvarez-Bueno C, Ferri-Morales A, Torres-Costoso AI, Cavero-Redondo I, Martínez-Vizcaíno V. Pilates Method Improves Cardiorespiratory Fitness: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Clin Med. 2019 Oct 23;8(11):1761. doi: 10.3390/jcm8111761. PMID: 31652806; PMCID: PMC6912807. Click here to review the full research article
- Rayes ABR, de Lira CAB, Viana RB, Benedito-Silva AA, Vancini RL, Mascarin N, Andrade MS. 2019. The effects of Pilates vs. aerobic training on cardiorespiratory fitness, isokinetic muscular strength, body composition, and functional tasks outcomes for individuals who are overweight/obese: a clinical trial. PeerJ 7:e6022 Click here to review the full research article
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