Benefits of Pilates:

Builds Amazing Strong Abs

Pilates builds strong core and of course amazing-looking abs (abdominal muscles). But hey, what is core? We often hear this word being thrown around in conversations and by fitness instructors and many would often think that of the six-pack sexy abdominal. However, the core is more than that.

What is core?

Core is defined as muscles that surrounds the Lumbar-pelvic region and includes the anterior (front) abdominals, the paraspinals (back spinal region) and posterior gluteal (buttocks), the front pelvic floor muscles, the hip abductors and lateral rotators, and superior diaphragm (below ribs). All these muscles have direct or indirect attachments to the extensive thoracolumbar connective tissues and spinal column (Bliss & Teeple, 2005).

According to NSCA, the primary core muscles consist of the rectus (straight from head to toe direction) abdominis, transverse abdominis, internal oblique, external oblique, latissimus dorsi, erector spinae (superificial extensor spinal muscles) and multifidus (deep extensors beneath erector spinae) (Szelog, 2017).


Why is it important to strengthen your core?

Any exercise that involves the use of your abdominal and back muscles in coordinated fashion counts as a core exercise. Hence, Core exercises train the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen to work in harmony. This leads to better balance, coordination and stability, whether on the playing field or in daily activities (pretty much every time we move!). In fact, most sports and other physical activities depend on stable core muscles.

Hodges and Richardson reported that the transverse abdominals was the first muscle to be activated in many movements of daily living, and that delayed of contraction of abdominal muscles, in particularly, transverse abdominals indicates lack of motor control and inefficient muscular stabilization of the spine for patients (Hodges & Richardson, 1996). In fact, most sports and other physical activities depend on stable core muscles. That’s why the core is often called the “powerhouse”.

Pilates increases muscles strength, endurance and reduces muscle imbalance between left and right side of cores.

After 36 weeks of twice weekly Pilates training program, sedentary women were shown to increase muscle hypertrophy (an indication of strength) by 21% at 95% significance level and 20% at 99% significance level. The latter means that there is an improvement of 20% in muscle strength for 99 out of 100 subjects (Dorado, Calbet, Lopez-Gordillo, Alayon, & Sanchis-Moysi, 2012).

The Pilates training was also shown to be significantly effective in eliminating pre-existing muscle imbalance of the abdominals, and weakened abdominal wall and abdominal asymmetries have been associated with low back pain (Dorado et al., 2012).

Not only strength is important, endurance to stress exertion on our muscles is equally critical.

In a study by Sekenidiz et al, sedentary women went through 5 weeks of one-hourly Pilates training three times weekly. Sedentary women are defined as those who have not been attending regular exercise sessions, more than 45min a day, three times a week for more than a year. The women were found to have strengthened both their abdominal strength and endurance significantly more than the control group in the pre-and post measurement (Sekendiz, Altun, Korkusuz, & Akın, 2007) .



Pilates’s activates rectus abdominals better than traditional exercises

Pilates is a training method aiming at the symmetric strengthening of the muscles of the abdominal wall and spine, with muscle actions performed at low speeds with a high isometric component (muscles length do not change during contractions e.g. Pilates plank) vs other forms of exercises.

Pilates hits your abdominals unlike traditional abdominal exercises (crunch and sit up). Using electromyography (EMG), an electrodiagnostic medicine technique for evaluating and recording the electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles, Silva et al found the EMG results of the upper rectus abdominis (URA) and lower rectus abdominis (LRA) of female subjects with no experience of the Pilates method to be significantly higher when performing Pilates than traditional exercises at 95% confidence level. The rectus abdominis is responsible for the ‘six-packs look.’ The dynamic Pilates abdominal exercises of roll up, double leg stretch, coordination, crisscross and foot work were proven to promote greater muscle activation.


Pilates’s breathing increased truck stablizer muscles

Stabilizer muscles of the trunk in the human body refer to the deep muscles beneath that contribute to trunk stabilization during movement. Stabilizer muscles in the waist region include the diaphragm, pelvic floor muscles, transverse abdominals, internal abdominal oblique, and multidus (‘inner’ spinal muscle) (Gringmuth & Jackson, 2000). Among these stabilizer muscles, the transverse abdominals and inner spinal muscles are especially important because they stabalise the spine and need to be activated before the body can even move!

After completing 2 weeks of three-times-weekly Pilates training, Kim et al found activities of the transversus abdominis or internal abdominal oblique significantly increase when Pilates breathing is incorporated (Kim & Lee, 2017).

Appropriate breathing is very important because the stabalizer muscles all contribute to voluntary breathing, and they do so by inducing contractions on the abdominal area. Since the truck stabliser muscles can be regulated by one’s breath, proper breathing during trunk stablisation exercises can produce better results as they are contracting in tandem with breath flow.


Other than helping you achieve fab-looking six-pack abs, more importantly, Pilates has been shown in various scientific studies to improve abdominal strength and endurance, counteract muscle imbalance, as well as promote stabilizer muscles necessary for balance, posture and co-ordination that underlines the quality of life.



Reference List


Bliss, L. S., & Teeple, P. (2005). Core stability: The centerpiece of any training program. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 4(3), 179-183. doi:10.1007/s11932-005-0064-y

Clark, B. C., Walkowski, S., Conatser, R. R., Eland, D. C., & Howell, J. N. (2009). Muscle functional magnetic resonance imaging and acute low back pain: a pilot study to characterize lumbar muscle activity asymmetries and examine the effects of osteopathic manipulative treatment. Osteopathic Medicine and Primary Care, 3, 7. doi:10.1186/1750-4732-3-7

Dorado, C., Calbet, J. A., Lopez-Gordillo, A., Alayon, S., & Sanchis-Moysi, J. (2012). Marked effects of Pilates on the abdominal muscles: a longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging study. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 44(8), 1589-1594. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e31824fb6ae

Gringmuth, R. H., & Jackson, C. (2000). Therapeutic Exercise For Spinal Segmental Stabilization in Low Back Pain: Scientific Basis and Clinical Approach. J Can Chiropr Assoc, 44(2), 125.

Hodges, P. W. B., & Richardson, C. (1996). Inefficient Muscular Stabilization of the Lumbar Spine Associated With Low Back Pain: A Motor Control Evaluation of Transversus Abdominis. Ovid, 21(22), 2640-2650.

Kim, S. T., & Lee, J. H. (2017). The effects of Pilates breathing trainings on trunk muscle activation in healthy female subjects: a prospective study. J Phys Ther Sci, 29(2), 194-197. doi:10.1589/jpts.29.194

Sekendiz, B., Altun, Ö., Korkusuz, F., & Akın, S. (2007). Effects of Pilates exercise on trunk strength, endurance and flexibility in sedentary adult females. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 11(4), 318-326. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2006.12.002

Szelog, M. (2017). What is the Core and How do You Activate it?   Retrieved from



The Pilates Works

Contributed by Katherine Liew-Tan. Katherine is a prolific writer in health and fitness topics. A Pilates and HIIT buff, she used to run international brand beauty and health businesses. She graduated in journalism and is currently studying pharmaceutical science.

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