Pilates for Cardio Health

Learn the tips and tricks for getting your Pilates sweat on and your heart rate up.

There are so many options when it comes to fitness and movement. Even gyms, where it was once common to find a few treadmills, some barbells and a few clunky machines, have embraced more thorough class timetables, bigger stretching areas and the need for bands, balls and foam rollers. Far from the narrow offerings of step aerobics or boxing, there’s truly 50 Shades Of Workout these days. Just as there’s so much variety in classes and options for when, where and how we train, there are also endless ways to practice Pilates.

Just as yoga has been brought into the modern age with an appreciation that our bodies and our lifestyles are entirely different to those of the sages, gurus and original yogis of Ancient India, so we must accept that Pilates was never designed to be a system of movement that didn’t evolve and adapt for different bodies and the demands of changing lifestyles: diets, work conditions, health conditions and the stresses of constant social media access and limited outdoors activity.

Joseph Pilates, the founder of the Pilates method, acknowledged that his system evolved as he worked with a greater variety of bodies and embraced different movement ideologies too. His students went on to adapt the Pilates system to embrace their own experiences. From the 1970s onwards, as celebrities in Hollywood began to embrace and tout the benefits of Pilates for sculpting lean, lithe muscles, it was embraced by many of the professional sporting leagues from baseball, basketball, ballet, football and also by Olympians.

It has been estimated over 10 million Americans practice Pilates, so it is inevitable that there will continue to be advancements, innovations and new ways to combine the Pilates system with other movement practices. This has been seen in recent years with “Yogalates”, a combination of yoga and Pilates, or “Piloxing”, a combination of boxing and Pilates, or “Barre Pilates” – which is a popular option on Pilates Anytime, a combination of Pilates and typical ballet conditioning moves.

Can I improve my cardio fitness doing Pilates?

Absolutely. Because there are so many variations in Pilates classes – from the equipment used to the approach of the teacher and their individual approach – your class can definitely improve your cardio health but equally, it can support you in improving your body awareness and lifestyle so the fitness challenges you approach in daily life are enhanced by what you do in Pilates classes.

What does that mean? By practicing Pilates, you will improve your posture and balance along with your ability to engage the core muscles such as your deep abdominals, pelvic floor and gluteal muscles, thus increasing your ability to run further with less chance of injury, to dance longer without fatigue, or hike for a day versus a week.

Want more tips to increase your cardio fitness through Pilates? Read on.

1. Find a rhythm and pace to get your heart rate up.

Perhaps you really want to pick up the pace and build a sweat up. Try the Cardio HIT Mat Fusion with Jeremy Laverdure and Cara Reeser that mixes calisthenics, Pilates and high-intensity training methods to get your heart pumping. If you love to dance and you love high energy movement, Tracey Mallett’s barre Pilates fusion classes are just what you’re looking for. Her FuseDance workout is a challenge and a half. If you’re keen to find cardio challenges on the reformer, the Get Your Sweat On playlist has a range of classes to choose from.

2. Look for "athletic" workouts.

Editors Note: Courtney Miller and John Garey.

3. Be consistent, not complacent.

Practice as often as possible. You'll get the pacing down, and find your flow, which can up your heart rate.

4. Go deeper.

By making small changes to your form to get your body to working harder. You will engage different muscles, and get your blood pumping.

5. Focus on your breathing.

Cardio workouts aren't solely about keeping your heart rate steadily at a certain level. Intermittent breaks and active recovery are important parts of interval training, which aims to ...?

Is Pilates safe for me if I am new to exercise or have a heart condition?

As with all exercise and dietary changes, it’s best to get a professional medical evaluation and approval for any lifestyle changes you make. Your doctor or specialist can advise on what is safe and recommended for you. It may be that you need to watch your heart rate during exercise and make sure to stay within a particular range to avoid unnecessary strain on your heart if you have reason to do so. Perhaps you need to avoid particular movements such as extreme back extensions or lying on your left hip. Knowing this, you can choose particular classes that are suited to your needs.

Pilates is like any committed practice. It will nourish you and strengthen your physical and emotional resilience. It will evolve as you continue to learn and experiment and challenge yourself. It will hopefully awaken a desire to be more confident in exploring other movement and wellbeing methodologies as well as Pilates. Especially as it gets warmer, it can be great to get outside and walk, run or dance in nature. Equally, perhaps skiing, snowboarding or ice skating are all options available to you depending on where you live. Pilates is not meant to exist as a stand-alone, insular practice that dictates one way to move and live. Rather, it is a system that invites you to embrace your individual strengths and to identify where you could work on greater balance, push the boundaries you have physically and mentally, and ultimately to enjoy the marvelous gift of having a body and the desire and ability to use it with awareness every day.
Cat Woods
About the Author

Cat Woods

Cat Woods is the Australian founder of Ballet Sculpt, a barre, yoga and Pilates instructor and writer. She has written on fitness, food, travel and beauty for various media and her own blog, Core Integrity for over a decade. She is a self-confessed daily user of Pilates Anytime, with a particular dedication to Meredith Rogers' Mat classes.


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