In another life, I’m a Pilates teacher, not a journalist flitting from class to class. I love Pilates — I’ve tried just about every class on the market, from classical mat Pilates, to the Megaformer Pilates workout Meghan Markle swears by, and I’ve even gone on a week-long Pilates retreat in Thailand. Yet in a bid to really explore the practice, I did Pilates every day for a month. Would practicing Pilates every day for 30 days give me the abs of my dreams? Read on to find out.
Pilates is a “mind-body” exercise, developed in the 20th Century by a man named Joseph Pilates. It’s low-impact, so suitable for all levels of fitness, and works on improving your strength, posture, and structural alignment. One study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, found that people who did one hour of Pilates twice a week for 12 weeks reported significant increases in abdominal endurance, upper-body strength, and hamstring flexibility.
Looking for more Pilates inspiration? Here are 8 of the best Pilates exercises for targeting your core, the Pilates exercise that is the best at sculpting your core, and a guide on Pilates for weight loss.
I did Pilates every day for a month — here's what happened to my body
For 30 days, I committed to a daily Pilates practice to see what the result would be on my body. As a reminder, while it is safe to practice Pilates every day, if you’re new to Pilates, or you’re returning to exercise following an injury, it’s a good idea to take things a little slower. If in doubt, check with your doctor or personal trainer before taking up a new fitness challenge.
I got DOMS in my abs
While I’m used to practicing Pilates a couple of times a week, after my first seven days of daily Pilates workouts, it hurt every single time I laughed. My abdominal muscles received a serious beating. The classes ranged from 10 minutes on days when I was short on time or traveling to the office, to 60 minutes when I really wanted to unroll my exercise mat and set my core on fire. While I didn’t work up a sweat, or torch calories, Pilates does work your entire core in almost every move, from your abdominal muscles to your lower back muscles and your pelvic floor.
A strong core isn’t just an aesthetic goal — it’s important for helping you run faster and lift heavier, as well as helping to stabilize your lower back and improve your posture.
I mixed things up
As well as being low-impact and widely accessible, there’s a style of Pilates to suit just about everyone. On some days, I practiced Pilates in my living room, following YouTube workouts (this 30-minute Pilates workout with over 4 million views was a personal favorite), on other days I went to reformer Pilates classes — Pilates that uses a Reformer machine to add resistance and intensity. I enjoyed mixing things up, and noticed a lot of similarities in the exercises, no matter what class I did.
I felt less stressed
I’m a real believer in doing exercise for the joy of moving, not to lose weight or burn a certain number of calories. I loved the fact I could pop to a Pilates class on my lunchbreak without worrying about being a sweaty mess when I got back to the office, but I found the exercise itself to be relaxing.
A lot of Pilates classes will incorporate stretching, and all Pilates classes will be based around following your breath — Pilates breathing involves taking a big breath in and expanding your ribcage during the eccentric part of a movement, then exhaling during the concentric part, helping you to keep your core engaged.
I found focusing on my breath forced me to stay present during the workouts — I wasn’t worrying about my unread emails, or writing my shopping list.
I felt it in my neck
After the first couple of weeks, I really felt my daily practice in my neck. When I asked my Pilates instructor for some advice, she told me that neck pain was a sign I wasn’t engaging my core enough. During exercises where your head and neck need to be raised away from the mat, she reminded me to think about tucking my chin down onto my chest, rather than jutting it out towards the ceiling, and keeping my abs engaged for the entire workout.
I noticed less pain in my lower back
I suffer from sciatica after a horse riding accident in my teens and often find my lower back can get extremely tight, especially if I’ve spent too long sitting down. My daily Pilates practice helped me loosen and stretch my back while working on strengthening my lower back muscles. In one study, published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, Pilates was shown to significantly improve pain relief in patients with chronic back pain.
Of course, it’s important to practice Pilates with the correct form and keep the lower back pressed into the mat at all times during certain exercises — arching your lower back can put pressure on your spine. If you do suffer from back pain, it’s worth talking to your instructor beforehand.
I noticed my abs pop
While I didn’t build an awful lot of muscle, or lose weight, after a month of Pilates practice, I did notice my abs popping a lot more in the mirror. Pilates worked my core hard, and while no amount of crunches or mountain climbers can give you abs (visible abs are down to your body fat percentage — here’s how to calculate your body fat percentage, and why it matters), I noticed the daily core practice helped strengthen my mid-section.
I’ll definitely be continuing with my Pilates practice, but two to three times a week is the sweet spot for me.