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Pilates' Aerobic Benefits Limited

SAN DIEGO, CA — The cardiovascular benefits of Pilates appear to be limited, according to recent research by the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

Lead researchers Stefanie Spilde and John Porcari at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, recruited 15 healthy women, ages 18 to 26, with at least an intermediate level of Pilates experience. Each subject participated in two, 50-minute Pilates mat-training sessions (one beginner and one advanced), following a videotaped Pilates routine for consistency.

Each subject first followed a beginner mat Pilates routine, which consisted of five minutes of breath-linked alignment exercises and 40 minutes of basic Pilates exercises that followed the original method of sequencing. Each session ended with five minutes of stretching and realignment. The advanced routine was similar to the beginner routine except that it used advanced techniques of positioning and pacing for each exercise. During each session, heart rates and oxygen consumption were measured and recorded, and subjects rated their perceived effort using the 6 — 20 Borg scale.

An analysis of the data showed that the intensity of the beginning Pilates routine was lower than the recommended guidelines for improving cardio respiratory fitness. The average percentage of maximal heart rate was 54 percent, which is below the ACSM recommendation of 64 percent to 94 percent. The advanced Pilates routine elicited a higher aerobic response, with 62 percent of maximal heart rate and 43 percent of VO2 max. This would be the equivalent to the energy requirements of walking 3.5 to 4 miles per hour.

Even though participants felt as though they were working hard — and from a muscular standpoint, researchers found that they were — research concluded that participants were not achieving significant aerobic or calorie-burning benefits from their efforts.

“Pilates has a long list of benefits including improved body mechanics, balance, coordination, strength and flexibility,” said Dr. Cedric X. Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for ACE. “While the ACE study shows that a Pilates session burns a relatively small amount of calories, it is still a valuable addition to any exercise routine offering the essential elements of building a strong core and increasing flexibility.”

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