Every Single Muscle You Work When You Do Pilates

Did you know it strengthens your feet?

Originally Published: 
What muscles does Pilates work? Trainers explain what makes it a full-body workout.


Pilates is a great strength training workout, says Natural Pilates founder Laura Wilson. Not only is each move tougher than the next, but mat Pilates also uses props — like the Pilates ring — to target specific areas and increase the burn. Here, all the muscles Pilates works.



Pilates is all about the abs. A typical class hits all four layers of the core, Wilson says, including the transversus abdominis with planks, the internal and external obliques with bicycles and bird dogs, and the rectus abdominus with flexion moves like crunches.



The glutes also get a lot of attention. “Pilate works all three gluteal muscles,” Wilson says. “The gluteus maximus in bridging and swimming, and the gluteus minimus and medius in side-lying hip abductions like clams, hydrants, etc.”


Lats & Delts

Because it’s such an effective move, Pilates also includes a lot of planks. As you hold yourself up, you can expect to work the deltoid muscles in the shoulders as well as the latissimus dorsi muscle in your back, says certified Pilates instructor Liz Hilliard.


Posterior Chain

The posterior chain is the backside of the body, says Tianna Strateman with Club Pilates. You work these muscles when you do bridges, quadruped moves like bird dogs, and swimmers. “These help strengthen your glutes, back, and core and improve posture,” she says.


Shoulder Blades

“Pilates is said to work from the inside out,” Wilson says. Unlike traditional strength training, many Pilates moves target the smaller, deeper muscles of the body, like the tiny muscles around your rotator cuffs and shoulder blades.



By doing Pilates barefoot, you engage all 29 muscles of the foot and ankle. Strengthening your feet can improve your balance, stability, coordination, and posture, says Hilliard.


Pelvic Floor

Pilates pro Jessica Guevara says low-impact moves like pelvic tucks and one hundreds strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor.

The pelvic floor is connected to the diaphragm and core, she says, which also work in tandem as you breathe deeply throughout the workout.



Pilates push-ups, the Pilates ring, and light hand weights all target the arm muscles. Hilliard says you work the biceps anytime you do bicep curls and the triceps with go-to moves like the tricep dip. Of course, the classic plank also works your arms and shoulders.



The clamshell, a Pilates fave, is an effective exercise that works both the inner and outer thighs depending on how you position your legs, Hilliard says. The two variations of this side-lying move hit the adductors and the abductors for an effective lower-body workout.



Whenever you do squats, lunges, wall sits, or leg lifts, Hilliard says you’re working the big muscles of the legs, like the quads and hamstrings. It’s what makes Pilates such an ideal full-body workout modality, and one that’s perfect for strength training.

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