Can Pilates Improve Your Oxygen Saturation Levels?

Pilates was one of the fastest growing fitness trends of the past few decades. Dancers and celebrities popularized Pilates as they enjoyed the fusion of core strengthening calisthenics with focused breathing. In addition, physical therapists and athletic trainers use modified Pilates techniques for injury rehabilitation and prevention.

Through the years its popularity grew despite a few controversies along the way. Back to our title question, Pilates may improve oxygen saturation while strengthening your core muscles. Read on for details…

What Is Pilates?

Compared to other mind-body practices, Pilates is a new kid on the block. German immigrant Joseph Pilates developed the method nearly a century ago based on his fusion of techniques and concepts borrowed from gymnastics, yoga, meditation, martial arts, calisthenics, and other disciplines. It is a little different from traditional mind-body practices since it primarily focuses on physical conditioning with an emphasis on mental focus and controlled breathing.

Professional dancers were among Pilates early converts as they enjoyed the improved core strength, body control, and injury prevention benefits from Pilates. In fact, Joseph Pilates originally referred to his method as “Contrology.”

In the 1960s, George Balanchine invited Joseph Pilates to teach his method to dancers at the New York City Ballet. Ever since, Pilates was popular with dancers, actors, and celebrities. In time physical therapists also started adapting Pilates training methods. Today most major gyms and specialized boutique studios offer pilates classes.

Benefits of Pilates for Fitness

Pilates devotees enthusiastically raved about the benefits of Pilates for nearly a century. Researchers started studying the effectiveness of Pilates more recently with mixed results.

Various studies indicate people who practice Pilates with good technique over time see the following benefits:

  • Improved flexibility and mobility
  • Trunk stability
  • Core and pelvic floor strength
  • Injury prevention
  • Improved posture
  • Improved coordination and athletic performance in some sports.

(Source Time Magazine article “Here Are the Health Benefits of Pilates” published February 2017 and some of the linked studies.)

“All Pilates exercises flow from the “five essentials” – breathing, cervical alignment, rib and scapular stabilization, pelvic mobility and utilizing the transverses abdominis.” (Source “Pilates: how does it work and who needs it?” Published in 2011 in Muscles, Ligaments, Tendons Journal.)

Anecdotal evidence exists that the controlled breathing and concentration relieves stress for many people who don’t have the interest in meditation techniques.

Some respiratory therapists use Pilates breathing to help patients including those with COPD. A 2014 study found that Pilates style breathing was not as effective as Diaphragm breathing for patients suffering from COPD, but that may in part be due to their physical limitations. They found Pilates breathing techniques improved patient’s SpO2 or blood oxygen saturation for both healthy subjects and those with COPD. However, Pilates breathing increased respiratory volume only for the group of healthy subjects. (Source “Respiratory pattern of diaphragmatic breathing and pilates breathing in COPD subjects.” – linked to in the sources section.)

Pilates and Your Biometrics

Some trainers recommend taking a yoga or Pilates class on days when your HRV is lower. They see mind-body exercises including yoga, tai chi, and Pilates as active recovery workouts. Of these disciplines, yoga and tai chi are the most studied. Pilates is a little different since it is a form of physical calisthenics that fuses breath and focus techniques from more traditional mind-body practices.

Pilates is known to help improve core strength, mobility, flexibility, muscle control and blood oxygen saturation. It may even help you recover between vigorous workouts. Use your Biostrap to track your own biometrics including HRV and your blood oxygen saturation. See for yourself whether these metrics trend up as you progress with your Pilates practice.

Sources and Resources

Respiratory pattern of diaphragmatic breathing and pilates breathing in COPD subjects by

Karina M. Cancelliero-Gaiad, 1 Daniela Ike, 1 Camila B. F. Pantoni, 1 Audrey Borghi-Silva, 1 and  Dirceu Costa 1 published in “Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy.”

Pilates: how does it work and who needs it? By June Kloubec published in “Muscle, Ligaments and Tendons Journal.”

Romana’s Pilates website, Romana Kryzanowska was Joseph Pilates protege who  inherited his New York City studio after the death of him and his wife.

Here Are the Health Benefits of Pilates by Markham Heid in “Time Health”.

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