The best pilates styles to achieve your fitness goals

Want a workout that will leave you strong and centred? Pilates is low-impact, high-reward, and with a variety of styles, there’s sure to be a class you’ll love.

Once the exclusive domain of dancers, pilates hit the mainstream in the mid-2000s following a slew of celebrity endorsements and has gone on to gain a legion of new fans and styles in recent years.

Be it the core benefits of a gentle workout or a high-intensity sweat session, here’s how to work out which type of pilates class is right for you.

What is pilates?

Created in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates, pilates involves controlled movements and breathing techniques that target every muscle group to promote strength, control and flexibility.

Pilates combines mat work with small apparatuses such as hand weights and resistance bands, and some very impressive-looking equipment such as the well-known reformer (a platform with sliding carriage, ropes and pulleys).

“Pilates studio equipment is designed to help people to do a remarkable range of movements they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do,” pilates industry expert Sally Anderson says.

Pilates offers a wealth of benefits, including increased metabolism and muscle mass, psychological improvements, flexibility, balance and core strength.

“It enables you to work the whole body from top to bottom and inside out,” Sally says.

“It’s low impact, but can also offer high resistance and challenge, and it’s tailored to ability, so it doesn’t force you to exercise hard to get a result.”

What are the main types of pilates?

Pilates Alliance Australasia committee member Daniela Di Fabio says there’s a “smorgasbord” of different styles on offer.

“Unless you are clear about the outcomes you want to achieve, it can be confusing,” Daniela says.

These are some of the major methods.


This is the practice in its truest form, aligning with Joseph Pilates’ original program of exercises, which are often performed in a specific order in one-on-one or very small group settings.

“Classical instructors remain true to the original method, sequencing and breathing patterns, as well as concentration, centring, control, precision and flow,” Daniela says.


Sally says contemporary pilates incorporates the original teachings, but with slight adaptations to some exercises based on current knowledge and needs.

Like classical, these sessions will generally be conducted by highly trained professionals either one-on-one or in small groups, which means you get a personalised workout likely to generate better results.

“Qualifications do count, and a fully qualified pilates teacher will have completed at least three years of training to acquire a diploma,” Daniela says.

“Receiving this tailor-made service does come with a price tag – but the old adage is true: you get what you pay for.”

Hot pilates

Hot Pilates is a fitness class that combines traditional Pilates exercises with a heated room. The class typically takes place in a room heated to a high temperature, often between 30 and 39 degrees.

Core-Plus Pilates instructor Carnie Spink says it’s a typical Pilates class with a little bit of a spin.

“We set [the room] at 37 degrees at an infrared heat,” she explains. “When you’re warm you’re really concentating on the movement.”

Hot Pilates classes generally incorporate core-strengthening exercises, flexibility work, and overall body conditioning.

“We always want to make sure that we are moving with control,” Carnie says.

Large group classes

There’s also a huge variety of larger group classes that blend Pilates with other forms of exercise.

These sessions can be more affordable and accessible, but you won’t get the same personalised attention as in a studio setting.

Other popular pilates options include

Mat: Conducted on mats incorporating small apparatuses, these are a great option for anyone starting out.

Reformer: Named after the reformer apparatus used, these sessions can range from beginners through to advanced, so be sure to check.

POP: This high-energy, music-driven class combines pilates movements with dance-inspired choreography.

Hybrids: There are heaps of different classes that blend pilates exercises with elements of other workouts, such as yoga, ballet (barre) or HIIT.

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Written by Dimity Barber.