The Pilates Abs Dilemma: Developing Functional Six-Pack Abs

The Pilates Abs Dilemma: Developing Functional Six-Pack Abs



Pilates, a form of exercise that has been gaining popularity over the years, is often associated with a toned and lean physique. Most people have the idea that they just need to get more exercise or more variety in their training. Some choose Pilates for abs that may come at the cost of function. At Functional Patterns (FP), we suggest that six-pack abs can be attained by training in accordance to the movements humans have evolved to do most. We will look at the literature on Pilates core exercises and efficacy of Pilates in transforming one's body shape and strength to develop visible abs. We'll also touch on the first principles from the FP methodology to broaden our understanding of physical fitness and efficient movement.

Functional Patterns: DON’T ISOLATE


Pilates and Body Transformation


Pilates is known for its focus on core strength, which is essential for maintaining proper posture, balance, and overall stability. Typical Pilates core exercises target the rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis muscles. Although it’s important to target all of these muscles in an ab workout, the context of how the rest of the body is used must be taken into consideration. Claims have been made to show that regular Pilates for abs can lead to improved core strength and better body awareness.

Results by FP HF Instructor and FP HBS Kathy Alvarez

The Science Behind Pilates and Core Strength


While a Pilates ab workout can help strengthen your abdominal muscles, they might not directly result in the visible, chiseled abs that many people desire. Achieving visible abs requires a combination of factors, including a low body fat percentage and well-developed core muscles. Pilates for abs can contribute to core muscle development, but has been shown to not be enough on its own to reduce body fat, which is crucial for revealing those coveted abs.1 

Pilates can play a role in changing your body shape by improving muscle tone and posture. There is evidence for the benefits of Pilates for abs showing improved core strength and decreased body fat.2 Due to limited number of studies, there is need for more research on the effectiveness of the application of Pilates core exercises and a more comprehensive approach to fitness.3 

After reviewing the mixed results from Pilates research, A Pilates ab workout may contribute to improved core strength and even body composition to some extent. However, it's important to remember that Pilates mostly focuses on arbitrary exercises that don’t offer a first principles approach to full-body training. At FP, we think that Pilates core exercises may provide contextual results for some people but doesn’t go far enough to account for how the human body evolved.

Image by Freepik

Training The Abs with Functional Patterns 


At FP, we have determined the root cause of ineffective training lies in not addressing the FP “Big 4” - standing, walking, running, and throwing. These four basic human movements are essential for optimal functionality and overall health. The FP approach emphasizes the importance of training these foundational movements to achieve desired results, such as leaner and more visible abs. By focusing on these functional movement patterns, individuals can improve their body composition and develop ab workouts alongside moving more efficiently.

Results by FP HBS Alison Prior with client Demi at Functional Patterns Spain

The Functional Patterns methodology emphasizes the first principles of training the body for the activities it evolved to perform most - standing, walking, running, and throwing. It has been generally accepted by anthropologists that the human structure evolved to what it is now as a result of walking and running.4 Throwing accurately at high speeds by humans has been observed to shape the development of the shoulder shortly following walking upright.5 The mechanisms that control a stable temperature during strenuous exercise in the body evolved with humans beginning to run.6

This approach can be incorporated into your fitness regimen to improve movement efficiency and address muscular imbalances or asymmetries. The goal at FP is to develop all muscles, such as the abs, around optimizing these functions we evolved to perform most. Aiming to isolate just developing the abs when neglecting surrounding muscles doesn’t make sense for the majority of people. At FP, we train the abs to connect the upper and lower body with corrective exercises prioritizing these fundamental movements.

Results by FP HBS Jen Calleja at Functional Patterns Melbourne



While Pilates core exercises may contribute to strengthening your abdominal muscles, they likely aren't enough on their own to give you the well-defined abs many people desire. To achieve a leaner and sustainable physique, a holistic approach involving training Functional Patterns around the “Big 4” - standing, walking, running, and throwing - is essential.

The Functional Patterns approach emphasizes the importance of training around the FP “Big 4” to develop a strong foundation and enhance overall functionality. By focusing on these fundamental human movements not accounted for in Pilates ab workouts, individuals can improve their body composition and sculpt their functional six-pack abs.

To take your fitness journey to the next level and work towards leaner, more visible abs, consider reaching out to a Functional Patterns practitioner near you for training. They can provide personalized guidance and support, helping you implement the FP approach to achieve lasting results. 

Learn more about Functional Patterns and abs in the following resources: 


  1. Aibar-Almazán, Agustín et al. “The Influence of Pilates Exercises on Body Composition, Muscle Strength, and Gait Speed in Community-Dwelling Older Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, doi:10.1519/ JSC.0000000000003790. PubMed, Link.
  2. Su, Chien-Hsiao et al. “Effects of a 12-Week Pilates Program on Functional Physical Fitness and Basal Metabolic Rate in Community-Dwelling Middle-Aged Women: A Quasi-Experimental Study.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 19, no. 23, 2022, doi:10. 3390/ijerph192316157. PMC, Link.
  3. Kloubec, June A. “Pilates: How Does It Work and Who Needs It?” Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons Journal, vol. 1, no. 2, 2011, pp. 61–66. PMC, Link.
  4. Bramble, Dennis M., and Lieberman, Daniel E. "Endurance running and the evolution of Homo." Nature, vol. 432, no. 7015, 2004, pp. 345-352. Link
  5. Roach, Neil T., et al. "Elastic energy storage in the shoulder and the evolution of high-speed throwing in Homo." Nature, vol. 498, no. 7455, 2013, pp. 483-486.
  6. Carrier, David R. "The Energetic Paradox of Human Running and Hominid Evolution." Current Anthropology, vol. 25, no. 4, 1984, pp. 483-495.  
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