Traditional strength training and Pilates have a lot in common. Loading the muscles with weights in traditional strength training and with springs, props, and body weight in Pilates puts forces onto the muscles and bones that build strength.
Both are great for you and necessary for all the cells in the body to do their work. Different loads on our tissues help encourage strength and resiliency while optimizing the functioning of every system in the body.
We know that it’s important to include strength training in our movement routines. But what exactly does that entail? There are so many mixed messages coming to us in the fitness world, and it can be really confusing to understand what is what.
You don’t have to hit the gym and pump iron to build strength (but you should if that’s what you love!). A Pilates session can be a whole body workout that includes emphasis on strength and so much more.
Yes, Pilates counts as strength training. At every age and stage of life, the forces we put on our bones help us maintain our muscle and bone health to minimize loss as we age. Not only that, a strong body encourages a healthy metabolism which helps all the systems of the body function well.
We also know that in order to strengthen the muscles, progressive load increases are important. This is true for general muscle strengthening and particularly for people who are trying to build bone strength.
In my 25 years as a Pilates and fitness instructor, I’ve learned that new clients are commonly confused because they don’t fully understand what Pilates entails. Some people have only done mat classes where the focus is usually on exercises using just body weight.
Sometimes they will be familiar with adding props like hand weights and therabands in their mat class to increase resistance. But many have never been on the specialized Pilates equipment which offers customizable spring-based resistance such as the Reformer, Cadillac, or Chair.
In traditional strength training with weights, the focus is on a particular muscle or set of muscles. Let’s say your biceps, for example. In order to strengthen them, you do 2-3 sets of biceps curls with enough weight that you are just able to finish the set with good form.
You are initiating the physiological process that strengthens the muscle, which actually happens later as the tissue rebuilds. There is more involved, but this is generally what happens and that is why rest days are important.
Traditionally, you would have a leg day and an arm day at the gym so that you are allowing for this rebuilding of the tissue in between. Other types of strength training use body weight resistance (i.e., a plank), light hand weights, therabands, or suspension trainers.
Pilates is a whole body workout that builds strength as well as balanced mobility and stability through all the joints in the body. So you are not only controlling the movement against the spring resistance, you are moving through various planes of motion and ranges.
It’s all in the details with Pilates.
Traditional strength training often focuses on loading our global movers, or bigger muscles. In Pilates, we do a lot of work on the local stabilizing muscles close to the joints which helps us build functional strength.
We’re working to be strong in our activities of daily life doing the things that we love. And, because Pilates is tailored to the unique needs of each person, the focus is on helping the individual get what they want out of their training. Usually, that means a range of strengthening exercises and includes a combination of strength, mobility, and stability training.
Pilates, when done using equipment and props, can encompass all the types of strength training we need and more. Here are some of the benefits of using Pilates for strength training.
Pilates is a whole body balanced workout that can include progressive strength training tailored to your unique needs. We look at the mechanics of how each person moves and find ways to support creating strength in the whole system. This approach also helps prevent injuries.
Pilates can help you unravel and understand the unique needs of your body. Your genetic structure and lifestyle both inform how the forces of movement impact your body. A certified Pilates trainer can use this information to help you build strength safely and efficiently tailored to your own body and activities.
You build your own awareness by paying attention to breathing, how you are moving, and what you are feeling when you move. This practice of noticing is one that helps you calm your nervous system and become more attuned to what your body needs. It improves your form and allows you to focus on what you are trying to do in each exercise.
Building strength is not about spending an hour here or two hours there doing big, hard, explosive exercises that leave you exhausted and sore. To build muscle, you need to find a starting point that works for you and do that movement consistently every day through multiple planes of motion.
Choosing exercises in all planes of motion helps us maintain balance in our body by working not only the big, global movers but also the smaller load stabilizing muscles.
A strong body positively impacts all the systems of the body to function optimally. It helps strengthen bones, boost metabolism, improves cardiac health, and can help manage chronic conditions. Strength training can improve your quality of life by preventing injury, making the activities of daily life easier, and even enhancing your mental focus.
To incorporate strength training into your workout routine, start by thinking about what you want to accomplish. What do you want the impact of your strength training to be? Do you want to be strong enough to work in the garden without getting sore? Or do you want to mitigate the effects of osteoporosis or osteopenia? Think about what a strong body will allow you to do.
Once that is clear, you can set your goals for a regular strength training routine. Pilates sessions and classes can be done 3-5 days a week for optimal benefit. You can do private training or small group classes on the Tower, Reformer, or Chair.
You can also supplement that training with online mat classes that use body weight or simple props to build strength. My studio MOVE Wellness has a free YouTube channel with a variety of Pilates workouts that you can explore. Try the one I’ve included above!
If you’re interested in strength training, Pilates is a great workout to incorporate into your routine. Strength training is one piece of the movement pie that should include a variety of forces on the body. We know that our bodies are meant to do a vast range of movements. Bending, stretching, squatting, running, sitting on the floor, resting… all those motions are included in our daily lives.
Pilates will help you build strength, balance and mobility in a way that supports all the activities of your day to day life.
Ready to give Pilates a try? Enjoy a free 14-day trial of livestream Pilates classes with MOVE Wellness.
What type of exercises do you include in your routine? Do you take time to do strength training? Have you considered or even tried Pilates? What can you share about your experience?