One of the most common questions I get asked by potential new clients is about how Pilates will impact their strength, with many asking is Pilates strength training?
Pilates isn’t strength training in terms of working muscles to fatigue, however those taking Pilates up will benefit from increased strength and improvements in muscles tone to a point.
The question is usually asked because people are short on time, and they wonder if it can replace traditional training. So does this mean Pilates can’t help you become stronger? Let’s find out.
What is strength training?
A textbook definition of strength training means working your muscles to fatigue (meaning you can’t do another rep in good form) with progressively heavier resistance over time.
These variables aren’t present in traditional Pilates, which does not work the muscles to fatigue (although it may feel like that sometimes in class!) or continuously increase resistance as you get stronger. This means that, realistically, you will not get the same benefits by doing Pilates alone, as you would if doing traditional strength training, such as resistance training, which helps build muscle mass and will, in time, change your body shape.
That doesn’t mean Pilates can’t help you become stronger, anyone new to Pilates will benefit from increased strength in certain muscle groups and will see improvements in muscle tone and core strength.
Anecdotally I’ve been told by clients they can feel themselves getting stronger as they do more workouts, they delight in progress and I can feel improvement in core muscles, balance, control and the endurance they have.
For most the benefits will plateau and reach a maintenance level rather than continuously getting better. There’s 100% nothing wrong with that, if that is your only goal. Doing Pilates is certainly a good way to begin strengthening your body, whilst improving your overall mobility and your spine flexible.
If you want to build increased muscle strength and achieve optimal fitness, adding traditional strength-building exercises could compliment the Pilates you are doing.
The NY Times published an excellent guide to a 9-minute strength workout (source: Article) that explains how to do a full-body workout routine without any equipment using a simple series of movements:
- Mountain climbers
- Split squat
- Single leg-hip raise
- Burpee with push-up
- Single leg toe touches
- Leg raises
This type of exercise compliments a Pilates workout by adding in weight training using just your own body weight.
Visit a studio and you may have access to a Reformer (a total body workout machine). When you follow a reformer workout you are focusing on using your own body weight as resistance. This differs from other strength training in that you are also engaging your core and using your full body to move.
If you have ever been on a Reformer you will know how challenging it can be, the control, concentration, strength and power required for many of the exercises can be very challenging. A benefit of a Reformer is the ability to add or reduce resistance, challenging your control and strength while measuring progress efficiently.
When undertaking any new physical activity keep in mind that should you experience any pain or have any existing health conditions (for example join problems) you should seek professional help to understand if the exercises are right for you.
Why is strength training important?
The UK’s National Health Service recommends strength training to help slow down the rate of bone and muscle loss as we age to help maintain the ability to perform everyday tasks (source: Article)
Strength training is important because it helps build muscle mass, increases bone density, improves balance, coordination, flexibility, and endurance. All these factors help improve posture, reduce back pain, and increase overall health.
Both the NHS and the American Heart Association recommend all major muscle groups should be worked at least twice a week, doing so can increase bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Increasing your muscle mass has the additional benefit of making it easier for your body to burn calories and maintain a healthy weight, and having weight in a healthy range means you’re less likely to develop heart disease, breathing problems or diabetes.
No one form of exercise is the only thing you need to achieve ideal body composition and fitness and changing things up not only gives a range of health benefits, it also adds fun!
Benefits of Pilates Training
While Pilates training doesn’t result in the giant muscles usually gained at the gym it does have a wider range of benefits, see: The many benefits of Pilates
Unlike dedicated weight lifting, Pilates isn’t focused only on muscle building. This makes it a more rounded workout that helps with your overall movement, balance, flexibility and range of motion, which will make you less prone to injury.
Clinical trials have also reported that physically active individuals with lower back pain significantly decreased this pain via a Pilates based approach (source: article). Therefore, combining regular Pilates exercises with weight training can reduce the risk of injury.
How can I increase strength training in my Pilates Practice?
If you’re already practising Pilates you’ll know it’s focused around resistance, with moves that make use of your own bodyweight. This is why someone new to Pilates will have an increase in muscular strength which eventually levels off.
If you don’t have time for additional training you’re probably wondering what you can do to add additional resistance into the workouts. When a client asks me this I show them how to make use of equipment such as resistance bands and small weights as they increase the amount of work your body has to do.
Here’s an example workout that uses light weights to increase the challenge and effectiveness of the workout:
Notice the weights in the video aren’t huge, in fact if you don’t want to purchase and store equipment you can gain a similar benefit using food tins, the important thing with these forms of exercise is the inclusion of additional weight to help with muscle growth.
You could also visit a Pilates studio which provides access to a Reformer (a total body workout machine). When you follow a reformer workout you are focusing on using your own body weight as resistance. This differs from other strength training in that you are also engaging your core and using your full body to move, it gives a surprisingly intense workout regardless of your ability level.
Regardless of your current fitness level you’ll find the Reformer challenging as it requires control, concentration, strength and power for many of the exercises.
A benefit of a Reformer is the ability to add or reduce resistance, as your level of fitness changes you can up the challenge to your control and strength while measuring progress efficiently.
When undertaking any new physical activity keep in mind that should you experience any pain or have any existing medical conditions (for example join problems) you should seek professional help to understand if the exercises are right for you.
So is Pilates considered strength training? Conclusion
Pilates will increase your strength up to a point, but it is not strictly strength training in the same way as weight lifting is. However, it does offer numerous physical benefits to people from all walks of life. If you’re new Pilates you will see changes to your physical health, regular practice will result in toning muscles and its perfect for injury rehabilitation.
Pilates as your core training gives you a well-rounded workout, but depending on your goals you will likely want to take on different types of exercise, such as cardio exercise or lifting weights, especially if you’re looking to increase strength and build up muscles.