Pilates vs. Weights: Does one replace the other?




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Strength training is a great way to look after your body, helping you turn unwanted weight into muscle and maintaining a strong body.  Are you wondering if Pilates is the right option for you?  Can you do Pilates instead of weights?

Pilates and weightlifting are two very different types of exercise. If your goal is to gain muscle mass, then weightlifting is the better option. However, if you want to improve your overall fitness and strengthen your core, then Pilates is a great choice.

When you think of Pilates, you may think of a workout that involves a lot of stretching and bending. And while that is true, there is also a whole side of Pilates that focuses on building strength.

In this article, I’ll explain why you should never completely abandon your Pilates practice and, instead, combine it with weight training to create the perfect fitness routine for you.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a type of exercise that emphasizes controlled breathing and gentle stretching and strengthening movements. It was originally created as a rehabilitation exercise program by Joseph Pilates, but has since become popular among people of all ages and fitness levels.

Pilates is a great exercise to add to your routine if you’re looking to build strength, flexibility, and endurance.

It’s different from weightlifting though, in that the focus is more on controlled breathing and gentle movements, rather than lifting heavy weights.

If you’re new to Pilates, I would recommend starting with beginner classes, and working your way up as you get stronger. You can definitely see results from doing Pilates, but they may not be as significant as if you were weightlifting.

What are the benefits of Pilates?

I fell in love with Pilates after it was recommended I go to Pilates classes to help with a back problem, I was told it wouldn’t just strengthen my core muscles, it would also help my postural alignment.

As well as being a form of exercise to use as a rehabilitation program, I discovered it helps improve flexibility, posture, core strength and can also help relieve stress and tension.

It really is a magical full-body workout.  In fact if offers so many benefits I’ve had to write a separate article about them: The many benefits of Pilates

While Pilates does offer some of the same benefits as weight lifting, it is not as effective in terms of building muscle mass as you tend to only use your own body weight or light weights.

If you are looking to primarily focus on muscle growth, weight lifting may be the better option for you.

What Makes Muscles Grow?

The answer is simple: exercise builds muscles!

But not all exercises will build the same amount of muscle.  When you work out, you cause micro damage to your muscle. Once repaired, the muscle becomes stronger. 

Doing this repeatedly creates stronger muscles and is why, in the long run, lifting weights builds more muscle than just doing Pilates. 

What are the differences between Pilates and weightlifting?

I’ve done both Pilates and weight lifting and while both rely on the use of weight to improve muscle strength, Pilates doesn’t usually make use of external weights, it makes use of your own body weight to provide the resistance required to work out and is great for toning muscles and improving flexibility. 

Weight lifting, as the name suggests, makes use of increasingly heavy weights to help build muscle mass.

When you think of the stereotypical person who does each exercise, I bet you think of a lady on a mat for Pilates and a beefy guy holding a massive weight for weightlifting. 

Pilates vs. Weights: stereotypical images of both.

I find it fascinating that they are both forms of resistance training and both can be used to improve strength, but in very different ways.

If you’re unfamiliar with resistance training let me quickly explain what it is.  The term covers forms of exercises that work your muscles against an external force, in the case of Pilates that force is your own body, with weights it’s the weight lifting equipment (e.g. dumbells, kettlebells etc).

If you’ve done very little physical activity, then starting from scratch in either forms of exercises would help you increase muscular strength.

However, because the weight level doesn’t increase in Pilates you will only gain results up to a point, after which you’ll maintain the same muscle rather than enhance them further. 

By regularly using your own body weight you’ll develop lean muscles, but if you want to increase muscular strength further you need to use increasingly heavy weights to improve muscle gain.

Pilates focuses on core strength and stability. It will teach you how to engage your abs, obliques, lower back, and glutes. This type of exercise will improve your posture, which will lead to better overall health.

On the other hand, as you get stronger when weightlifting, you increase the size of the weights used, which increases your strength further.

Using Pilates WITH weightlifting

I’d always advise combing other forms of exercise with Pilates exercises.  Go to a Pilates class to build up a stronger core, better flexibility and improved muscular endurance, but make sure to have a rounded fitness plan that includes a cardio workout or more challenging resistance exercises such as weight lifting.

I’ve tried so many challenging workouts, I’ve done strength training exercises, weekly boot camps, running, aerobic exercise, swimming, cycling, the list goes on, and the one thing I’ve learned is that I’m much better at all of them now I do regular Pilates workouts that I was before I took it up.

So don’t see it as a choice of replacing on with the other, they compliant each other brilliantly.  Weight lifting is one of the most effective ways to improve muscle tone and strength. And pilates is a great way to strengthen your core muscles.

 Combining these two exercises together can give you a total body workout that is sure to leave you feeling amazing.

Here are four tips to help you combine Pilates with weight lifting:

1. Set aside time to do both in a single workout

Start out slowly. Don’t try to do too much at once. Use Pilates to warm up the body and focus on doing each exercise correctly. Afterwards, grab your weights for some heavy lifting to finish off the session.

Be careful not to overdo the weights if you’re new, you need to be patient and allow time for your body to develop strong muscles.

In fact, you might want to start with my light weight workout before tacking on traditional weight training.

2. Improve Core Strength

If you’ve ever worked in a store or warehouse you’ll remember the training about heavy lifting and how not to injure yourself.  If you’re new to Pilates you might have weak core muscles, which in turn can cause difficulty when stabilizing your spine and pelvis. This can be a problem as the stability helps prevent injury and allows you to move properly.

If you intend to lift weights, it is vital you develop a strong core.  To do so, try these popular exercises:

3. Focus On Breathing

When performing any exercise, a key component is learning to breath correctly. The ideal situation is breathing out when performing a movement and inhaling when relaxing.

Practising Pilates will help you learn how to use breathing and this can be translated over to any other exercise, not just weight lifting.

4. Use The Right Equipment

Use equipment that is appropriate for your needs. If you’re working out at home, choose equipment that is safe and comfortable.

At minimum, you should have a mat and some hand weights (although food tins can be used instead).  Small hand weights can be used in some workouts, but if your goal is muscle gain, you should invest in heavier dumbbells.

There are lots of options available. Keep in mind that if you order online and have to pay for delivery, they could be very heavy, so it might be better for your bank balance if you head to a sports shop.

Don’t start with really heavy weights, you need to be able to perform repetitions until you can’t do any more.  If you can’t even do a single curl because it’s too heavy you’ll never progress further and run the risk of injury. 

Start with lighter weights. As your strength grows, they will feel too easy, upgrade to the next set.

Remember, safety first!

5. Get Started Today!

Take a moment to think about your goals. What would you like to accomplish? How will you measure success?  If you’re need help check out this article:

If you want to tone your body Pilates is a good option because it is a low-impact workout that burns calories. However, if you are looking to gain muscle mass and strength, weight lifting is the better choice.  Create a workout routine involving both and gain the best of both workouts.

Once you’ve decided, take action and begin your journey to a healthier lifestyle.

Good luck!

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