Pilates is well-known for its focus on the core muscles and improving posture and flexibility, but can it help with strength? And is Pilates even considered strength training?

We’ve put together this article to help you better understand exactly how Pilates ties into the category of strength training so you can better structure your workout plan to achieve your fitness goals.

Let’s get started:

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a low-impact workout that incorporates light resistance while performing small, repetitive, and intense movements with a strong focus on the core muscles. A typical Pilates workout can be done at home with a Pilates mat (or yoga mat) and can advance to using free weights and resistance bands for an added challenge. In-studio Pilates classes  also incorporate large and expensive apparatuses such as the Pilates Reformer, Chair, and Cadillac.

Benefits of Pilates

Some of the top benefits of Pilates include:

  • Increased muscular strength: Pilates uses bodyweight and added weight to perform certain movements, constantly challenging and strengthening the muscles over time.
  • Increased muscular endurance: Pilates uses a series of repetitive movements, improving muscular endurance levels and their ability to perform actions for extended periods of time.
  • Building muscular definition: Many of the movements in Pilates focus on lengthening and strengthening the muscles.
  • Improved balance, stabilized spine, and enhanced muscular control: Pilates focuses on the core and was developed primarily as a method of injury recovery for dancers. The movements challenge your balance and help to strengthen stabilizing muscles throughout the body, specifically around the spine, leading to better motor skills.
  • Improved posture: Pilates helps relax your shoulders, neck, and upper back while strengthening your postural muscles including the core, back, and shoulders.
  • Deepening mind-body connection: The movements in Pilates help you develop better body awareness and coordination. The mind-body connection that you can achieve through Pilates is strengthened by its deep breathing techniques, which also aid in relaxation, stress management, and concentration.
  • Improved lung capacity and circulation: The deep breathing techniques in Pilates strengthen the lungs and improve circulation.

What is strength training?

Strength training—also referred to as resistance training—is a type of exercise that uses light to heavy resistance while performing various eccentric, concentric, and isometric movements. Strength training can include the use of free weights, machines, or bodyweight as resistance.

Benefits of Strength Training

Some of the top benefits of strength training include:

  • Increased muscular strength: The resistance from your body weight or added weights like dumbbells challenge the muscles and help to strengthen them.
  • Increased muscular endurance: Constant repetition in strength training improves muscular endurance levels and your muscles’ ability to perform actions for longer periods of time.
  • Enhanced muscular control: In strengthening the muscles, you’ll improve their ability to move with or without resistance, improving motor skills and coordination.
  • Improved bone density: The resistance in strength training is not only felt by your muscles, but also by your bones. By placing this type of controlled stress on your bones, you increase bone density and reduce your risk of osteoporosis.
  • Weight management: Muscles burn calories at rest, so if you’re strength training for muscle growth, you’ll boost your metabolism and improve your weight management.
  • Helps manage chronic conditions: Strength training reduces signs and symptoms of chronic conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and more.

What Counts as Strength Training?

Strength training is an umbrella term that’s used to cover a wide range of training exercises. It’s often associated with lifting weights but can be done with or without weights. As long as there’s some sort of resistance (whether it be from free weights or from functional bodyweight training such as calisthenics, isometrics, and plyometrics), you’re technically strength training.

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Is Pilates Strength Training?

Yes, Pilates is a form of strength training because it incorporates resistance training through body weight and other equipment such as small weights or resistance bands. The resistance is what helps build muscular strength, stability, and endurance. Since a Pilates exercise will result in strength, it’s a form of strength training.  

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Can you Build Muscle from Pilates?

You can build muscular strength and endurance from Pilates but you can’t increase the size of your muscles. Your muscle mass won’t grow through Pilates, so if your goal is to build muscle, Pilates is not the best workout for you.

Growth in muscular size is known as hypertrophy. This is a very specific approach and workout structure to building muscle mass, which Pilates doesn’t follow.

How to Build Muscle Mass

You can build muscle mass through a specific style of strength training called weight training or size training. Weight training involves moderate to high load-bearing eccentric and concentric movements with a specific number of repetitions, sets, and rest periods. Weight training is often performed with heavy equipment or larger machines such as heavy dumbbells, barbells, squat racks, leg press machines, peck deck machines, and more; however, weight training can also be done at home with heavy dumbbells.

Does Pilates Complement Weight Training?

Yes, Pilates is an excellent complimentary workout to weight training. Pilates complements weight training because it helps with posture, flexibility, and muscular endurance. It’s an excellent way to challenge the body outside of a weight training session that is focused on building muscle mass.

Incorporating both Pilates and weight training into a varied exercise routine creates a well-rounded and holistic approach to fitness.

Pilates can also be a form of active recovery after a weight training session. For example, if you do an advanced or expert weight training class one day, your muscles may be sore for several days following that workout. An active recovery workout could include a beginner or intermediate level Pilates class one to three days after your weight training session. The Pilates class would challenge those muscles in a different way while also promoting lengthening and flexibility.

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Is Pilates Enough of a Workout?

Pilates is enough of a workout for one session; however, it’s important to vary your workouts based on your goals throughout your fitness journey. This means performing different styles of workouts that compliment your fitness goals.

For example, if your fitness goals are to firm and strengthen your muscles while focusing on core strength, then you should incorporate Pilates into your fitness routine that also includes other muscle strengthening and endurance workouts such as yoga and light to moderate weight training.

If your fitness goals include weight loss, you should incorporate more cardiovascular work into your routine and look at other forms of strength training such as moderate to heavy weight training. Combining cardio and strength in your exercise routine helps burn calories even after a class. This is known as Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), also referred to as “the afterburn.” Pilates is not the best workout for those looking to lose weight.

If your goal is to gain muscle mass, you should seek out heavier weight training classes and skip Pilates, or simply incorporate it every once in a while into your routine to mix things up.

You should never rely on one type of workout to be the sole activity throughout your entire fitness journey. Fitness should be well-rounded and incorporate many different styles of activity. Variety in your fitness routine helps to confuse the muscles and challenge them to move in different ways with different loads. It also allows certain muscles to rest and recover after a workout while working other muscles that aren’t in recovery at the same time.

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Sample Weekly Workout Plan

We’ve included an example of what a healthy week of exercise would look like. This is a general workout plan if you’re looking to build strength and stay fit and healthy.

Note: You don’t have to match the days of the week exactly, but the order of workouts listed is an ideal layout to ensure your muscles have enough time to recover after each workout.

Strength Train with Pilates Exercises

Build strength and muscular endurance with lululemon Studio Pilates. Our Pilates classes range in difficulty and are perfect for all fitness levels. They can be done with no equipment, with dumbbells, or with resistance bands. Our experienced Pilates instructors help guide you through the workout during live classes, or you can stream on-demand classes that aired previously. Say goodbye to weak core muscles with Pilates exercises and lululemon Studio.

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