Pilates vs Strength Training – Introduction
When it comes to Pilates vs strength training, what are the benefits and differences + how do they stack up against each other?
And perhaps more importantly, where should you invest your most precious asset, your time?
Working out is one of the most important things you can do for your health and longevity.
You don’t have to become a “fitness nut” and exercise for hours each day to improve your fitness and quality of life.
Still, studies suggest that regular physical activity can help you lead a longer, more productive life.
All types of exercise are good for you.
But, because of the law of fitness specificity, your body adapts to the kind of workout you do, so different forms of exercise have different effects.
This leads to the question; what workout is best?
Unfortunately, this is something of a non-question because the best workout is the one that gives you the results you want.
So, if you want to become a better runner, most of your workout time should be dedicated to running.
Want to become more flexible?
Then you need to include plenty of stretching in your workout routine.
Because of this, you should avoid following fitness fads and choose the workout(s) that best match your fitness goals.
To do this, you need to know how particular activities affect your body.
This article compares and contrasts strength training and Pilates.
Learn the differences, so you know which one you should do.
What is Pilates?
Pilates is a traditional form of exercise created in the early 1920s by Joseph Pilates.
There are several types of Pilates, some of which use machines called reformers, while others focus more on mat-based bodyweight exercises.
Pilates uses light weights to tone and to strengthen all the muscles of the body, with a particular emphasis on the core or midsection.
Exercises are performed mindfully and slowly to keep a near-constant tension on the muscles being trained.
Repetitions are often high.
For example, the Pilates 100 is an abs exercise done for 100 reps.
As well as being very core-centric, Pilates puts a lot of emphasis on posture, mobility, and joint stability.
Pilates is a low-impact workout that has little effect on cardiovascular fitness.
The Benefits of Pilates include:
Increased muscle strength
Like any exercise that overloads your muscles, Pilates can help make you stronger.
However, the low loads mean that strength gains are not as significant as they would be if you lift heavier weights.
Increased muscular endurance
High-rep bodyweight exercises make your muscles more fatigue-resistant.
You should find you can perform physical activities for longer.
Increased core strength
Most Pilates exercises start with engaging your core.
Even if you aren’t doing a Pilates abs exercise, your core muscles will be involved in whatever movement you are doing.
A stronger core can help reduce and prevent back pain.
Posture is the alignment of your joints, and it can be good or bad.
Good posture places minimal stress on your muscles and connective tissues.
Pilates exercises promote better posture by targeting your deep stabilizers and core muscles.
Better posture can help alleviate back and neck pain and also make you look slimmer and younger.
Better balance, stability, and coordination
Body position and alignment are central to Pilates.
Controlling your limbs so precisely will develop better balance, stability, and coordination, which will have a positive effect on how you move your body.
Improved mind-muscle connection
Pilates places a lot of value on feeling the right muscles working as you exercise.
Strengthening this mind-muscle connection will make all your workouts more effective.
There are many Pilates exercises you can do without any equipment.
You can do Pilates following an online workout or DVD.
It’s a very accessible workout.
However, hands-on instruction can be helpful for learning how to engage your core correctly.
What is Strength Training?
Strength training is a broad term that describes any workout that overloads your muscles to make them stronger and/or bigger.
Also known as weight training, people have been strength training for thousands of years.
Examples of strength training include:
- Freeweight workouts
- Kettlebell workouts
- Machine workouts
- Resistance band exercises + workouts
- Suspension trainer workouts
- Bodyweight workouts
- Functional strength training
- Olympic weightlifting
As anything that overloads your muscles is technically strength training, Pilates can also be considered a type of strength training.
However, because it mainly relies on light weights and high reps, strength gains from Pilates are typically relatively low.
Benefits of Strength Training include:
The cornerstone of strength training is progressive overload.
This describes how workouts get more challenging over time.
Needless to say, as you gradually lift heavier weights, your muscles will respond by getting stronger.
Increased muscle mass
stronger muscles are typically larger muscles.
Lifting progressively heavier weights triggers hypertrophy or muscle growth.
However, some types of strength training specifically promote hypertrophy, i.e., bodybuilding.
Other types of strength training focus less on building bigger muscles, for example, functional strength training.
Lifting weights puts stress not only on your muscles but on your bones, too.
And, like your muscles, your bones respond by getting stronger.
Your bone mass tends to peak in your mid-30s and declines thereafter.
Strength training can help prevent age-related bone loss, which is called osteopenia.
Osteopenia can become osteoporosis if allowed to progress, which is a medical condition characterized by brittle, porous bones.
Increased joint mobility
Compound strength training exercises like:
- deep squats,
- bench presses,
- overhead presses,
- barbell rows
- power cleans,
- pull-ups, and
- full push-ups involve many muscle groups and large ranges of motion.
This increases functional flexibility and range of motion in your major joints.
It’s a myth that strength training makes you inflexible or muscle-bound.
Improved cardiovascular fitness
Sets of strength training cause your heart rate to increase steeply.
It then drops again when you rest between sets.
This has a similar effect to high-intensity interval training, which is a popular form of cardiovascular workout.
As such, lifting weights can have a pronounced impact on your cardiovascular fitness and health.
Lots of different workout options to choose from
There are many different ways to overload your muscles and make them stronger, including free weights, bodyweight, machine, and resistance band exercises.
Most exercisers use a combination of methods to make their workouts varied, effective, and enjoyable.
With so many options, you should have no problem finding a type of strength training you enjoy and can do regularly.
Pilates vs Strength Training Comparison
So, now you know a little more about these two training methods, it’s time to see how they compare when we put them head to head!
Strength – Pilates vs Strength training
Both Pilates and strength training will make you stronger.
However, because of the heavier loads available, strength training has the potential to increase your strength more.
So, if you want to develop a high level of strength, some form of weight training is your best choice.
Winner: Strength training (by a LONG way!)
Muscle size – Strength training vs Pilates
Pilates probably won’t do much for the size of your muscles.
However, it will make them firmer and more toned.
In contrast, you can use weights to specifically build muscle, i.e., with bodybuilding training, and they’ll get bigger by default as you get stronger.
Winner: Strength training (by a LONG way!)
Endurance – Pilates vs Strength training
Both workouts have the potential to increase muscular endurance.
Pilates has this benefit “built-in” as most exercises are performed using low weights and high reps.
You can also do low-weight, high-rep strength training such as the classic 20-rep squat program or high-rep deadlifts referenced in the What’s Next section of this article.
However, your muscular endurance won’t increase much if you only lift heavy weights for low reps.
Winner: It’s a draw (but it depends on how you program your strength training)
Neither of these workouts specifically targets your heart, lungs, and circulatory system.
However, big compound strength training exercises like squats and lunges will affect your cardiovascular system and make you fitter.
Pilates workouts tend to focus on smaller muscle groups and shorter ranges of motion, which have a smaller impact on your heart and breathing rate.
Winner: Strength training
Weight loss – Pilates vs Strength Training
Many exercisers work out for weight loss.
The thing is, any workout can help you lose weight as all forms of physical activity increase your caloric expenditure.
What really matters is your diet, and you need to eat less to force your body to burn fat.
Ultimately, the best workout for weight loss is the one you can do frequently and consistently.
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a weight loss or fat-burning workout without changing your eating habits.
As Albert Einstein is purported to have said – “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results!”
To successfully change your body – you need to change your lifestyle – which includes new diet and exercise habits.
Winner: It’s a draw (diet is more important than the type of workout)
Convenience – Pilates vs Strength Training
Bodyweight and low-tech strength training can be every bit as convenient as mat-based Pilates.
However, you’ll probably need to join a gym or set up a home gym with some strength training equipment if you want to do complex exercises with heavy weights.
Similarly, if you want to use a Pilates reformer, you’ll probably need to attend a fully-equipped Pilates studio.
So, both workouts can be equally convenient or inconvenient, depending on the style of training you choose to practice.
Winner: It’s a draw
For beginners – Pilates vs Strength Training
Everyone has to start somewhere, and even advanced bodybuilders and Pilates experts were beginners once.
The good news is that there are beginner exercises and workouts for both of these workout systems.
There is no reason to jump in at the deep end and do workouts that are too advanced for you.
Winner: It’s a draw
Pilates vs Strength Training – Wrapping Up
Pilates and strength training are both popular workouts with many benefits, several of which they share.
Ultimately, one is not better than the other, as they both have different objectives and effects.
If you want to lift weights, get stronger, and build muscle, strength training is the way to go.
However, if you want strength without bulk and are more interested in core stability and posture, Pilates is probably your best choice.
Or, you could enjoy the benefits of both of these workouts by combining them.
You may even already do this if you lift weights and do planks, as planks are a cornerstone Pilates exercise.
Similarly, push-ups are part of many Pilates workouts.
Ultimately, you should choose the workout that best matches your goals and that you enjoy.
If you want to get leaner and stronger with classic resistance training plans, here are several of our best:
- Strength Training for Men Over 50 + Full-Body Workout
- 8-Week Bodybuilding Over 50 Workout Routine includes a PDF to help you track your progress.
- 20 Rep Squat Program: 3 Workouts a Week to Gain Size + Strength
- High Rep Deadlifts: Strength; Fat Loss Benefits + How to Program
- And, if you are looking for size and strength, this Beginner Powerbuilding Program: Big & Strong Workout + Free PDF is hard to beat.
And last but not least, don’t forget the program that helped me drop 75 pounds in 6 months over ten years ago, back in 2012:
- Pilates vs. Yoga for Flexibility: Which is Better for Flexibility?
- 7 Best Resistance Band Back Exercises + Home Workout
- Leg Press vs Squat – Which is Better for You to Do?
- Cardio vs Weight Training: Which Is Better for Fat Loss + Fitness
- Power Clean VS Deadlift: Benefits, Muscles Used + Which Is Better