Does Pilates Build Muscle? Get the Facts

Pilates is a low-intensity exercise method emphasizing strength, stability, flexibility, and alignment through full-body exercises. Its principles include centering, concentration, control, flow, breath, and precision. Pilates has gained popularity over the years with roughly 12 million people globally practicing. It can be performed on a mat or using specialized equipment such as a reformer or Cadillac. While Pilates is a type of resistance training, is it enough alone to build muscle? Read our guide to find out more!

Is Pilates strength training?

Pilates is indeed a form of strength training that uses body weight as a form of resistance. Additional props such as resistance bands, Pilates balls, ankle weights, and circles may be added to intensify movements. Pilates greatly emphasizes muscular activation, creating intention and control behind every movement.

Unlike many other types of strength training, Pilates focuses on strengthening intrinsic muscle groups (closest to the body's core) responsible for control, stability, and posture. These muscle groups generally require less load (as opposed to external muscle groups). Therefore, Pilates often utilizes high repetitions and low-load movements.

Does Pilates build muscle?

Pilates offers significant benefits for muscle toning and functional fitness. Regular Pilates workouts may help you build a strong and supple physique. Pilates classes effectively target under-developed muscle groups and work out the full body, ensuring no areas are left untouched.

A small study showed that Pilates increased abdominal, upper, and lower limb strength within a post-menopausal group of women after three months. The breath emphasis in Pilates helps activate the deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles, making it exceptionally effective for core strengthening. Strong abdominals support the lower back by creating stability around the lower abdomen and pelvic area, helping maintain proper spinal alignment while balancing load bearing.

Practical tips for building muscle with Pilates

Consistency is essential to effectively build muscle in Pilates. If you are a beginner, a couple of 45–60-minute Pilates classes per week is ideal. Start with a beginner-friendly class to build body awareness, technique, and physical strength before progressing to more advanced classes/exercises.

As you progress, increase your training frequency to five times a week if possible (some shorter, 30-minute classes). Progressively overload workouts by adding in props such as resistance bands, ankle weights, or extra repetitions as you improve. Rest days are essential for recovery. Your body requires a balanced diet consisting of complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and adequate protein intake to effectively build muscle, so carve time to plan meals.

Common myths about Pilates and muscle building

There are many myths surrounding Pilates and muscle building, which we'll briefly cover below:

  • Pilates is only for flexibility. Numerous studies show that Pilates can increase strength alongside flexibility. One study with 60 participants showed that a group who practiced Pilates had better static strength, as well as hip extension and flexion strength, compared to the other resistance training group.
  • Pilates can’t build significant muscle. Bodyweight exercises can improve muscle mass while adding ankle weights, bands, and circles adds extra muscular challenges.
  • Pilates is only for women. All genders can benefit from Pilates. Many male athletes practice Pilates as part of their training program to enhance performance, stay strong and supple, and help prevent injuries.
  • Pilates is like yoga. While both practices emphasize a mind-body connection, they are inherently different. Yoga is deep-rooted in spiritual and philosophical traditions, whereas Pilates is anatomy-based, emphasizing physical conditioning.

Pilates vs. weight training: which is better for building muscle?

Pilates and weight training offer unique muscle-building benefits. Pilates' focus on control makes it great for strengthening smaller muscle groups while improving overall muscle tone. High repetition movements for the abdominals, glutes, and back muscles may help sculpt these areas over time (although body composition and genetics may affect this, too).

Muscles can be loaded up considerably more through weightlifting compared to Pilates, which may make it a favorable choice for building muscle. However, heavier weights may cause greater risks of faulty form or injury, which is where Pilates comes in handy. A combination of weightlifting and Pilates will most likely get you the best results while ensuring safety.

Pros and cons of Pilates for muscle building

Overall, Pilates is a great way to get fit and improve strength, flexibility, and posture. It can improve your body awareness and mind-to-muscle connection, which makes your movement more effective. If you're a beginner, start with mat Pilates to understand the core principles before using the reformer or other specialized equipment. You can progressively overload your workouts over time by adding additional props, repetitions, and challenges.

A well-rounded fitness program is essential for overall physical health and well-being. Combining Pilates, weightlifting, and cardiovascular exercise may help improve muscle mass, metabolism, and overall health and well-being. Remember to stay consistent, combine training modalities, prioritize rest days, progressively overload over time, and enjoy the journey to becoming a stronger you.

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