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Since 2016, the number of Pilates and yoga studios has increased by 3.4% (1). Every. Single. Year. This signifies a rising interest in this form of exercise. And it shows no signs of slowing down.
It might also have you wondering whether you should add Pilates moves to your own workout routine. Almost every fitness enthusiast could benefit from a regular Pilates practice.
That said, everyone is different. Therefore, it’s important to answer this question for yourself or your individual clients. Finding the best answer requires understanding what Pilates exercise is and the benefits it provides.
We’ll also share a few tips for adding Pilates to your cardio and resistance training routine, should you decide to do so. Should you do Pilates if you already do yoga? Not to worry because we’ll answer that question too. But let’s start with outlining exactly what Pilates is.
Pilates gets its name from its founder, Joseph Pilates. The Pilates Foundation reports that it was developed in the 1920s as a way for people—dancers, especially—to improve their techniques or recover from some type of injury (2).
Like yoga, Pilates focuses on breath and increased body awareness. Its movements also encompass the mind, body, and spirit to promote whole-body health. Many of these movements are directed toward the core muscles. Thus, Pilates is known for the way it can improve core strength.
Unlike strength training, Pilates isn’t designed to build major muscle mass. Instead, it helps create leaner muscles. So, it defines more than increasing muscle size. (Picture the body of a dancer versus the physique of someone who lifts heavy weights.)
There are two basic pieces of Pilates equipment. They are the Pilates mat and the Pilates reformer.
A Pilates mat is thicker than a regular exercise mat. This enables it to provide more support to the body during mat exercise. It also offers more cushioning when doing floor-based movements.
Pilates mat exercises are generally recommended for people who are new to this type of exercise. This enables them to learn the movements and master form before transitioning to a reformer. You’re also more likely to use a mat if you take a class at a fitness facility other than a dedicated Pilates studio.
If you take a Pilates class at a studio, you will typically have access to a Pilates reformer. This piece of equipment is often compared to a bed frame. Except, its sliding platform is equipped with various springs, ropes, and pulleys that provide resistance as you execute the desired Pilates movement.
Adding Pilates training to your current workout can provide many benefits. Here are a few to consider:
Increased core strength. Pilates is known for helping improve muscle tone in the core area. This includes more than just abdominal muscles. It also involves muscle in the lower back, hips, and glutes. Greater core strength can benefit athletes in sports such as golf, swimming, and baseball. It also assists with everyday movements like moving grocery bags or keeping your balance while walking on uneven terrain.
Better posture. Greater muscle strength in the core means improved posture. This is especially important if you work at a desk all day. If you constantly slouch forward when typing, you’re going to feel it. Conversely, improving your posture while working at a computer likely means less pain in the neck, shoulders, and back. Good posture helps in other ways, too. You may notice that you have more energy, for instance, or that you feel more confident when walking into a room.
Improved strength overall. Even though Pilates has a strong focus on the core, it also strengthens all of the other muscle groups. You’ll feel the movements in your upper body and lower body as well. Depending on the exercises you do, you can work your entire body in one Pilates session.
Stronger bones. A 2021 study found that adult women who followed a combination Pilates-yoga exercise program had improvements in bone density (3). This is important because this demographic has a greater risk of bone conditions such as osteoarthritis. Increased bone density can reduce the risk of fracture while also improving strength and balance. Thus, engaging in Pilates offers all of these benefits.
Greater flexibility. The more flexible you are, the easier it is to move around. It also becomes easier to get into awkward positions, such as when grabbing an item from the back of the closet or fishing out the dog’s toy that rolled under the couch. Pilates helps provide the flexibility needed for these movements. It also benefits athletes in sports that rely on greater flexibility, such as wrestling and gymnastics.
Easier on the joints. Pilates is low-impact. This means that it places less stress on the joints than higher-impact forms of exercise. That makes it beneficial for people with joint pain or tenderness, such as those with arthritis. Lower-impact exercise is also generally considered safer with a lower injury risk.
Reduced back pain. Some studies have found that Pilates exercise can help reduce chronic low back pain (4). It may even improve functional ability when this type of pain exists. If you’ve ever had pain in your lower back, you know how important both of these are. When you can move around easier and with less pain, that’s a win-win.
Adding Pilates to your cardio routine creates a more well-rounded workout plan. The cardio exercise will get your heart going while Pilates will boost your lean muscle mass.
Depending on your schedule, you may want to do your cardio workout one day and your Pilates workout the next. This may be recommended if you do cardio that is higher in intensity, such as high-intensity interval training or HIIT.
You can also do them both on the same day. Do the cardio first to get your muscles warmed up, then do Pilates to improve the muscles’ strength and tone. Some Pilates classes incorporate cardio directly into the workout. So, this may be an option as well.
If you’re unsure, talk to the Pilates instructor at your fitness facility. Ask them what types of benefits their class provides. This will give you a better idea of how to fill in the gaps and create a more comprehensive workout plan.
If Pilates helps boost muscle strength, do you still need to do weight training? The answer is yes. Remember that Pilates is more about improving muscle tone than increasing muscle size. Since each training type has different goals, it’s beneficial to include both.
Like with cardio, you can do Pilates and strength training on different days. Or you can do them on the same day. In the case of the latter, do your weight lifting first, then transition to Pilates. This helps you focus on muscle gain as well as flexibility and all of the other benefits that Pilates has to offer.
Because Pilates shares many similarities to yoga, you may be tempted to not even try it if you already follow a regular yoga practice. Yet, doing both does offer some advantages.
As previously mentioned, some studies have found that a Pilates-yoga combination helps improve bone density. This means a reduced fracture risk and better balance. Other pieces of research have connected a dual Pilates-yoga program with reduced neck pain and disability (5).
Plus, Pilates may provide better benefits in certain areas of fitness. For example, a 2019 study found that, when compared to yoga, Pilates was better at improving functional movement. It was also more effective at improving individual health (6).
If you’re interested in combining a Pilates and yoga practice, ISSA offers Yoga Instructor certification. This course teaches you how to break down yoga poses both for yourself and so you can teach them to your students. You’ll also learn how to incorporate yoga into your current exercise routine, Pilates included.
Industry market research, reports, and Statistics. IBISWorld. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2022, from https://www.ibisworld.com/industry-statistics/number-of-businesses/pilates-yoga-studios-united-states/
Pilates foundation. The History of Pilates" Pilates Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2022, from https://www.pilatesfoundation.com/pilates/the-history-of-pilates/
Fernández-Rodríguez, R., Alvarez-Bueno, C., Reina-Gutiérrez, S., Torres-Costoso, A., Nuñez de Arenas-Arroyo, S., & Martínez-Vizcaíno, V. (2021). Effectiveness of pilates and yoga to improve bone density in adult women: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLOS ONE, 16(5). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0251391
Wells, C., Kolt, G. S., Marshall, P., Hill, B., & Bialocerkowski, A. (2014). The effectiveness of pilates exercise in people with chronic low back pain: A systematic review. PLoS ONE, 9(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0100402
Dunleavy, K., Kava, K., Goldberg, A., Malek, M. H., Talley, S. A., Tutag-Lehr, V., & Hildreth, J. (2016). Comparative effectiveness of Pilates and Yoga Group Exercise Interventions for chronic mechanical neck pain: Quasi-randomised parallel controlled study. Physiotherapy, 102(3), 236–242. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physio.2015.06.002
Lim, E. J., & Park, J. E. (2019). The effects of Pilates and yoga participant's on engagement in functional movement and individual health level. Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation, 15(4), 553–559. https://doi.org/10.12965/jer.1938280.140