If you’ve been playing the Pilates vs. weight training game (Which one is better? Which one should I choose?)—I have good news: you don’t have to choose. Even better, when you combine Mat Pilates (Pilates without a reformer, which is what we do at Lindywell) with weight training, you reap the benefits of both.
When you look closely, it’s easy to see how the two are very similar: both target the musculoskeletal system to develop strong, resilient muscles, joints, tissues, and bones. In addition, both forms of exercise can be classified as resistance training:
- Weight workouts utilize weights for added resistance
- Pilates mat workouts primarily utilize body weight for resistance
This means that combining the two can provide a well-rounded workout routine that not only builds strength but also improves mobility, reduces stress, and increases mindfulness.
I’m often asked, “Which is better?” and I’m here to tell you that they both have benefits.
What I’ve seen, however, is that not all weight training programs are created equal. It’s imperative to bring what we know about Pilates in terms of proper movement mechanics into our weights workouts to reduce the risk of injury and actually benefit from the workouts.
Let’s ditch the Pilates vs. weight training mindset. Here’s what you need to know to get started with both!
Pilates vs. Weight Training: Let’s Break it Down
Traditional weight training relies on lifting weights as the primary form of resistance to increase muscle strength. Progressively increasing load is what leads to gains in strength, stamina, and endurance. Weight training is an important and effective way to maintain muscle mass and bone density as we age.
Mat Pilates, on the other hand, can be done with or without light weights (1-3 lbs), or other equipment to increase resistance. Whether you’re using body weight or added weight, the Pilates principles remain the same, keeping the movement focused on alignment, control, and intention.
And this is what’s often left out of weight training programs or may be missed if you’re lifting on your own: the focus on form, alignment, and breath. However, applying these Pilates principles to weight training workouts not only reduces your risk of injury but also increases the effectiveness of your weight training workout so you see better results.
Pilates and Your Core
There is one more distinction that sets all Pilates (Mat and otherwise!) apart from traditional weight training: the core. Pilates focuses on engaging the core in every movement to create stability, protect your back and build strength in your spine. It’s imperative that we add this focus to weight-training workouts for the best results.
Your body relies on this strength for nearly everything you do in life, from reaching for a glass to bending down to tie your shoes. This means weight training can be more impactful when combined with Pilates because you’re also getting that core focus.
How to Choose Your Workout
First and foremost, you don’t need weights to experience the benefits of Mat Pilates. These bodyweight workouts allow you to build strength using your own body weight as resistance. This has even been shown to increase bone density as well.
This is incredibly important as we age, considering we begin to lose muscle and bone as early as age 30. Adding additional resistance to your Mat Pilates workouts (through light weights, bands, or even equipment like the Reformer) or lifting heavier weights with traditional strength training, can help you continually challenge your body.
Challenging your body, in whatever way is best for you, is important in maintaining your muscle mass and strength as you get older. And how you create that challenge will change from season to season. Sometimes this might mean using weights and sometimes it may not.
With that in mind, the workouts you choose from day to day depend upon the following:
- How much do you want to challenge yourself?
- What is your body is craving in this season?
- Can you maintain your form as your weight increases?
Here’s what you need to know and how I recommend making this choice for yourself.
Weighted Pilates Workouts
Adding light weights to your Mat Pilates workouts can be a great way to add an extra challenge. In this case, I typically reach for our Lindywell hand weights, which are just 2.2 lbs each. They’re built as a no-slip capsule so they’re easy to use and look as good as they feel in your hand.
If you want to switch it up with your resistance-based Pilates workout, here are some additional ways to do that:
Strength Training With the Pilates Principles
If your body feels ready for the added challenge of heavy weights, strength training is a great choice. But I encourage you to do it with the Pilates Principles in mind. The tricky thing is, not many workout programs focus on this.
I’ve noticed that most programs include little to no cueing and there’s also no guidance on how to activate the proper muscle groups or where you should be feeling the movement.
If you want to learn how to strength train in a way that focuses on form, breath, alignment, and mindfulness, we have something for you: our new series, Pilates-Inspired Weight Training, inside the Lindywell app!
With this series, you’ll do traditional strength training exercises like squats, lunges, bicep curls, and flies. How much weight you use will be up to you. Tthe program is designed to focus on working your muscles to fatigue. This helps you progress in your strength training in a way that is safe, effective, and tailored to your personal needs and goals.
Each movement is slow, controlled, and supported by our core, which is likely very different from how you’ve learned to lift weights.
Inside the Lindywell app, you’ll find a variety of strength workouts. You can integrate these into your routine, including full body, lower, upper, arms, and shoulders. Each workout is 10-20 minutes so you can choose what’s best for your body and day.
Start your 14-day free trial to get instant access to all of Pilates-Inspired Weight Training, along with 275+ Pilates workouts, hundreds of anti-inflammatory recipes, and guided breathwork sessions.
Don’t Choose Between the Two: Combine Them!
You can amplify the power of Pilates by adding external weights safely and with intention. If you want to build more strength and challenge yourself, this is a perfect way to do that. Remember to tune into what your body needs in each workout. Sometimes weights will be the perfect addition while other times, your body may be asking for less intensity.
Don’t forget that as you add strength training you will need to do Pilates all the more to make sure you don’t add tension or tightness to your body. This will help you stay strong in your core to support your strength and weight-training workouts.
The bottom line is it’s not Pilates vs. weight training. It’s: how can I bring these together to see even more progress in my practice?
If you’re ready to bring weights into your Pilates workouts or try Pilates-inspired strength training, sign up for a 14-day trial of Lindywell and get instant access. If you’re already a member, just open your app and choose your workout!