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How to build strength with Pilates

Strength over stretching

Newsflash…Pilates isn’t a stretch class. Whilst it’s true to say Pilates will help improve your flexibility, its main focus is to improve your strength.

Pilates was developed by German-born Joseph Pilates in response to his own childhood health problems (he suffered with rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever). He studied boxing, yoga, gymnastics, martial arts and weight lifting, bringing together elements of each one to create what he called ‘Contrology’ (and which we now call today simply, ‘Pilates’).

In the 1920s he opened a studio in New York close-by to the New York School of Ballet. The dancers flocked to him for advice on how to develop their strength and recover from injuries.

Fast-forward to 2020 and Pilates is still a firm favourite of professional ballet dancers. Elite sports people have jumped on the Pilates bandwagon too — Serena Williams and Harry Kane are big fans.

Why is strength important anyway?

There are a tonne of reasons who you should prioritise developing your strength, here are five of them:

  1. Improved bone health — putting the bones under stress can increase bone density, helping to prevent the gradual loss of strength and bone mineral content that occurs naturally as we age. This can help to reduce the risk of developing things like osteoporosis.
  2. Better weight control —  strength training can help you manage your weight more effectively by increasing your metabolism i.e. the rate your body burns calories throughout the day.
  3. Reduced chance of injury — a body that is strong is less likely to incur injury both during sport and when performing everyday tasks like raking leaves or picking up bags of shopping.
  4. Better balance skills —  balance is dependent on the strength of the muscles that keep you on your feet. The better the strength, the better your balance will be.
  5. Increased levels of happiness — when you strength train you elevate your endorphin levels, which increases your energy and improves your mood.

How does Pilates develop strength?

Pilates develops strength through the entire body with every movement radiating from the core. By bringing the belly button towards the spine and contracting the pelvic floor muscles at the same time, the deep stabilising muscles of the pelvis, abdomen, and back are engaged to support the core and enable you to move your limbs freely and safely.

Pilates encourages you to recruit the right muscles as you move, creating a more balanced body with fewer niggles and over-dominant muscles. So if you’re looking for long and lean muscles, improved posture or to move more confidently then Pilates is your friend. Oh and it’s also the perfect partner for any sport that you play.

Can’t I just lift weights?

Pilates is a great strength workout, but depending on the class you go to will depend on how much strength and muscle you develop. You can up your Pilates game by incorporating pieces of resistance equipment into your routine.

If you already do some lifting work in the gym you should see Pilates as a complementary activity. Pilates will develop your core helping you train with improved alignment, greater range of motion and better focus.

The bottom line

Pilates isn’t a magic pill that will solve all your strength challenges (but no one type of exercise will). However, there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s a great foundation to help you build a strong and balanced body.