Pilates Vs Weight Training: Benefits + Disadvantages Of Each, Compared

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An essential component of a well-rounded fitness routine is strength training.

Lifting weights is typically the most common form of resistance training, but there are other ways to strengthen your muscles.

But, is Pilates strength training? Can you do Pilates instead of lifting weights? Is there a difference between a “Pilates body vs gym body?”

In this article, we will discuss the benefits of strength training and Pilates, the differences between Pilates vs weight training, and whether you should do Pilates vs strength training based on your primary fitness goals.

We will cover: 

  • What Are the Differences Between a Pilates Body vs Gym Body?
  • Benefits of Weight Training
  • Benefits of Pilates
  • Pilates vs Weight Training: Is It Better to Do Pilates or Weight Training?

Let’s get started!

A person on a pilates machine.

What Are the Differences Between a Pilates Body vs Gym Body?

When people discuss the differences between a “Pilates body vs gym body,” one of the main physique differences of note is that Pilates is said to help you become “long and lean, “ whereas strength training with heavy weights can get you “toned,“ or can help you build bigger, defined muscles.

While there might be some truth to these generalizations, they are also just that: sweeping generalizations.

The impact of Pilates vs strength training on your physique will largely depend on the specific exercises that you are doing, particularly in terms of strength training. The amount of weight that you are lifting and the number of reps and sets that you do, affect the muscle-building effects.

For example, if you are lifting very light weight for many reps, you will be mainly increasing muscular endurance but not “bulking up“ or building a significant amount of muscle mass. 

People in the gym doing a deadlift execise.

On the other hand, if you focus on lifting heavier weights for fewer, more powerful reps, you can build muscle mass, which is known as hypertrophy training.

With any type of exercise, getting “long and lean” or “toned “ is really a matter of your diet as well.

Pilates workouts will not burn a ton of calories, so if you need to lose a significant amount of body fat to look “lean,” you’ll need to make cuts to the number of calories you are consuming in order to generate a caloric deficit. The same thing can be said for getting “toned“ with weight training or Pilates.

Benefits of Weight Training

There are quite a few research-backed benefits of weight training.

Strength Training Can Increase Muscle Mass and Strength

One of the main benefits of weight training vs Pilates is that, in most cases, lifting weights will be more effective at increasing muscle mass and strength.

For example, a large review looking at the benefits of resistance training in elderly individuals found that resistance training may increase maximal strength by 6.6–37%, muscle mass by 3.4–7.5%, and muscle power by 8.2%. 

A person doing a bicep curl.

Lifting Weights Can Improve Bone Density

Resistance training has been shown to increase bone density.

When you lift weights, you overload your bones. Bones adapt to the stresses placed upon them, so having an external load added to your body as you perform an exercise helps signal the bones to lay down a more supportive matrix of minerals.

Additionally, as your muscles become stronger, they pull more forcefully at the tendinous junctions on the bones and joints when you move. These increased forces, in turn, strengthen the bones as well.

In this way, consistent resistance training can reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

Lifting Weights Can Burn Calories and Improve Body Composition

Particularly if you do high-intensity resistance training workouts with heavy weights and perform compound, multi-joint exercises, you will burn more calories weight training vs Pilates.

Moreover, if you are doing hypertrophy-focused strength training, in that you are building muscle, weight training will help you increase your metabolic rate. 

Pilates Vs Weight Training: Benefits + Disadvantages Of Each, Compared 1

This metabolic boost is due to the fact that muscle mass burns more calories, even at rest than body fat tissue. For example, one study found that 10 weeks of resistance training increased lean body mass by an average of 1.4 kilograms, reduced body fat by 1.8 kilograms, and increased resting metabolic rate by 7%.

Therefore, when it comes to fat loss, it is often more effective to do strength training vs Pilates.

Weight Training Improves Cardiovascular health

Although aerobic exercise, such as walking, running, and cycling, is certainly highly effective for strengthening the heart and improving cardiovascular health, resistance training can also provide certain improvements in cardiovascular health and function.

For example, studies have found that consistent resistance training can reduce blood pressure, one of the primary risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

Weight Training Helps to Develop Functional Strength and Capacity

We often think of the muscle-strengthening benefits of resistance training, but sometimes we forget that increasing muscular strength has actual real-life benefits.

The stronger our bodies are, and the more coordinated and proficient we become in using that strength, the greater the improvements we will experience in our functional capacity regarding how we can perform athletically and in everyday activities.

Studies have found that resistance training improves functional capacity and reduces the risks of falls.

A class of people doing Pilates, holding a ball in between their ankles.

Benefits of Pilates

There are also numerous research-backed benefits of Pilates workouts.

Pilates Increases Core Strength

Studies have found that one of the benefits of Pilates routines is an improvement in the strength and endurance of the core muscles.

Having a strong core helps maintain proper posture, supports the spine in its healthy alignment, reduces the risk of injury, and can improve movement efficiency and economy.

Pilates Improves Flexibility

Flexibility is an often overlooked component of overall fitness and health, but it is, in fact, one of the five health related-components of fitness (alongside cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, muscular strength, and body composition).

Being flexible means that you have a healthy range of motion in your muscles and joints, facilitating normal, healthy movements without the risk of pulling a tight muscle or tendon or leading to compromise your movement patterns.

Studies have found that Pilates can improve overall flexibility, as well as flexibility in the neck, trunk, spine, and hips.

A class of people doing the cat-cow exercise in Pialtes.

Pilates Can Improve Posture

Pilates has been shown to improve posture. This is likely due to the increases in core strength and the strength of the postural muscles in the upper back, chest, and neck. 

Additionally, Pilates can help improve the mind-body connection. This can help you be more aware of your posture and correct any issues when you start to slouch.

Pilates Can Decrease Back Pain

Many people suffer from back pain. Pilates has been shown to be one type of exercise that can decrease the severity of chronic back pain.

It’s important to note that Pilates isn’t necessarily better than weight training for back pain, as most research has found that being active in general improves the health and function of the spine.

People doing planks on Pilates machines.

Pilates Can Reduce the Risk of Injuries

A large review of the effectiveness of Pilates interventions found that Pilates can help prevent serious injuries in adults, seniors, and athletes.

Perhaps the improvement in core strength, proprioception, balance, and core control helps reduce the risk of falls and makes you more aware of your movement mechanics, reducing your risk of injuries.

Pilates Can Improve Balance

One review investigating the benefits of Pilates found that Pilates can improve dynamic balance in older adults.

This can potentially help reduce the risk of falls.

Pilates Can Improve Mood

The same review looking at the effects of Pilates on older adults also found that Pilates can improve mood.

A person doing a barbell snatch.

Pilates vs Weight Training: Is It Better to Do Pilates or Weight Training?

Both weight training and Pilates offer a form of exercise that can strengthen the muscles and improve coordination, core control, and body composition.

However, there are different benefits of Pilates vs weight training, and one form of exercise isn’t necessarily “better” than the other in all situations and for all people.

Depending on your fitness goals and overall workout routine, you may have more to gain by focusing on Pilates vs weight training or vice versa.

With that said, although there is some amount of overlap in terms of the muscles worked during Pilates and weight training and the benefits of each exercise, there are significant differences in the ultimate effects of each type of workout.

As such, one can’t really substitute equally for the other, so incorporating at least some elements of both Pilates and weightlifting is usually ideal.

What about yoga? For more information on the benefits of yoga and if it can be substituted for strength training, click here.

A person doing an assisted chest press.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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