Weight Lifting vs. Pilates

If you are a gym rat and love to lift heavy weights you may likely have steered clear of Pilates. Maybe you thought it was too girly, too light and not really a workout. I am here to tell you Pilates is great compliment to your heavy lifting!

As is often the case with athletes (serious or weekend warrior), there is only so much time to workout and each workout needs to count. I’ve seen this with triathletes, marathon runners, and crossfit enthusiasts. The idea of giving up one of their ‘real’ workouts for Pilates seems unacceptable. But here is the thing … what if that once a week Pilates session could make you a better crossfitter, runner, or triathlete? I believe it can.

When we lift heavy weights; we get stronger. We develop bigger muscles. It’s the same when we bike long distances or run far and hard – we develop a set of muscles needed to perform that feat. What we don’t strengthen is our core. Beyond having six pack abs, you need your core when you are lifting heavy weights. If you falter under the weight – guess what usually takes the impact? Your back. Strong core = protected back.

With heavier load and concentric movements (much of what is done with weight-lifting is a contracting of muscles or concentric movement) we tend to shorten and tighten the muscles as we build strength. With this strength can come a loss of flexibility. Pilates uses lighter weight and eccentric movements to lengthen muscles and improve flexibility. So go ahead and build big muscles in the gym but come to Pilates to stretch back out and maintain your flexibility.

The other benefit of Pilates to a weightlifter is the stabilizing muscles toned and strengthened in Pilates. Pilates does not just focus on the big global muscles and instead targets and tones many small supporting muscles. These are the guys that help out when you are lifting heavy. These are the muscles that keep your body balanced and less prone to injury. Think of it this way – suppose you car stalls and you need to push it off the road. You are strong, you lift weights and have big muscles. You could push the car by yourself with a great deal of effort. What if four of your friends showed up who aren’t as big and strong as you and helped push? The load would be shared and the work easier. Your little friends are your stabilizing muscles in this case and their assistance kept you from straining and injuring yourself.

Here is the tricky thing though- it’s one thing to realize Pilates would be good for you and it’s another to get your head wrapped around it coming from a gym mentality. Trust me – I’ve been in your shoes. I used to be a regular weight-lifter at the gym. More weight lifted = success and progress. Pilates isn’t like that. Often times less weight is more challenging. At times, Pilates can feel light. At times you may wonder what exactly you are working. Please ask! There is a good chance you’ll figure it out the next day 😉 With Pilates what may seem easy at first, often becomes more challenging over time when you learn how to recruit the muscles you want. Coming in to the studio with big strong muscles, it can be hard to turn these muscles off and work deeper. We tend to compensate with what we have. It may take several sessions before you really figure out how to engage your deeper stabilizing muscles. Don’t be discouraged – it’s a process. You’ve worked hard for your big muscles and they are used to jumping in every chance they get. It takes time and focus to find the little guys!

If I can ask one thing of you when you try Pilates it’s to be patience, trust and give it a chance. Don’t compare Pilates to crossfit and how that makes you feel. The two are very different with different objectives. Don’t freak out if you leave and you are not sweaty or exhausted. You can get your sweat on in the gym. Pilates could be the best thing you do for your weight-lifting, triathlon training, or marathon running if you give it a chance to work!

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