Is Pilates strength training – or do I need to go to the gym?

Pilates can make you stronger – but whether it’s right for you depends on your fitness goals.

As we get older, it’s more important than ever to incorporate strength training into our day-to-day activities. The benefits are countless– including making us stronger, protecting our bones and helping with menopause symptoms.

In fact, there are almost as many benefits of strength training as there are ways of doing it – but can Pilates be counted as one of them?

We spoke to a personal trainer and a Pilates instructor to find out whether or not Pilates is strength training – but first, let’s establish exactly what we mean when we talk of these two disciplines.

A woman on all fours doing a pilates exercise in a classCredit: Shutterstock / BearFotos

What is Pilates?

Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century and focuses on building core strength, promoting proper alignment, and enhancing muscular endurance. The exercises in Pilates use our body weight and resistance-based equipment such as the Pilates reformer, resistance bands and small weights.

Fans of this exercise report numerous physical benefits, including improvements in balance, flexibility, posture and muscle tone.

Kate Thomas, who runs K-T Pilates, says: “It teaches you to move correctly, more mindfully, with good form, to engage the correct muscles and build a strong centre, which is essential for a strong body.

“It also helps to iron out muscle imbalances and prevent injuries. If you learn Pilates, and are patient and consistent, you cannot fail to get stronger and can then apply its principles to everything.”


What is strength training?

Saga Exceptional’s fitness writer and personal trainer Rebecca Fuller explains: “It’s a form of exercise that involves working against some form of resistance.

“That resistance could be weights, resistance bands, or even your own body weight. The added resistance puts stress on the muscles, causing them to adapt and become stronger.

Strength training is imperative as we age because it keeps our bones strong, helping to protect against many health conditions such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass) also affects us as we age, and strength training is the best way to prevent that happening and allow us to retain mobility.”

A woman in a gym being shown how to use small weights by an instructorCredit: Shutterstock /Liderina

So, is Pilates strength training?

Thomas argues it is, of a kind. “Any exercise that challenges or overloads your muscles will help them become stronger,” she says.

“Pilates is a form of strength training because it incorporates resistance training through our own body weight. We can also add small items of equipment, such as resistance bands, the magic circle or small weights, to help fatigue the muscles – I always try to include these in my classes.

“It’s this resistance that helps build muscular strength, stability and endurance. We forget that just lifting our own body weight in a plank or press-up is strength training.”

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Fuller agrees that Pilates is strength training to an extent. “Pilates is great for building core strength and maintaining pelvic floor function,” she shares.

“It also helps us build a strong mind-muscle connection, which you can then use to take strength training to the next level.”

Will Pilates build muscle?

“If you practise Pilates regularly, you will see an improvement in your muscle tone,” says Thomas.

However, Fuller notes that if you want to build muscle then other workouts are better than Pilates.

“You need to work your muscles to the point of fatigue to benefit from strength training. This means you need to apply the progressive overload principle – increasing the weight, number of repetitions or type of exercise you do as you become stronger.

“Pilates doesn’t have those variables and so, while it’s great for maintaining core strength, pelvic floor function, posture and so much more, you also need to add in some additional form of strength training, such as lifting weights or using resistance bands, two or three times a week.

This is what will build muscle mass and burn fat, and over time will change your body shape.”

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Fuller says there are lots of options to introduce strength training into your week.

“If you enjoy a class environment, check what your local gym has on offer. Kettlebells are a great tool for building strength and cardio fitness at the same time, or you could try a circuit training class for variety,” she suggests.

“If you have a gym membership, our 15-minute gym workouts for beginners are a great place to start. Alternatively, you might want to talk to a personal trainer about sessions tailored to your ability and goals.”

a man flexing his musclesCredit: Shutterstock /AYO Production

So which is best for strength – Pilates or weight training?

Both instructors agree that the two workouts complement each other.

Thomas says: “Pilates helps with posture, flexibility and muscular endurance and does challenge the body. It can also be an active form of recovery after a weight training session as it stretches, lengthens and challenges the muscles in a different way.

“Pilates is a great complement to other strength training routines and is a great option for people wanting a low-impact exercise programme that focuses on building a strong foundation, improving posture and increasing overall body awareness.”

Fuller says: “The best exercise programme should incorporate different styles and intensities of activity to get the most benefit. Variety helps challenge your body and your muscles to move in different ways.”

Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her


Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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