With so many exercise modalities available it can be hard to make a plan and know what to do, when and why. Pilates has been a buzz word in the fitness world for decades, but how does it fit into your exercise plan? What are the pros, cons and reasons to add yet another element to your weekly plan? Certified Pilates instructor and personal trainer Kristina Lucka shares her perspective on the why behind Pilates, its intersection with traditional strength training and the science behind all of it.

The reason why I started practicing Pilates (and later on teaching) was the realization that the addition of active recovery in my fitness regimen was what my body was aching for. Between strength training, marathons, ultra-marathons, and triathlons my body was feeling achy, tired, and would become occasionally injured. All that hard work and discipline was actually working against my goals. I needed to slow down, but I still wanted to move. I was looking for a gentler, yet still challenging way to exercise, as a compliment to the rest of my training. That’s when I came across Pilates… and well, the rest is history.

I pretty quickly noticed how Pilates affects my workouts and performance. The injuries subsided. I was more present and connected with my body. The awareness of my breath became a big part of my workouts. The flexibility and lengthening allowed me to increase my range of motion during my lifts, squats and presses. I walked a bit taller, which increased my core strength and improved my posture. Naturally, I wanted to share all of these benefits with my clients, which meant certification was the next step.

Before I dive into the benefits of Pilates, let me say it loud and clear: Pilates is not a replacement for your strength training, cardio, plyometrics or power exercises! Here’s why:

Pilates and traditional strength training

Because Pilates uses light to medium resistance, the workout is about higher reps with a focus on the small stabilizing muscles. During Pilates we never really load the body and the joints as in the gym with heavy dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells etc. Traditional strength training using challenging weights and progressive overload builds lean muscle, combats age-related sarcopenia and prevents injury in a way Pilates alone does not.

I want you to look at Pilates as another tool in your fitness toolbox… an important tool that can help you lunge further, squat deeper, engage your core better and breathe fuller as you deadlift and bench press.

How Pilates can help

Pilates alone won’t help you stay injury-free training for your next 10K, or increase your lean muscle mass significantly. We still recommend traditional strength training to create adequate power and stiffer tendons and ligaments which can hold up to the demands of running. If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of traditional strength training, check out this post. What Pilates can do, however, is help with your ankle and hip mobility, foot and knee stability and core strength, which can lead to injury prevention… and when combined with the other key elements of a professional exercise prescription, it can take you to the next level.

With the focus on lengthening and alignment, Pilates can reverse some downfalls of modern living that affect your body and movement like sitting, computer work, driving, and doom scrolling while couch-potato-ing (I’m speaking to my husband here!) Posture, tight quads, weak hamstrings, stiff neck and traps that cause headaches, can be minimized with regular Pilates workouts.

Mind-body connections and putting it all together

If you signed up for reformer classes with the expectations of a six pack by the end of the 8 weeks, well, to quote Donnie Brasco,“Fagedaboutit.” Pilates alone can’t give you defined abs, powerful glutes, explosive legs, beefier chest, or massive lats. However, doing any form of Pilates, whether it is on a mat or an apparatus, can make your lifting time at the gym more efficient and effective. It is because Pilates is designed to connect your mind and body to work as one; a method where you focus on activating the small stabilizing muscles, increase awareness of your posture as you move through the exercises, your breath, symmetry, and correct alignment. The movements are subtle but challenging.

I know what you’re thinking, “Not another gym thing! My schedule is already filled up!” Before you throw down the towel and march out of the studio, let me give you an example of how you can incorporate some Pilates in your weekly fitness routine.
An example of your fitness week:

    • Strength/ conditioning training 2-3 week (40-60 min per session)
    • Pilates 1-2 week (45-60 min per session)
    • Walking daily (30-40 min per session)
    • More intense cardio 1-2 week (30-40 min per session)

So as you can see, Pilates can be a wonderful and helpful addition to your exercise regimen, that will compliment what you’re already doing to make you a stronger, fitter, healthier and happier gym-goer.