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Add Pilates to Your Weightlifting Program

Oct 15, 2018

Add Pilates to Your Weightlifting Program - Man doing back exercisesSo, what benefits will you gain if you add Pilates to your weightlifting program?

Well, whether you want to lose weight, tone up, or pack on as much muscle as possible, you can get a full body workout if you with Pilates.

If you are a gym rat who loves to lift heavy you have probably avoided Pilates.

Maybe you thought it was too girly, too easy and not a real workout.

But Pilates can be a great compliment to your heavy lifting!

As athletes, full-time or weekend warrior, there is only so much time to work out and we want to make each trip to the gym count.

The thought of giving up one, or even two, of the “real” workouts for Pilates may sound horrifying.

But what if that once a week Pilates session could make you a better weightlifter, CrossFitter, runner, or triathlete?

Related: What Is the Best Pilates Workout?

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Pilates for Physical and Mental Benefits 

Pilates is a physical fitness system developed by Joseph Pilates.

He was a boxer and self-defense instructor who created the discipline in the early 1900s.

Pilates focuses on developing the body’s core muscles.

It teaches body awareness, helps develop good posture, increases strength and flexibility, and creates a toned body.

Said one self-professed “meathead,” who weight trains obsessively and tried Pilates:

“Pilates worked my muscles in a way that they aren’t used to being worked . . . Anyone who thinks Pilates is for girls, I realized, is working out for the wrong reasons. You’ve got to try stuff you’ve never done before, or you’ll never progress.”

Related: Pilates for Meatheads


Pilates can Make you a Better Weightlifter

Add Pilates to Your Weightlifting Program - Man strengthening coreWhen we lift heavy weights; we get stronger and have bigger muscles.

Just as we would if we bike long distances or run far and hard – we develop a set of muscles needed to perform that particular task.

What we don’t strengthen is our core.

You need your core when you lift heavy weights.

If you buckle under that weight your back suffers.

Strong core = protected back.

With weightlifting, we have heavier loads and use concentric movements that contract our muscles.

We shorten and tighten the muscles as we build strength.

With this strength, there can be a loss of flexibility.

Pilates uses lighter weight and eccentric movements to lengthen muscles and improve flexibility.

So you can build big muscles in the gym then use Pilates to stretch back out and maintain your flexibility.

Related: Weight Lifting vs. Pilates


Strengthen your Stabilizing Muscles

The other benefit of Pilates to a weightlifter is that the stabilizing muscles get toned and strengthened.

Furthermore, Pilates does not just focus on the big global muscles.

Instead, it targets and tones many small supporting muscles.

These supporting muscles are what you need when you are lifting heavy.

Also, the supporting muscles keep your body balanced and less prone to straining and injuring yourself.

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 and it takes time to find and focus on these deeper muscles.


Benefits of Pilates

  • Increase strength, flexibility, and balance.
  • Tone and build long, lean muscles.
  • Strengthen deep abdominal muscles to support the core.
  • Connect with your mind and improve body awareness.
  • Decrease back pain, joint stress, and injury.
  • Lessen stress and relieve tension.
  • Reinstate postural alignment.
  • Develop a stronger, more flexible spine.
  • Increase joint range of motion.
  • Improve blood circulation.
  • Improve neuromuscular coordination.
  • Eliminate over-training.
  • Improve mobility, agility, and stamina.


Pilates is designed to combine your breathing rhythm with your body movements.

So, the main goal of Pilates is to unite your mind and body, which relieves stress.

Pilates refers to the body’s core as a powerhouse, and this includes the abdomen, lower back, hips, and buttocks.

Each exercise begins from the powerhouse to coordinate all movements and strengthen the body’s core.

You need to really focus on your muscles and each movement.

Concentration on the entire body’s movements and absolute muscle control needs to be taught.


Add Pilates to Your Weightlifting Program, But Don’t Overwork Your Muscles

Add Pilates to Your Weightlifting Program - Pilates plankRemember not to overwork your muscles.

This can happen if you do hard-core Pilates on a recovery day from intense weight training.

A hard weight workout and Pilates class every day would count as overtraining.

This can be counterproductive.

You want to leave at least 48 hours between strength-training sessions.

If you are lifting heavy weights to fatigue, you deserve a day off weights the next day.

Rest is essential to the muscle building process.

Without it, your muscle fibers can’t repair or have the time to grow stronger and thicker.

Some Pilates workouts are slower paced and can be very relaxing for the mind and body.

If you have good form and know which Pilates movement to use, you can increase the pace to use your Pilates workouts for cardio benefits as well.

Related: Is Doing Weights and Pilates Considered Overtraining?


An Example of How to Add Pilates to Your Weightlifting Program

A good approach would be to alternate your Pilates workout days with your weight-training days, and have a rest day.

A sample schedule might look like this:

  • Monday: Strength train legs and hips
  • Tuesday: Pilates
  • Wednesday: Upper-body strength training workout
  • Thursday: Pilates
  • Friday: Full-body strength training
  • Saturday: Pilates
  • Sunday: Rest

Related: Pilates and Weight Training – Mutually Exclusive or Better than the other?


Add Pilates to Your Weightlifting Program with Mat Training

When you are lifting serious weight, Pilates should be used to enhance those workouts and increase the results you see from the weight training.

By doing mild to moderate Pilates routines on your recovery days you can work on flexibility and to release tension from the muscles.

This will help stretch out the body and help your muscles recover from the intense weight training.

You may also want to do some Pilates moves as a cool down and/or warm up for your strength training program.


Using a Pilates Reformer

Add Pilates to Your Weightlifting Program - Man on Pilates Reformer

A Pilates reformer is a rectangular pad fixed on tracks which allows it to slide forward and backward.

Loops are attached from either end of the frame.

Your arms or legs can be placed in these loops depending on the exercise.

You will need to constantly activate your core muscles to resist gravity as you control the machine’s movement.

Pilates movements performed on the mat or floor are different from those done on a Pilates reformer.

The same moves modified for the mat or floor performance will be less intensive.

It won’t have as much impact in breaking the muscles down for increased lean muscle mass and strength.

When combining Pilates with weight training, you want to go with floor or mat exercises that will focus on endurance, flexibility and stretching.

You don’t want to focus hardcore on ripping the muscles up for increased lean muscle mass.


Add Pilates to Your Weightlifting Program by Using a Reformer

If you prefer to do intense workouts on a Pilates reformer, don’t target the same muscles day after day in weight training and Pilates.

The exercises done on a reformer will be more strenuous on your muscles and will have more of a strengthening effect.

Remember that the machines are more demanding on your muscles.

So schedule these workouts with your weight training program in mind.

This will ensure that muscle groups get enough rest between workouts.


Add Pilates to Your Weightlifting Program as a Cross Trainer

Add Pilates to Your Weightlifting Program - Dark Iron Fitness knee sleevesIf you are a cross trainer and weight training is your main passion, you can use Pilates as a method of cross training.

It will change up the routine for your body and keep it guessing as to what you will do next.

Vary the body parts targeted in each of your workouts.

This way you will be able to cover the entire body without overstressing any one muscle group.

Take the extra step to keep those muscles and joints warm by investing in a pair of Dark Iron Fitness knee sleeves.

Our knee sleeves are designed with a material that is focused on strength yet very thin so there is no annoying bunching of material behind your knees.

They are so comfortable that you can go straight from your Pilates warm up to lifting heavy weights up to 600 lbs. with our 5-star rated knee sleeves.

Related: Best Knee Sleeves for CrossFit


Final Thoughts on How to Add Pilates to Your Weightlifting Program

It’s one thing to realize that adding Pilates to your workout would be good for you.

But it’s not easy for a weightlifter to let go of the idea that more weight lifted = success and progress.

With Pilates, less weight is more challenging.

It might even seem easy at first, but oftentimes it becomes more challenging as you learn how to recruit the muscles you want and need.

If you are ready for a new challenge then add Pilates to your weightlifting program.

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!