Strength training is a type of physical exercise that uses resistance to build strength, anaerobic endurance and size of skeletal muscles.

More common practices of strength training are weight training and powerlifting, but the lesser known is Pilates! Unlike most practices, Pilates exercises focus on 'lengthening' muscles, and not ‘straining’ to build bulk. The lengthening maintains flexibility and suppleness in the muscles.

Much of the work in Pilates works on the anatomical balance of muscle engagement — Antagonist and agonist (Prime mover) muscles often referred to as antagonistic pairs. It is the balance of opposing muscles when one muscle contracts & works, the other relaxes & stretches. This is key to functional movement.

A classic example of an antagonistic pair are the biceps and triceps muscles of the arm. When flexing / lifting the forearm — the biceps contracts & works while the triceps relaxes & stretches. When extending/ lowering — the biceps relaxes and stretches, while the triceps contracts and works.

Image sourced from  http://www.mananatomy.com

Image sourced from http://www.mananatomy.com

The level of resistance in Pilates is also key in how muscle length is maintained while training. When working with Pilates apparatus, the spring resistance is moderate. The resistance is to create muscular contraction without strain. Exercises on the reformer factors in additional resistance with the exerciser’s weight but the resistance is still relative.

If the resistance/ weight is too great — to lift, pull, press or push, muscles will ‘strain’ and the balance of the antagonistic pairs become compromised to effort the load.

The crux of Pilates strength training is to strengthen and work from the ‘Powerhouse’ — gluts, lower back, upper and lower abdominals and hips. So when you are working with your extremities — arms and legs, the effort of load stems from the powerhouse and not simply from the limbs.

Pilates is a method of physical exercise that is focused on building strength still maintaining muscular integrity opposed to strength in simply building bulk. It is a strength and conditioning program that is transferable to most — if not all kinds of activities and other strength training regimes.

Author’s note — More and more people seem to either gravitate toward being bulky or flexible. It is important to note both straining muscles to build bulk and pushing flexibility without strength can lead to injuries over time.

It’s also important to clarify between difference types of flexibility;

  1. Flexibility without strength is hypermobility — where the flexibility lies in the ligaments and joints, yet the muscles itself are not flexible. In this instance joints are weak and ligaments are overstretched.
  2. While flexibility enabled through strength — provides joints, ligaments and smaller muscles that attach to bones (skeletal muscles) much needed support to maintain muscular integrity.   

And this is what Pilates Strength Training is all about!