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The Gym vs. Pilates


How is Pilates different from gym strength training? There are quite a few ways they’re different. In fact, more than being simply “strength training” like you would do at a gym, Pilates is a lot different types of training, all rolled into one: strength, endurance, flexibility, and coordination. Here are three specific ways gym strength training and a Pilates workout differ: 1. Whole system vs. one muscle group At the gym, you might do a “biceps” exercise or a “lat pull” or squats to target your glutes, and so on. That’s not the Pilates approach. People who knew Joe Pilates say that if someone asked him what an exercise was “good for”, he’d get a bit irritated and say, “IT’S FOR THE BODY!” While certain movements might feature certain muscle groups more than others, with Pilates, it should be a “full body experience” with no part of your body left behind. That’s a big reason why you don’t need to do a ton of reps of a movement for you to feel the effects and be ready to move on. 2. Hypertrophy vs. length A large focus of strength training at the gym is often to develop “hypertrophic” muscles (i.e. #gainz). We have nothing against being muscular or “bulking up” (pre-COVID, Nadea was lifting at the gym on the regular), but that isn’t really the focus of a Pilates workout. As much as we’re contracting muscles, we’re also working on creating space and length in the body in a controlled and strong way, which has a lot of functional value (think of how a rock climber needs strength AND reach at the same time). 3. Complex functional movement When you level up at the gym, usually it means doing more repetitions or increasing weight. That is less of a thing in Pilates.

To make a movement more advanced, we add complexity and heighten the need for strength and control. This can be even more challenging when you’re doing advanced movements on the equipment, working with/against tension and controlling moving pieces.

The more you can learn to control your body in complex and challenging situations, the more you’ll be able to tackle with ease outside of the studio in your day to day life and in your favourite athletic activities.

These are only three differences out of quite a few, but they're pretty big ones! The two practices are often quite complementary. If you both work out at the gym and in the Pilates studio, have you noticed these differences? Have you noticed others? Tell us about it!