Pilates vs Weight Training: Which is Best?

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
October 24, 2022

Though many exercisers find themselves needing to choose between pilates and weight training, the fact of the matter is that it is much like comparing apples to oranges - the two training modalities are vastly different in terms of goals and function, as will be demonstrated later in this article.

When deciding on whether to pursue pilates or weight training, our advice is to examine the minute details of either training modality and to match it with your own goals, as the effects of weight training and pilates differ quite a bit.

To put it simply, pilates is more effective at rehabilitation, mobility and general low-impact exercise - whereas weight training is performed for the purposes of building muscle mass, strengthening non-muscular tissue and developing physical strength.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a form of low-impact exercise that focuses on slow movements meant to improve the mobility and stability of the exerciser, usually in the form of steady stretching movements that require isometric contraction of multiple muscle groups.

pilates benefits

Pilates is most often performed by individuals with an aversion to heavy lifting, or those seeking a more relaxed and safer form of exercise than weight lifting or similar modalities.

Benefits of Pilates

Pilates presents quite a number of benefits to those that choose to practice it, with the most significant being an improvement in the general mobility and flexibility of the exerciser’s body.

This benefit, when combined with the significant core strengthening effects of pilates, results in a flexible and stable physique - all developed without any large risk of injury or high levels of impact, as would be the case in other training modalities.

Pilates is also capable of acting as a rehabilitory or preparatory tool, even in cases where no significant acute injury is present. This means that pilates can remedy issues like muscular imbalances, postural issues and even poor range of motion as a result of previous injury.

Equipment Used for Pilates

The majority of pilates exercises do not involve much more equipment than a simple yoga mat - though certain movements do indeed require equipment, such as chairs, machines specifically made for pilates known as reformers or even modified frames with springs in place so as to produce resistance.

pilates reformer

While these pilates machines are likely only present within physical rehabilitation clinics or pilates-specific gyms, it is entirely possible to perform an entire pilates workout with no equipment whatsoever.

Difficulty and Complexity

The majority of pilates workouts are of quite low difficulty, allowing exercisers of poor coordination or athletic experience to perform the necessary movements without error.

However, this is not the same when examining the complexity of many of pilates exercises - with some requiring at least an intermediate understanding of one’s own body, and some level of proprioception in order to execute correctly.

Fortunately, the majority of pilates workouts are geared towards novices to the training modality, and as such are unlikely to feature exercises of such a complexity, allowing even complete fitness novices to join in.

What is Weight Training?

Weight training is a form of resistance exercise primarily featuring free weight or machine-based sources of resistance that the exerciser must oppose through muscular force. This, in turn, results in highly efficient muscular hypertrophy and strength developments of both a neurological and muscular nature.

weight training

Weight training is a rather extensive training modality that makes use of a variety of different techniques and equipment to improve certain aspects of the body, with a particular focus on the size and force output of the skeletal muscles of the exerciser.

This particular type of resistance exercise is utilized by a wide plethora of different individuals, ranging from physical rehabilitation patients to elite level athletes and even the average person seeking to tone their body at the gym.

Benefits of Weight Training

Just like pilates, weight training presents quite a number of benefits unique to its performance, with the most obvious being the development of skeletal musculature and the force it is capable of outputting.

However, aside from these muscular benefits, there is also a marked improvement in bone density and connective tissue strength associated with regular weight training. This, alongside the various endocrinological benefits of general resistance exercise, results in a sturdier and more durable body.

Furthermore, several other benefits such as postural improvement, cardiovascular development and even improved systemic function are all directly attributed to weight training and similar training modalities.

Equipment Used for Weight Training

Weight training is a blanket term for workouts that make use of any type of equipment capable of outputting external resistance on to the body of the exerciser. This can take the form of a dumbbell, a barbell and set of weight plates or even a resistance machine such as the cable pulley machine.

gym equipment

Furthermore, certain types of equipment associated with calisthenics exercise (such as dip bars or dip rings) are also included in many weight training workouts, though whether or not they are considered to be weight training equipment is often up to debate.

Difficulty and Complexity

The difficulty and complexity of weight training exercises will vary depending on how much weight is used, what sort of exercise is being performed and the relative training experience of the lifter themselves.

In comparison to pilates, weight training is decidedly more difficult and features quite a number of more complex exercises - though certain isolation exercises are comparable in complexity to those of pilates, making it up to the exerciser to decide on which training modality is more challenging.

Pilates vs Weight Training for Muscle Mass

While pilates can indeed improve core strength and muscular stability, it is unlikely to induce muscular hypertrophy to the level that weight training is capable of - meaning that, in nearly every case, it is weight training that is superior for developing muscle mass and physical strength.

This is simply due to the higher level of resistance and dynamic volume that is present in most weight training workouts, with pilates featuring more isometric volume and a far lower level of resistance - resulting in a reduced intensity of muscular hypertrophy, and insufficient training stimulus for strength development.

While this isn’t to say that pilates cannot cause muscle mass to develop, it is simply faster and more efficient to go about achieving this through traditional weight training instead.

Pilates vs Weight Training for Weight Loss

Considering the fact that weight loss primarily revolves around caloric expenditure through exercise, we can see that it does not matter which training modality is chosen - and rather the intensity and tempo of said training.

While weight training is more likely to feature greater caloric expenditure due to the potential for a fast tempo and high volume of repetitions, pilates is just as capable of inducing the same amount of caloric expenditure as well.

As such, both pilates and weight training are equally viable for the purposes of inducing weight loss, and it is up to the exerciser to decide on which training modality is more appropriate for their goals.

Pilates vs Weight Training for Mobility and Core Strength

Though weight training can indeed be quite effective at improving core strength, pilates takes it to a far higher intensity, and is also capable of greatly improving the mobility of the entire body as well.

This places pilates at a level superior to weight training for the purposes of developing flexibility and mobility, as well as reinforcing the stability and endurance of the various core muscles. Such benefits are a direct effect of the slow and controlled exercises normally seen in pilates, the majority of which recruit the abdominal muscles in an isometric capacity.

In comparison, the core recruitment seen in weight training will usually come as a secondary goal from heavy compound movements, or otherwise from directly targeted isolation exercise that do not always train the entire core as a whole.

Combining Pilates and Weight Training

Considering the fact that pilates and weight training are two distinctly different forms of training modalities, it is no surprise that many exercisers wish to reap the benefits of both in a manner that does not cause one modality to interfere with the other.

Fortunately, this is actually quite easy, as the lower impact and intensity of pilates can mesh quite well with the more intense and tiring workouts of weight training. So much so, in fact, that many athletes and regular gym goers turn to pilates for a deload week or recovery workout.

Pilates may be incorporated into a weight training routine by simply performing it on the days where no weight training workout occurs, or by including pilates exercises throughout said workouts. 

As the majority of pilates exercises are low impact and feature bodyweight resistance, they are excellent for usage as accessory exercises or even prehabilitory movements prior to particularly heavy compound sets.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is Pilates Enough to Get "Toned"?

Yes - pilates is certainly enough to tone one’s own musculature, provided that their diet is also in order and they are following proper training protocols. 

Pilates is generally enough to maintain a certain level of muscle mass and strength, though it may take a longer length of time to “tone up” than other forms of resistance-based exercises.

How Quickly Do You See Results With Pilates?

The length of time in which it may take an exerciser to achieve their goals through pilates will depend on quite a number of factors, and what sort of goals said exerciser has in mind.

If their intention is to simply improve their mobility and core strength, results should be noticeable in as little as time as a month, whereas more significant goals such as body recomposition or certain feats of athleticism can take a far longer time, depending on other aspects of their training and diet.

For the best results, combine pilates with a sufficiently high protein intake, a steady caloric intake and aerobic exercise - as it is these three factors that will accelerate the benefits of pilates training, or any form of resistance training in general.

How Quickly to See Results with Weight Training?

Much like in the case of pilates, the length of time in which it will take a lifter to reach their goals with weight training will depend on many factors, and what sort of goals they have.

For the fastest possible results with weight training, combine adequate rest and a proper diet with a proper training program. So long as your goals involve muscle mass or strength development, utilizing these methods will allow you to reach your goals in short order.

Individuals seeking a moderate development in strength or muscle mass can achieve such benefits in as little as 6 months, though the rate at which their muscles will develop can slow down after this period of time due to diminishing returns.

Final Thoughts

And there you have it - the main differences between pilates and weight training, two vastly different training modalities that are in fact quite effective when combined together.

Whether you’ve chosen to sweat through weight training, or breathe easy during pilates, it’s important to always follow proper exercise form and to ensure that your training program is up to par. 

If you’re not sure of how to go about doing these things, there’s no shame in seeking out a lifting coach - or participating in a pilates class.

References

1. Carrasco-Poyatos M, Ramos-Campo DJ, Rubio-Arias JA. Pilates versus resistance training on trunk strength and balance adaptations in older women: a randomized controlled trial. PeerJ. 2019 Nov 14;7:e7948. doi: 10.7717/peerj.7948. PMID: 31741786; PMCID: PMC6859004.

2. Thomas MH, Burns SP. Increasing Lean Mass and Strength: A Comparison of High Frequency Strength Training to Lower Frequency Strength Training. Int J Exerc Sci. 2016 Apr 1;9(2):159-167. PMID: 27182422; PMCID: PMC4836564.

3. Meikis L, Wicker P, Donath L. Effects of Pilates Training on Physiological and Psychological Health Parameters in Healthy Older Adults and in Older Adults With Clinical Conditions Over 55 Years: A Meta-Analytical Review. Front Neurol. 2021 Oct 25;12:724218. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2021.724218. PMID: 34759879; PMCID: PMC8574969.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
Inspire US serves as an informational hub for people looking to start their fitness journey.
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information being shared is for educational purposes only. You must consult with a medical professional before acting on any content on this website.
Copyright © Inspire US 2022