Does Pilates and Barre Count as Strength Training?

We recently answered the highly popular question “can pilates and barre be cardio?” (Spoiler alert: YES) But what about strength training? Does our workout, with its small movements, isometric holds, springs/weights and cardio bursts, “count” as a strength-training workout?

Q: Let’s answer the question once and for all: Does Pilates/barre count as strength training?

A: YES! These are amazing workouts for building strength. In every class, you are able to work with your body weight or choose to add additional weight to increase your muscle mass and create more strength in your body. The reason it is not quite as obvious as the strength training a bodybuilder does in a gym is that our session focuses on functional strength training instead of a more traditional strength-training routine.

You can think of this in two ways. Building strength like a bodybuilder does in a gym is traditional strength training. It’s not bad, but it is not necessarily making you stronger in your day-to-day life activities—which is what functional strength does. We’ve all seen the bodybuilder who has giant muscles but cannot extend his or her arms or legs all of the way or has multiple injuries from imbalances made worse by their strength-building routine. This is because traditional strength training relies on isolating muscles one at a time to take them to fatigue (for example, a back and biceps day) versus incorporating them into a whole-body exercise. When you build strength in some muscles but not others, or some more than others, like your biceps, may be way stronger than your triceps, for instance. Instead of building balance, you perpetuate imbalances created by life, and this opens you up to more injury.

Absolute Pilates operates based on building strength in a pattern that balances the body using functional movements. Movements in functional training require you to coordinate balance and control (principals of pilates) in addition to muscle contractions, similar to how you might use them in real-life situations. This includes equalizing the strength between your right side of your body and your left side and, VERY importantly, strengthening your back body to match the strength of your front body, which tends to be much stronger.

Q: What’s the benefit of focusing on functional strength training?

When we use strength training to balance the muscles throughout our body in functional ways, it doesn’t create the huge bulging muscles you associate with weightlifting, but it does one better. It actually makes you less prone to injury in everything else you do in life like biking, picking up your kiddos, moving a heavy box, or snowboarding. That’s the true benefit to working hard in a class. Balanced in your body is the new strong!

Q: Do I need to supplement my class in the studio with extra strength training, or do I get enough in class?

A: While you do not need to supplement with any additional strength training outside of Absolute Pilates class, if you have a workout you love that includes additional strength training, you should always feel free to do it! There are tons of workouts that complement what we do in class, and we will never be the kind of workout to say we are the only answer to how you improve your strength in life. If you love going to the gym to lift weights, do it! If you love cross fit, do it! And if you love just having Absolute Pilates and Barre  as your go-to workout, we have you covered.

Q: Will doing Pilates and barre help me meet the standard recs for strength training?

A: Yes! The American Heart Association recommends doing strength training two days per week to increase your muscle mass. If you are doing at least two classes per week, you are hitting the recommended amount.

Q: If I’d like to up my strength training in class, what can I do?

A: This is a great question. There are tons of ways to get deeper with strength, the first being that you can grab the next size up of weights. It’s the most obvious answer to getting that bump in your strength training. With this, I encourage you to really listen to your body and see if you are ready for the change. If you ever have any gripping or burning in your neck muscles, I would recommend stepping back down until your body is ready for the increase in weight. Just because we can pick up the bigger weights doesn’t mean we should!

The second thing you can do might seem counterintuitive. It’s to play with modifications. Let me be clear, modifications are NOT making a posture easier. Some of the times I have been the most sore from class were when I took a modification that gave me the space to slow down, make sure I was moving without ANY momentum and make sure the right muscles were firing to get the job done. As we all have experienced, moving slower is almost always harder and taking those modifications is a chance to do just that. The next time you are in Sumo Squats, see what happens if, instead of going to the beat, you keep it to a slower 2-count. The slow movement will create even more of the sizzle we all love (and love to hate).

Q: If I already do a lot of strength training outside the studio, how can I work Pilates and barre into my routine in a healthy way?

A: The beauty of Absolute Pilates and Barre is that we truly try to meet you where you are. We have people from all walks of life who do classes, and it is truly a workout that will complement most anything. Whether you are a runner, a bodybuilder or a mom coming back from having a baby, we have something for you in every class. If you have a routine where you lift weights three times per week, worry not, you can add a class on whatever days you have time and have it be a great complement to your weight-training routine. Every class focuses on balancing the whole body. There is never a “leg day” or “backs and biceps” day, so it really will slide in anywhere and help you keep on track to creating that balance in your body and, as a bonus, empower you from within.