I acknowledge that a Pilates program alone will never win Olympic gold, nor
a Mr. America title, but there are
two distinct advantages that Pilates has over weight training.
The Pilates Advantages...
1. Pilates uses equipment but does not rely upon it.
Strength training seeks to condition muscles by use of movement against
resistance that is programmed from outside the
body. (Bigger weights, a higher setting on the machine). The disadvantage
is that there is a heavy investment and reliance
upon equipment and space to house the equipment.
Pilates (specifically mat Pilates) by contrast seeks to condition muscles by use
of resistance that is programmed from within the body
(lengthening a limb away from the body for greater leverage, using muscles from
within the body to
stretch the opposing muscle group). That makes it very economic and adaptable
to your environment. All you need is some space to lay your mat out!
2. Pilates "Working in Opposition" versus Weight Training "Isolation".
Traditional strength training seeks to isolate and work with individual muscles
one at a time (though this goal is not often
achieved - see movie shots below). It does not automatically encourage stability
where it counts: In the neck, shoulder
joint, lower back, hip joint and ankle joint. I know from long personal experience that
weight training will not automatically protect any
of these areas of the body, and may even destabilize and hurt rather than heal.
Pilates by contrast seeks to work a body part, while at the same time applying
strict attention to stability "at the core". This is done by verbal
cueing to encourage correct
stabilizer muscle action at the above mentioned areas: neck, shoulder, lower back,
hip and ankle. Thus in the example that follows, the limb muscles (the destabilizers)
are said to be "working in opposition" to the
trunk and rotator cuff stabilizer muscles.
Example: Pilates "Working in Oppositon" applied to the Dumbbell Front Raise
Click on the link below to view two exercise movies that focus on the
anterior deltoid muscle:-
In the window just opened, you see a top movie of a weight trainer performing the
"dumbbell front raise". According to the advisory notes that go with this video clip,
the movement is described as "isolated". It is said to specifically target the anterior
deltoid muscle. So the intention is to "isolate", and work on the anterior deltoid.
But note what actually happens.
The movie shows a number of accessory movements. The most obvious
accessory movement is extension of
the lumbar spine. (You can see this by the backward movement of the chest
as the dumbbell is raised). What is perhaps
not so obvious but (at least to the mind of this posture-movement clinician)
somewhat alarming is the rotation of the weight
trainer's chest toward the camera as he struggles to work the presumably weaker
left side. (Watch for the chest turning toward the camera during initial
stages of the left dumbbell lift). For more information about this sort of movement analysis,
obtain a copy of the book "Movement Impairment Syndromes" (ref 1).
Summary: The weight trainer thinks he is performing an isolated contraction of
the anterior deltoid. What is actually
happening is that the muscles of the back are dynamically aiding the dumbbell
lift by supplying the extra "oomph" to achieve
initial acceleration of the dumbbell away from the body. The spine is thus destabilized, and
one could say that the "tail is wagging the dog". The average weight
trainer is probably unconscious of this sort of accessory movement, and (even
if he were aware of it) would not be too concerned by it.
Pilates by contrast would insist on a controlled movement with the stabilizer
muscles of the torso and shoulder fully braced against the destabilizing effect of the
dumbbell-arm movement. In the Pilates version of this exercise (lower movie), it is the
"dog that wags the tail". This method of exercising
is described as the body "working against itself", and is a core principle of
Pilates: You consciously work the stabilizer
muscles while doing all stretches and resistance training. After much practice,
the body unconsciously and habitually braces
against the potentially destabilizing movements of arms, legs and torso.
Back to the man with the dumbbells. He is working with, and certainly capable
of lifting bigger weights than the pure Pilates
practitioner, and by all standard definitions would be described as stronger.
But his lower back is habitually practicing
lumbar extension with rotation of his chest to "look to the right". His back
is being programmed to move in that direction.
One false move or slip during his working day, and his back moves straight
into that habitual unstable positioning: He "has
an accident". Low back pain is the result, with a couple of weeks off work.
means let him do his weight training, but let him first program core awareness so that
he knows when his back is moving into a dangerous end of range movement. When he knows
the danger can avoid it!
Pilates versus Weight Training? Bad question! Pilates combined with weight training?
That is a good question....
"...a hardcore power lifter told me that Pilates helped him recover faster
after hard gym workouts."
(....Denise Austin in her book "Pilates for Every Body).
For further information about stabilizing your back, read the free samples of:
The Back Maintenance
Pilates Exercises for
Low Back Pain.
- Shirley A Sahrmann: Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes; Publ. Mosby 2002
Dumbbell front raise at www.exrx.net:-
- Brooke Siler: The Pilates Body (see advert, this page).
- Bruce Thomson: The Back Maintenance
Manual (1): Pilates Exercises for Low Back Pain
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Pilates versus Traditional Strength Training
© Bruce Thomson, EasyVigour Project
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