Is Pilates Really A Better Exercise Than Weight Lifting?

You might have taken a Pilates class to improve body awareness or your posture (per Cleveland Clinic), and you may already know how weightlifting can positively impact your body. Both are good options for getting in your daily requirements for exercise, but is one better than the other?

The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, developed by the Department of Health and Human Services, suggest muscle- and bone-strengthening activities three days a week for children and adolescents, and at least two days a week for adults. Older adults should still do strength training but also incorporate balance training. A muscle-strengthening activity is any type of activity that challenges your muscles to work harder.

Because a Pilates routine involves slow-twitch muscle fibers, it works on muscular endurance (per Creighton Personal Training). By activating your core stabilizers through the various exercises, Pilates can be included in your strengthening regime. In other words, it helps you work your muscles harder than you would in your daily life — but is Pilates better than traditional strength training? It depends on your goals.

For therapeutic relief, choose Pilates

Pilates promotes relaxation and concentration through specific breathing during movement. It's best for preventing or recovering from an injury because it corrects muscle imbalance (per Better Health Channel).

A 2011 review in the Muscle, Ligaments and Tendons Journal said that the 50 exercises in a traditional Pilates class can improve muscular strength, endurance, flexibility, balance, and posture. With a focus on breathing, alignment, and stability, Pilates therapy has been shown to improve lower back pain. Pilates also strengthens the pelvic floor, which improves the quality of life for healthy females as they age. Study author June Kloubec notes that because Pilates recruits the core muscles, it can help develop muscular strength and endurance. 

Pilates can improve the mind-body connection as well, as it increases neurotransmitters in your brain. Because these exercises improve circulation in the body, they can boost your immune system. Pilates can also ease menstrual cramps (via Healthline) and improve your sex life.

For body changes, choose weight lifting

Like Pilates, strength training can also improve balance and prevent injuries (via Mayo Clinic). Weight lifting can improve your mental health as well, as it sends signals to your brain that can improve your mood (via Everyday Health). However, weight lifting can make rapid changes to your body when done correctly and safely. Weight lifting relies on progressive overload that creates small tears in your muscle fibers. This activates your natural healing system and slows the age-related decline in muscle, creating change in your body (per Creighton Personal Training).

2014 study in Obesity says that strength training is superior to aerobic conditioning for trimming the waistline. Researchers explained that weight training increases excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which means you're burning more calories well after your exercise session.

According to U.S. News and World Report, weight lifting improves your muscle's ability to shuttle glucose from your blood, which can moderate your blood sugar level. Because weight training reduces pounds around the waist, it can also limit your risk of visceral fat-related diseases, such as cancer or heart disease. Making strength-related changes to your body can also improve your body image.