Pilates: Effectiveness On Muscle-Building, Strength Training & Full-Body Workout

Last Updated on February 14, 2024 by Lifevif Team and JC Franco

If you know anything about me, it’s that I cannot get enough of Pilates. For me, it is about the physical workout as well as the mental health benefits I derive from it (Pilates makes me oh-so-happy).

While so deeply ensconced in my Pilates world – and because I have all but quit going to the regular gym classes I used to attend – people have been asking me a few questions about it. One question that keeps popping up is if Pilates can help to build muscle, and another is if it is a good overall workout. These seem to be questions that are begging to be answered, and so here I am, answering them for you!

Pilates can increase muscle strength and density as well as tone and shape muscles, but it cannot build muscle bulk as serious weight lifting can. With that being said, Pilates, in general, is not intended to be an aerobic exercise and cardio workout.

Pilates is a good accompaniment to weight lifting as it strengthens and tones the “in-between” muscles that are often neglected by weight/bodybuilders. It’s important to note that Pilates done using the Reformer machine builds more muscle than mat-based Pilates.

Overall, Pilates is considered a good full-body workout as it exercises and tones all major muscle groups and bolsters the body’s endurance and overall strength. 

In short, if you want to be a bodybuilder and win competitions, Pilates will not be able to bulk you up enough, if it is the only form of exercise that you do. However, adding Pilates to your workout regime can add strength and definition to your muscle tone as well as create a long and strong look to your build. This is because it develops long, lean muscles, and those “in-between” muscles get a good workout and toning too. 

If you want to learn more about Pilates for building and toning muscles and how it is an excellent workout, read on. 

How Pilates Compliments Body Building & Weight Lifting Workouts

In general, bodybuilders and weight lifters want powerful muscles – there’s no denying that. They want extreme strength and durability and minimal fat covering their perfectly developed muscles. The less fat you have, the more definition your muscles have, and this is what causes muscles to “pop” or give you that “ripped” look. 

That being said, Pilates can help trim the waistline, as well as make abdominal muscles strong and prominent. If you would like to reach a stage where your muscles are “popping” with ease, adding Pilates to your workout regime is a great option. 

If you want to develop long, strong, bulked muscles sans the fat and puffiness, add Pilates to your weekly workouts and you will start to see the results that you desire. The reason why Pilates is so suitable as an add on to your bodybuilding or weight lifting workout is that it works muscles that you will not access in a regular lifting workout. When these “in-between” muscles are worked out and developed, they create stronger, bigger major muscles. You will not only look bigger; you will be stronger too.  

What Type of Pilates is Best for Body Builders and Weight Lifters?

As a bodybuilder, you are probably pushing all the weight that you need to in the gym, but in order to get a full-body workout, you need to add something to it. While some weight lifters and bodybuilders try to incorporate a sport of some kind, others have realized that Pilates offers great benefits. While investigating Pilates, you will discover that there are two main types to choose from: mat Pilates and Reformer Pilates. Which one is best for a bodybuilder or weight lifter to do? 

While Mat Pilates focuses on creating durability and some strength, it is Reformer Pilates that is best suited to weight lifters and bodybuilders. This is because Reformer Pilates uses weight training and also acts as a great form of highly effective resistance training. And in basic terms, that means bigger, stronger, better muscle development.

What is Reformer Pilates?

Hang on…what on earth is Reformer Pilates? 

Reformer Pilates is a type of Pilates that is done using a specialized machine. The machine was created by the Pilates inventor, Joseph Pilates. In the beginning, Joseph made make-shift “Reformer” set ups for his first trainees, who happened to be injured soldiers recovering from WWI. 

The Reformer machine is now the best known and most used piece of Pilates equipment. It was developed in the 1920s (although primitive then in comparison to the Reformer we know today) and was first called the Universal Reformer. This machine came before all other types of Pilates equipment, including the Cadillac, Wunda Chair, and Ladder Barrel. 

The Pilates Reformer machine provides a somewhat intense workout. To truly know how intense that workout can be, you really need to try out a Reformer Pilates session for yourself. Particular muscle groups are targeted, while resistance is created by the machine’s strings, the user’s body weight, and overall leverage.

 Using the Reformer machine to carry out Pilates exercise techniques is great for building strength, developing defined abdominal muscles, improving flexibility, enhancing balance and coordination, strengthening the back muscles, toning the buttocks, and firming the thighs. In short, the Reformer machine targets the Powerhouse Muscles and gives your bodybuilding or weight lifting workout that added oomph. If you feel that your workout results have plateaued, perhaps it’s time to take it up a notch with Reformer Pilates.

Why Pilates is Recommended for Bodybuilders

You might be wondering why on earth I am saying that Pilates is an exercise system that can be beneficial to bodybuilders and weight lifters. The reality is that it is! Your major muscle groups are getting a good workout at the gym and you are seeing muscle grow and form – there is no denying it, but what is missing? Well, there’s a little thing called flexibility that a lot of bodybuilders struggle with. 

As your muscles grow and your workouts intensify, you might find that you become stiff, your range of motion becomes less, and you get a general sense of tiredness of the muscles. This can put your workout on the back foot or delay you from reaching your weight lifting or bodybuilding objectives. 

This is where Pilates really shines as a great in-between workout. Because it offers such a precise focus on particular muscle groups, it is able to ensure that every muscle in the body is worked, strengthened, toned, and shaped. Any muscles that you neglect to workout at the gym while lifting weights will, therefore, get the workout they need via Pilates workouts. And of course, you don’t want just some of your muscles growing, popping, and bulging, do you? You want all of them performing to the very best of their ability.

Also, Pilates aims to create greater flexibility in muscles while strengthening them too. This means that you can lift more and stretch more without fear of injury. As Pilates was first designed as a rehabilitation practice, it is also ideal for ensuring that muscles repair and recover quicker between workouts. If you are injured, specific Pilates exercises can be used to strengthen the injured area and spur on quicker, more reliable recovery.

People who are new to the world of Pilates will be able to see a difference in their muscle size and tone, however, as they progress, they will need to add weights to the workout for muscle growth and strengthening to continue. Pilates is aimed at developing long and lean muscles, and this type of development, in conjunction with your regular weight lifting or bodybuilding, will create a stronger inner and outer frame, making your results even more noticeable. 

Is Pilates a Good Overall Workout?

It is an undeniable fact that Pilates is a good workout. However, one should not rely on Pilates for their entire physical exercise needs. For instance, Pilates is good for developing long, lean, strong muscles, but it is not enough to be considered a good cardiovascular exercise. It is a good idea to add some form of aerobic exercise to your workout regime to complement your Pilates workouts. Below are a few of the benefits of Pilates as a workout.

  • Increased flexibility
  • Improved posture
  • Increased lung capacity
  • Improved muscle strength
  • Balanced muscular strength (both sides of the body)
  • Stabilization of the spine
  • Stress relief
  • Toning and strengthening of abs, hips, buttocks, and lower back muscles.

Will Pilates Boost Your Muscle Building Workouts?

Whether you are a serious bodybuilder or just someone who wants to add a bit of bulk and tone muscles, Pilates is a great choice. While Pilates will not pack on the muscles, it will ensure that you are getting a full-body workout and that your muscles are in peak physical condition. If you are looking for a Pilates workout to complement your current weight lifting regime, I strongly recommend checking out a Pilates Reformer class. Good luck!

This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who share their experiences and knowledge about the "Seven F's of Life".

JC Franco

JC Franco is a New York-based editor for Lifevif. He mainly focuses on content about faith, spirituality, personal growth, finance, and sports. He graduated from Mercyhurst University with a Bachelor’s degree in Business, majoring in Marketing. He is a certified tennis instructor who teaches in the New York City Metropolitan area. In terms of finance, he has passed the Level I exam of the CFA program.