Does Pilates build muscles

Does Pilates build muscles?

Discover how this Pilates practice can enhance muscle building and improve overall physical strength.

One of the most frequently asked questions about Pilates is ‘Can Pilates build muscle?’

While a Pilates class might not be the fist thing that comes to might when you think of muscle development compared to heavy weight lifting, it can play a significant role in shaping your muscles.

Through a series of focused movements and resistance training, a typical Pilates workout will target muscles throughout the entire body to build muscle mass. So, while you may not see drastic increases in muscle size, you’ll likely notice an increase in strength as a result of a consistent practice.

In this post, we’ll compare Pilates with other forms of exercise, explore the benefits and limitations of Pilates for building muscle mass, and provide practical tips to maximize your strength straining through a Pilates practice.

What are Pilates workouts?

First, let’s dive into the type of workout you can expect from a Pilates class.

Developed by Joseph Pilates, the workouts are low-impact and aim to strengthen muscles while improving posture, core stability, and flexibility. The exercises focus on controlled movements, primarily targeting the core muscles, or specific muscle groups simultaneously to create strength throughout the body.

In Pilates classes, concentration and focus are key as you move your body through a range of motion. Each exercise requires alignment, control, and body awareness to do them efficiently. Movements can be performed on a mat, using your own body weight, or on Pilates equipment like in Reformer Pilates classes. They can also be modified for all fitness levels, making Pilates accessible to everyone.

Understanding the role of Pilates in muscle development

Muscle development is an essential aspect of fitness for many individuals, and understanding the role that Pilates plays in this process is crucial.

Muscle development and balance

Exercises found in Pilates build muscle by targeting the deep muscles that are often overlooked in traditional workouts. The exercises also strengthen postural muscles for improved posture and balance, which leads to muscle development by ensuring all muscles work in harmony.

This holistic approach ensures a balanced body and well-rounded muscle development.

Muscle endurance

Pilates exercises often involve slow, sustained movements, which put your muscles under continuous tension and help to build endurance.

This process primarily engages your slow-twitch, Type I, muscle fibers, which are designed for long-lasting activities. On the other hand, fast-twitch, or Type II, muscle fibers are used for quick, high-intensity actions.

While Pilates mainly works on the slow-twitch fibers, it’s this balance between the two types that helps to improve overall muscle performance.

Core strength

Strong core muscles are fundamental to overall muscle development. Pilates places a significant emphasis on stable core engagement and strengthening weak core muscles throughout its exercises, targeting the deep abdominal muscles, internal and external obliques, back muscles, and pelvic floor.

By strengthening these core muscles, Pilates provides a solid foundation for stability and strength in the body.

Muscle activation and the mind-body connection

Muscles are activated simultaneously throughout the body, promoting balanced muscle development. The focus on proper alignment and form ensures that the intended muscles are being engaged, leading to effective muscle activation and development.

At the same time, Pilates promotes a mind-body connection, requiring concentration and focus on the muscles in use. This not only aids in muscle development but also boosts mental awareness and mindfulness of your body’s movements.

The result is an improved understanding and control of your body that can benefit you in all aspects of life, including other physical activities.

Functional strength

Movements found in a Pilates class often mimic movements that are commonly performed in daily life or sports activities. This emphasis on functional strength helps to improve overall muscular performance, making everyday activities easier and enhancing athletic performance.

It is important to note that the effectiveness of Pilates in muscle development can vary depending on factors such as the intensity of the workout, the individual’s fitness level, and their specific goals.

For individuals seeking significant muscle gains or increased muscle size, incorporating additional strength training exercises alongside Pilates may be necessary.

Pilates equipment and its impact on muscle building

Mat Pilates workouts that focus primarily on body weight for resistance can lead to increased muscular endurance and the development of lean muscle mass. However, if you’re looking to add muscle mass, you should consider the impact of equipment in your Pilates sessions.

In Mat Pilates this may be small equipment pieces that add an element of weight training to your movements, such as free weights or a weighted ball.

However, specialized Pilates equipment, such as the Pilates Reformer, Cadillac, and chair, can have a significant impact on your muscle building goals with the considerable resistance and variety they provide.

These specialized pieces of equipment offer a unique challenge to stability, strength, and coordination, promoting overall muscle development and improving body alignment. Incorporating Pilates equipment into your practice can add depth and intensity to your workouts, contributing to your muscle-building goals.

Comparing Pilates and other strength training workouts

When it comes to adding muscle, it’s natural to compare Pilates with other strength training workouts to determine their effectiveness and suitability for individual goals. Let’s explore how Pilates stacks up against some common strength training methods:

Weight lifting/Weight training

Known for promoting muscle hypertrophy (increase in muscle size) and strength, weight training and resistance training place a greater emphasis on isolating and overloading individual muscles to promote muscle growth.

However, Pilates offers a more holistic approach, targeting multiple muscle groups simultaneously while also focusing on core strength, flexibility, and body alignment.

Bodyweight training

Bodyweight exercises, such as push-ups, squats, and lunges, use the resistance of one’s own body to build muscle strength. Like Pilates, bodyweight training engages multiple muscle groups, especially the core, while also promoting functional strength and flexibility.

However, these exercises alone may not provide as much resistance as external resistance, making it necessary to incorporate variations and progressions to continue challenging the muscles.


While both Pilates and Yoga are both mind-body practices, Yoga emphasizes flexibility, balance, and mindfulness, whereas Pilates focuses on strength, stability, and core engagement. While both forms of exercise contribute to overall body conditioning, Pilates offers a more targeted approach to developing muscle strength.


This high-intensity fitness routine combines elements of lifting weights and cardio to build muscles, develop endurance, and increase physical performance. However, it’s important to consider that the high-intensity nature of the movements will be harder on the joints than those found in low-impact workouts like Pilates.

Functional training

Functional training improves strength, stability, and mobility for everyday movements. It includes exercises that mimic real-life movements, such as pushing and pulling. Pilates can enhance functional strength and muscle coordination, making it an excellent complement to functional training workouts.

Cardiovascular training

Though not a form of strength training, many turn to cardio workouts to compliment their muscle-building routine to burn calories or burn fat for a toned appearance. However, it’s important to note that fats are essential to muscle growth.

As a compliment to other training types, Pilates can help to build lean mass with controlled movements that are more gentle on the body and joints, without sacrificing muscle development.

When compared to other workout types, Pilates provides a unique approach to strength training, making it a wonderful complement to your exercise routine or a strong standalone practice.

Benefits and limitations of Pilates for strength training

You’ll find many benefits to building muscle through your Pilates sessions, but there are also limitations to consider when creating a fitness routine centered around muscle development. Let’s explore both sides to get a comprehensive understanding:

Benefits of Pilates to build muscle mass:

  1. Improved muscle control: The focus of control on movements targets and stimulates muscle fibers, leading to their growth and strengthening. This muscle control aids in day-to-day activities and contributes to better performance in physical activities, which can further accelerate muscle development.
  2. Full-body workout: Pilates targets multiple muscle groups simultaneously, providing a comprehensive full-body workout. This helps to promote balanced muscle development and overall strength.
  3. Core strength and stability: A strong core is essential for overall muscle development and provides a solid foundation for other exercises.
  4. Increased flexibility: Not only does Pilates build muscle, but it incorporates stretching and lengthening exercises, which improve flexibility and range of motion. This increased flexibility can enhance muscle performance and prevent injuries.
  5. Improved posture and alignment: Pilates focuses on proper body alignment to improve posture. Correct alignment not only enhances the appearance of muscles but also improves muscle function and reduces the risk of imbalances or injuries.
  6. Low-impact and joint-friendly: Pilates is a low-impact exercise method that is gentle on the joints. This makes it suitable for individuals with joint issues or those who prefer a lower-impact workout while still promoting muscle development.
  7. Mind-body connection: Pilates emphasizes mindful movement and deep breathing to focus on muscle activation, control, and overall effectiveness of the exercises.

Limitations of Pilates to build muscle mass:

  1. Limited muscle hypertrophy: Pilates may not be the most effective method for significant muscle hypertrophy or size gains. The resistance provided by bodyweight and Pilates equipment may not be sufficient for individuals seeking substantial muscle growth.
  2. Progressive resistance challenges: While movements can be modified and progressed, it may be challenging to continually increase the resistance needed for ongoing muscle development. This can limit the potential for continuous strength gains over time.
  3. Individual differences: The effectiveness of Pilates for building muscle varies depending on individual factors such as fitness level, genetics, and specific goals. Some individuals may experience more noticeable muscle gains than others.
  4. Complementary training needed: To maximize strength training, those seeking significant muscle gains may need to supplement their Pilates practice with additional strength training exercises, such as weight training or resistance training.
  5. Specificity of training: While beneficial for overall muscle development, Pilates may not target specific muscles as effectively as isolation exercises in traditional strength training workouts. Individuals with specific muscle development goals may need to incorporate targeted exercises alongside Pilates.

Tips to build muscle with Pilates exercises

By incorporating these strategies, you can make the most out of your workouts and enhance your muscle development. Consider the following tips:

  1. Focus on form and technique: Pay close attention to your form and technique during each Pilates exercise. Proper alignment and engagement of the target muscles are essential for effective muscle activation and development.
  2. Gradually increase intensity and resistance: As you become more comfortable with Pilates exercises, gradually increase the intensity and resistance. You can add challenging variations, use heavier springs, or progress to more advanced exercises. Progressive overload is key for muscle growth.
  3. Introduce equipment: Incorporate Pilates equipment such as free weights, weighted balls, or Reformer machines to add extra resistance and challenge to your workouts. This can help to target specific muscles and provide additional resistance to build muscle.
  4. Include compound movements: Incorporate compound movements that engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Exercises like the Pilates Hundred, Teaser, or Plank variations are examples of compound movements that work the core, upper body, and lower body simultaneously, promoting overall muscle development.
  5. Vary your Pilates routine: Keep your routine diverse and varied by incorporating new exercises, equipment, and workout formats. This helps to work different parts of the body, prevents plateaus, and maintains muscle stimulation for continued growth.
  6. Combine Pilates with other types of strength training: To optimize muscle mass, consider combining your Pilates practice with other forms of strength training, such as weightlifting or resistance training. This can provide additional resistance and variety to your workouts, targeting muscles in different ways for comprehensive muscle development.
  7. Ensure adequate rest and recovery: Muscle development occurs during periods of rest and recovery. Allow your muscles sufficient time to recover between workouts to avoid overtraining and promote optimal muscle growth. Aim for at least one or two days of rest per week.
  8. Maintain a balanced diet: Proper nutrition plays a vital role in muscle development. Ensure you are consuming enough protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats to support muscle growth and the repair of muscle fibers.

Stepping into the Pilates world can be a transformative journey for muscle development. While it may not provide rapid muscle gains, Pilates offers a more balanced and holistic approach to strength building.

Remember that consistency is key when it comes to any fitness goals. Regular, dedicated practice combined with proper form, progressive overload, and a balanced approach will yield the best results.

Listen to your body, make adjustments as needed, and enjoy the journey of building strength and muscle through your Pilates practice. It’s not just about gaining muscle mass. It’s about building a stronger, more balanced body and mind.

Julia Oravisto

Julia Oravisto has been dedicated to the practice and teaching of Pilates for over ten years, founding BAY STUDIOS in Helsinki, Finland. The studio, along with its online classes, now serves participants in more than 35 countries.

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