Is Pilates Cardio Or Strength Training?

When most of us think of Pilates, we think of exercise flows designed to tone and strengthen the muscles. However, Pilates goes beyond simply toning your body – it targets flexibility, postural alignment, and body awareness as well. And, if you move at a rapid clip through your Pilates flows, you might even notice your heart rate climbs into the cardio zone. 

So, is Pilates considered cardio or strength? 

What Is Pilates?

Pilates is a form of exercise that targets various aspects of your body, including strength, flexibility, and body awareness via controlled flows. It requires participants to focus on precise moves and calculated breathing techniques.

While participants move through Pilates at a decent pace, it’s a form of low-impact exercise. If you don’t appreciate specific, repetitive, structured programs, you might not enjoy Pilates as your exercise routine.

Pilates is a convenient way for people to exercise in the comfort of their own homes without fancy equipment. In some gyms, you can take advantage of special machines for Pilates, known as Reformers. While you can get a modified version for your home gym, you don’t necessarily need it. You can get by with a yoga mat and a Pilates routine on YouTube or from specific trainers.

You can also participate in private classes at the gym if you’re just starting out, as teaching yourself Pilates can be an intimidating prospect.  

What Type Of Exercise Is Pilates?

Pilates is a form of resistance training, which is a type of strength training. In Pilates, you focus on weight-bearing and resistance-training activities, forcing your body to develop strength and endurance to sustain movement through the training session. 

Of course, it’s possible to get your heart rate into the cardio zone while doing Pilates. However, while most cardio-related exercises (such as running, biking, or skipping rope) are high impact, practicing Pilates at a cardio pace acts as a high-intensity, low-impact session. 

Pilates helps increase muscle tissue, slowly changing your body composition throughout your body, and directly impacts your calorie burn, helping you burn calories long after you finish the session. Of course, your basal metabolic rate (BMR) translates to calorie burn even if you’re just sitting on the couch (yes, doing absolutely nothing), but Pilates can increase the number of calories you burn following the session. 

Since Pilates is a type of resistance and strength training, it’s highly beneficial for conditioning your heart and lungs. On top of that, regularly practicing Pilates can translate to weight loss in the long run. Of course, you might need to adjust other areas of your life (sleep, diet, stress, etc.), but exercise is a significant component of weight loss for many folks. 

Is Pilates Better Than Cardio?

Whether you incorporate various forms of exercise into your day via a cardio session (running, biking, etc.) or with Pilates, you’re taking a step in the right direction. Any exercise is good exercise, as staying active is great for our bodies. 

So, one isn’t necessarily better than the other. Each type of training has its place. Some folks might prefer Pilates, others swear by cardio, and another group might stick with weightlifting. It all comes down to personal preference and what works best for your body. 

That said, if you’re trying to lose weight, Pilates might not be as effective as other cardio exercises. Generally, most folks burn fewer calories in a traditional mat Pilates class than they do with other cardio exercise sessions. 

Again, you can absolutely practice Pilates at a cardio pace, but most of these classes don’t move this rapidly. Although you might not blaze through calories as quickly as you would doing cardio, Pilates is still beneficial for your health and can assist in healthy weight maintenance. 

Additionally, Pilates might be the better choice for some folks. For example, if you’re recovering from a hip or knee injury (or have chronic pain in these areas), Pilates might help alleviate this pain while still allowing you to stay active. Since it’s a low-impact form of exercise, it’s often used as a form of rehabilitation after injury. 

Of course, you should pay attention to your body and how it feels, and some moves might not be suitable for individuals dealing with chronic pain or recovering from injuries. This doesn’t mean you should avoid Pilates altogether, though, as a regular practice can help strengthen accessory muscles and slowly lead to improvement. 

Benefits Of Pilates 

With regular practice, Pilates can work wonders throughout your body. Not only does it improve your outward appearance, but it can also improve your internal health, including heart and lung health. Here are a few notable benefits of regularly practicing Pilates:

Improved Flexibility

Pilates challenges participants to improve their flexibility through strenuous poses targeting strength, endurance, and flexibility. Studies show that regularly practicing Pilates can improve cervical flexibility, trunk movement, hip mobility, and overall flexibility.  

Prevents Injuries

Since Pilates targets strength, flexibility, and endurance, it’s a great way to prevent injuries, especially for athletes, adults, and older individuals. It helps improve flexibility and mobility, reducing the chances of pulling a muscle or engaging incorrect muscles in daily movement that could result in an injury. 

Better Core Strength

Like yoga, many Pilates moves are core burners. Many of these poses force you to engage your core to support the movement, so, over time, you might notice increased core strength. Perhaps you notice certain core poses aren’t as tricky, or maybe you notice decreased girth measurements. 

Can Help Decrease Back Pains

Although there isn’t extensive research to support a clear connection between reduced back pain and Pilates, many participants reported improved symptoms with regular practice. Classes that focus on improving the flexibility and strength in the muscles that support the back can help ensure you maintain good posture and movement, translating to reduced back pain. 

Improves Balance

Many folks who regularly practice Pilates (3-4 times per week) have reported an improvement in overall balance. Specific Pilates exercises strengthen the muscles associated with balance, so in the long run, you might notice an improvement in your overall balance. You might notice that certain poses aren’t as tricky, or you may notice changes in your life outside of fitness that point to better balance due to regular practice.  

Benefits Of Cardio

Like Pilates, regularly incorporating cardio into your day can lead to benefits throughout your body and mind. A few notable benefits of regular cardio sessions include:

Lower Blood Pressure

Numerous studies show the connection between exercise and hypertension. With regular cardio sessions, many individuals with hypertension experience lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure. If left untreated, high blood pressure (hypertension) can lead to various health complications, including strokes, heart attacks, aneurysms, and heart failure. 

Improved Sleep

Adding exercise to your day, especially cardio, can help you sleep better. Several studies even display improved sleep quality in people with insomnia with consistent exercise. It makes sense – cardio is tiring, so you might find yourself more ready to climb in the sheets when bedtime rolls around. 

Supports Mental Health

Exercise releases endorphins (happy hormones) associated with improved mental health. Numerous studies show an improvement between individuals with anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders and regular exercise. 

Aside from this, the chunk of your day you spend exercising is often the perfect time to focus on yourself and how you can better yourself. For individuals with busy schedules or large families, taking this small amount of time to themselves each day can make a world of difference in feeling more balanced and happy. 

Contributes To Healthy Weight Management

Like nearly any other form of exercise, cardio is a great way to help you maintain a healthy weight. Of course, exercise alone might not get you to the physique you might want, as most folks need to make other changes in their lives (sleep, dietary changes, etc.). That said, exercise is a step in the right direction.