When you hear the term "weight training," you might immediately think of a gym packed to the hilt with a dizzying array of barbells, dumbbells, weight plates and complicated-looking machines. The good news is that weight training encompasses a variety of options and exercise regimens, including Pilates. In fact, working out on a Pilates machine can be just as effective at building muscle and sculpting a streamlined physique as doing traditional bench presses and biceps curls. Further, Pilates machines are convenient in that they are designed to target and tone the muscles of the entire body with one piece of equipment versus several.
Weight Training: What It Means
Weight training is all about building muscle. Muscles are nudged into a growth phase when they are exposed to an external "strain" -- for example, a biceps curl with a dumbbell will trigger a natural response in the muscle that produces new fibers. Weight training also improves bone density because it acts on the ligaments that attach muscle to bone. When the bone in question receives the signal that a ligament is being worked via its associated muscle, the bone contracts and expands, in the process laying down fresh bone matrix to keep the skeleton strong and flexible.
Pilates Machines for Weight Training
Pilates machines may seem overwhelming. Springs, pulleys, boards, platforms, bars and leg and feet handles -- all are par for the course with Pilates equipment. These components of the Pilates machine are designed to stress the muscles -- and in this sense, stress is a good thing. The muscles pull on their tendons and ligaments and prompt new muscle fibers to grow and encourage healthy bones. The springs on a Pilates machine, for example, can be adjusted to create more or less tension -- this is akin to adding weight plates to a barbell for a tougher workout. The beauty of the Pilates machine for weight training is that the attachments, especially the springs and the bars, can provide gentle assistance to help you move through each exercise with fluidity and control. This is an important point: Moving with control helps prevent injury and challenges the muscles to work even harder than they might when unnecessary and potentially damaging momentum comes into play.
Some Exercises to Try
The Pilates machine offers infinite variations on a full-body workout, whether the equipment you use is at a studio or designed for the home gym. The kneeling biceps exercise is great for the arms, chest and upper back muscles; the rowing back move strengthens the upper and lower back and the legs; scooter encourages healthy lumbar flexion and blasts the abdominals; and down stretch works the arms, abs and the upper back.
Working out is a positive lifestyle choice, but before you begin talk to your doctor to get the go-ahead. If during exercise you experience pain, unusual tension, strain or dizziness, stop immediately and call your health care provider for an opinion on how to continue. Start slowly and pay attention to the cues your body provides -- it will tell you exactly what it needs; all you have to do is listen.
- Anatomy of the Moving Body; Theodore Dimon, Jr.
- Anatomy of Movement; Blandine Calais-Germain
- Dynamic Movement Through Imagery; Eric Franklin
- Pilates; Rael Isacowitz
Michelle Kodis has been a writer and editor for more than two decades. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University, is the author of nine books and has contributed articles to various magazines, newspapers and blogs. She is also a certified Pilates instructor and studies canine therapeutic massage/acupressure.