08 Oct Pilates Equipment vs. Gym Equipment
Is there a game-changing difference between Pilates and gym equipment? Answer: Hell yes!
We begin with a story. A Pilates professional gets back from a fitness conference and shares his observations with a colleague. He says he saw many ex-weight lifters walking around looking terrible. “Their muscles had deflated and turned to flab,” he says. “Many were overweight!”
This story has been shared by many a Pilates practitioner who witnesses the trouble with weight lifting with their own eyes. You build up bulk in your muscles that must be maintained with constant training; the moment you stop lifting weights, the muscles lose their tone. The skin expands to hold the bigger mass but sags as the muscles shrink.
Pilates vs. Weight Training
Why are Pilates followers spared from this? It’s because they build muscle tone with spring resistance – their muscles don’t bulk up, but become longer and more toned without increasing excessively in size. Think definition without bulk, as your muscles learn to work more efficiently through graceful movements.
With Pilates training, one does not have to constantly train to keep the tone, and if you do completely stop training for a long time, your body will not go through such drastic changes as those who discontinue weight lifting.
So what is the main difference between Pilates and weight training? Pilates exercises are complete movements that require many muscles to work at the same time. Meanwhile, weight training using gym equipment works muscles in isolation.
Synergy vs. Isolation
Let’s take high-level athletes as an example: their day-to-day movements utilize many muscles at once. As in normal daily movements, in Pilates you don’t isolate one muscle but are always working several together in synergy.
Think simple movements like climbing the stairs or kneeling to pick up a child – these types of actions create a coordination that, as opposed to hardcore gym training, don’t lead to one muscle becoming “overdeveloped”.
Weight lifting results in one big muscle (typically “global muscle, or superficial muscle”) that has been worked in isolation and is just sitting there on your body – a big mass that you don’t have any real use for. You have to carry around this extra mass, although it’s not really helping you function in your daily life. Carrying around that extra muscle is actually an inefficient use of your body’s resources!
Pilates Equipment: Beyond the mat
So you’ve been diligently doing Pilates mat work and it’s hard enough as it is… why would anyone need special equipment beyond the mat?! Let us break down how the equipment adds a whole other dimension to Pilates work…
Legend has it that Joseph Pilates invented his equipment to replace himself as a spotter for his clients and patients. The guy got tired of pulling people up when they were, say, unable to do a sit-up by themselves. Hence, he invented the roll-back bar for the Pilates Cadillac. This consists of a wooden dowel with two strong springs attached to it; the dowel is fastened to the metal bars of the Cadillac (or now, Tower Mat Wall Unit) and assists you to easily roll up and down.
Suppose that you can’t do a Roll Up by yourself – the roll-back bar can assist you with it and make it possible to complete a movement that you otherwise would not be able to pull off. Additionally, the springs’ assistance allows you to complete the movement smoothly with control and articulation.
In effect, the springs act as abdominal muscles you don’t yet have. As you get stronger, the spring resistance can be lessened so that your abs can slowly do more of the work until you can do the entire movement by yourself.
That’s just one example of Pilates equipment helping with the basic movements and assisting your progression. Gym equipment doesn’t “spot you” in the same way, or gradually support you throughout your fitness or rehab journey.
As well, Pilates equipment helps to strengthen the limbs. Whereas mat work focuses mainly on core strength (abs, glutes and back), equipment combines core training with strength training for the legs, hips, arms, shoulders and inner thighs.
Definition without bulk
Pilates machines give you full-body resistance training, much like a weight-lifting routine, but without bulking you up. We have the springs to thank for that; their resistance increases along a continuum – as a spring stretches, it becomes more and more taut. The muscle challenging the spring is doing so along this continuum.
When you first pull on a spring, it may have 5 lbs of resistance, but once you’ve stretched it all the way out, it may have double that. The muscle working to pull that is inevitably affected by this change: working the muscles along this continuum builds long, strong and supple muscles. Working out with free weights or doing impact sports, on the other hand, creates bigger, bulkier and tighter muscles.
Consistent control vs. Quick release
When doing Pilates exercise against spring resistance, you have to work to bring it back to its original length slowly and carefully – with control. When working with Pilates equipment, you must always control the movement on the return portion of an exercise. When you train your body to control the movement that extends and contracts the spring, you train your body to have greater balance and control in general.
This is different from training with gym equipment, where you’re putting more effort in the beginning of the movement, leading up to a quick release. Controlling both directions of a movement challenges the muscles as they’re shortening (when you make the initial push against the spring) and while they’re lengthening – which builds long and lean musculature!
Did we answer all your questions about the difference between Pilates and Gym Equipment? Want to learn more about Pilates equipment? Read The Importance Of the Pilates Mat, How The Pilates Tower Works, The Wonderful Wunda Chair!, What IS The Pilates Reformer?, or Why THIS Hammock Is Best.