What Is The Difference Between Pilates And Gym? - Complete Pilates (2023)

Is Pilates better than the gym?

What is the difference between Pilates and gym?

We get asked these questions a lot here at Complete Pilates, the main thing to emphasise is that any form of exercise is good, be it working out in the gym or doing Pilates. Variety of exercise is key to help build a functional healthy body and avoid injury.

In this article we will be discussing:

  • How can Pilates complement your gym regime?
  • The benefits of Pilates for gym goers
  • 4 Pilates exercises to support gym training

How Can Pilates Complement Your Gym Regime

Pilates vs Gym

The main difference between Pilates and strength or weight training in the gym is that Pilates exercises focus on your stability system, the mechanics of your movements, building your postural awareness and mobility. It is also low impact and using the springs can make it low load which means you can break down movements to ensure you are moving well.

Meanwhile, strength and weight training hits your global muscles and allows you to build power. This is done by building strength (hypertrophy) and moving with speed.

It is common when people are lifting weights that they go too heavy. This means that you use momentum to lift the weights and your form fails quickly. Because of this, people often use different muscles in their body and overload other areas. It is also really common that people do not understand the technique that they should be using and instead learn from social media or watching other people.

This is where Pilates can help to complement strength and weight training.

Pilates includes a mixture of mobility and stability work which means you use all the little muscles that hold you together. Because the movements tend to be slower, Pilates teaches you how to control your whole body rather than just allowing you to use your power. This slow movement allows you to build more body awareness. As a result, you understand the movements and can take this into the gym to help improve your form and consequently strength!

Technique is often the greatest challenge for those who do lots of gym strengthening work. This leads to bracing and holding your breath when you move, or working at a rate which does not allow correct form to be practised. All these things are likely to eventually lead to an injury.

What Are The Benefits Of Pilates For Strength And Weight Training?

Strength and weight training is any type of exercise that involves your own body weight or equipment to build muscle mass, endurance and strength.

According to the NHS, healthy adults should make time for two strength sessions a week. During these sessions, all the major muscle groups need to be worked on.

However, some people are often put off by strength and weight training as they often associate it with body builders or are afraid of becoming ‘bulky’ which is a misconception. This type of exercise is great for all ages and fitness levels and is a fantastic way to improve your overall health and fitness.

From strengthening your bones to preventing injury and making your heart healthier. It can also benefit people with chronic health conditions, like obesity, arthritisor osteoporosis.

Benefits Of Pilates For Strength And Weight Training

There’s no doubt that your major muscle groups are getting a good workout at the gym, but in order to help improve flexibility and balance, avoid injury and recover faster, Pilates can help.

1. Core Activation

One of the six guiding principlesof Pilates is learning to connect to your ‘centre’ and consciously work your stabiliser or ‘core’muscles (back, sides, abs, diaphragm and pelvic floor) while moving. The more you use your core and understand it, the more this will become an unconscious habit in your movement, and you’ll become better at stabilising yourself when you are in the gym and lifting heavy weights (as well as running, walking or doing day-to-day activities). This will help to avoid overextending yourself and importantly, avoid injury.

2. Whole Body Movement

Generally, whilst at the gym, most people would concentrate on legs and glutes one day and arms, back and shoulders on another. Pilates is a more integrated approach where we try to encourage whole-body movement. Within equipment Pilates, the springs allow you to break down movements and make your muscles work eccentrically. This means that they lengthen as they are contracting. As we are breaking down the movements this ensures you have good form. Because of this, Pilates works your smaller muscles which often don’t get a lot of attention. This is why people talk about the ‘deep burn’ in Pilates. Strengthenng your stability muscles ensures they work more efficiently, helping with your endurance so improving your form for longer in the gym.

3. Flexibility

It’s common for people who lift heavy weights or do lots of strength and weight training to not do as much mobility or stability work. Incorporating Pilates help you keep, and improve your flexibility and helps make your muscles work through their full range of movement. This helps you to recover and can help reduce feelings of tightness. This recovery also reduces your likelihood of injury. If you workout a lot, you know that active recovery is key. Pilates is definitely included in this! If you are injured but still able to train, or have had injuries in the past, specific Pilates exercises can be used to activate the stabilisers around your joints to help to protect you as you lift.

4. Improves balance around your muscles

Pilates is famous for improving your postureand working all those small stability muscles which help your balanceand in turn, will help you to engage your core and lift correctly and safely. Props like the small ball, foam roller and Pilates equipmentlike the Reformer are also great ways to train the balance of the body. This complements your gym routine where you can then focus on buildingstrength. It also allows you to know where you are in space so will help you to pick up and put your weights down better.

5. Kinder to the joints

Weightlifting, strength training and cardiovascular exercises in the gym can have an impact on the joints. Pilates is great as it is non-impact so does not stress your joints. This is great if you have arthritis or do a lot of impact training as it gives you that variety without doing even more impact work!

6. Breathing

One of the key elements of Pilates is breathing. A lot of people brace through exercises. We know that this is needed sometimes, but generally only when you are lifting so heavy that you are aiming for your 1-3 rep max! The aim in Pilates is to make sure that breathing becomes unconscious and you use it to enhance your movement rather than hinder it. Breathing is the link between your conscious and unconscious self. This means that when you train your breath, you develop better body awareness and desensitise painful areas. In addition, it helps improve your mind-body connection, therefore improving your concentration, reducing your stress and anxiety.

7. All you need is yourself

One of the best things about Pilates is that although you can use the equipment, you also can do it on a mat without any equipment. It can also be done anywhere, at any time. This means that it is easy to add into a warmup and cool down and make sure that your body is working for you!

Pilates Exercises To Support Gym Training

Below are 4 Pilates exercises which we do in the studio to help support your gym training.

Single leg footwork on the reformer

This is a brilliant exercise as it helps you with your hip hinge which will help you improve your deadlift! A deadlift is an amazing exercise as it is a compound movement which means you strengthen your whole body. It is a great exercise to learn if you have back pain as well as you will strengthen your back! Remember, you do not have to have really heavy weight!

  • Lie on your back with the foot straps around the balls of your feet. Ideally, we want to have them here so that we make the foot work rather than just compress the arch of the foot.
  • Start in a small and comfortable range with your hands on your pelvis until you understand how you are moving.
  • As you inhale, allow the legs to float up towards a hamstring stretch.
  • As you exhale, send the back of your thighs towards the floor to take your legs down
  • Keep repeating this movement


  • Try to maintain the 3 heavy spots in your back again so that you keep a neutral spine.
  • Your hamstrings attach onto your sit bones so the tendency is to tuck under as you come up into a hamstring stretch. Try to open and widen your sit bones here, releasing your back passage and letting your tailbone stay heavy. This means you will get a more specific stretch and work in your true range.
  • Allow your knees to stay a little soft, particularly when you are pressing down out of your stretch. This will make sure that you load your hamstrings and back of your body more.
  • Let your hands stay on the front of your hips so that you can feel the softness there as you are coming into your hamstring stretch. Take this movement slowly so that you control the springs and your range!

Thigh stretch on the trapeze table

This is a great exercise to strengthen the whole of your body and challenge your quads. It will help with exercises such as lunges, bulgarian split squats or reverse nordics!

  • Hold onto the dowel using 2 short yellow springs. Take yourself backwards until your arms are outstretched in front of you with no tension on the springs.
  • Press down into your shins and feet to feel your pelvis move forwards and at the same time, gently press down into the dowel. This will activate your core and help you with the stability in your movement.
  • Keeping this shape, hinge back from your knees.
  • Continue to press down into the dowel and press into your shins to return to upright.
  • Keep repeating this movement 8-12 times.


  • The press of the bar should help you activate your abdominals. If you also try to snap it or pull it apart you will also feel your lats, or armpit muscles kick in. This will help you maintain shoulder stability.
  • Try to keep your chin parallel to the floor to protect your neck and prevent any discomfort.
  • Use your feet to help you return! This will help you open the front of your ankles and therefore open the front of your hips!

Swimming on the mat

This is a great exercise for helping both your mobility, challenging your breathing, and activating all the muscles in the back of your body! It will help you with anything where you are trying to take your arms overhead, such as things like overhead press, pull ups and lat pull downs.

  • Start lying on your stomach with your arms as wide as the mat. This should allow your shoulders to settle a little.
  • Press your pubic bone into the floor and reach the legs away so that they are really straight.
  • As you inhale, keep reaching both the arms and legs away from each other so that you come into extension.
  • Keep breathing regularly and allow your arms and legs to paddle in the joints.
  • Try to keep doing this for up to 45 seconds before coming back down to the floor.


  • Keep reaching your arms and legs to the opposite sides of the room rather than just up. This will give you the up but mean that you don’t simply load one area of your back…your lower back!
  • Try to keep breathing into your stomach as you move. You will feel your inhale brings you up a little more into extension and the exhale drops you a little. This is great as it is full body movement and shows you how your breath can help you
  • imagine you are moving in your joints. This will mean that you have a little rotation as well. We aren’t trying to keep the body completely still so allow this to happen.
  • If you feel really crushed in your shoulder and neck, take your arms a little wider and keep letting your shoulder blades do the movement.
  • Try a prone press or dartif you are struggling to understand this exercise!

How Can Pilates And The Gym Compliment Each Other

If you haven’t already guessed, we think Pilates and the gym work brilliantly together!

Pilates is great if you go to the gym to lift weights as it teaches you how to stabilise while you lift and get the most out of your workout. Most importantly, as your body awareness improves, it helps to avoid injury and recover faster.

Not only that, but Pilates can also help with day to day movements too – such as climbing the stairs or kneeling to pick up a child. Therefore, whilst working towards greater strength and power is great – it is also essential to train for functional movement too.

At Complete Pilates, we would advise you to always speak to your doctor, physiotherapist, or clinical Pilates instructor here at Complete Pilates if you are worried about working out in the gym or if you’re unsure how to perform a Pilates movement safely. Learn more about how Physio-led Pilatescan help in the gym.

Remember, the gym will not bulk you up and adding weight is great for our bodies. However, variety is key so why not add some weight training as well as stability.

Get in touch or contact us on 0203 764 5668 for further information and/or advice!


Education is key:

These blogs are designed to give information to everyone, however, it is important to remember that everyone is different! If you have not seen one of our therapists and have any questions about injuries, what you have read or whether this may be useful to you, please just ask.

At Complete Pilates we would advise you to always speak to your doctor, physiotherapist, or clinical Pilates instructor here at Complete Pilates if you are worried about starting a new exercise regime.

We are more than happy to help anyone and point you in the right direction. Our biggest belief is that education is key. The more you understand about your injury, illness and movement, the more you are likely to improve.

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