How to Use Pilates in Cross Training

woman exercising with dumbbells while sitting on fitness ball. Horizontal shot.

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If you do Pilates along with other forms of exercise as part of your regular routine, you are cross-training. Cross-training adds sustaining variety to exercise, meaning you're more likely to stick with all of your workouts because you won't get bored with them. The American Council on Exercise recommends cross-training that combines strength training with cardio for the most benefits.

Pilates exercises are oriented toward functional fitness and strength. That means Pilates teaches you to move better, in a way that enhances performance and reduces the risk of injury in other activities—both when you are exercising and when performing everyday tasks, like carrying kids or raking leaves.

Strength Benefits of Pilates

Pilates is the moderate strength training aspect of a cross-training program, and it also supports flexibility. Both strength and flexibility are valuable for cross-trainers.

The Pilates Method is founded on core strength. Pilates mat and equipment exercises strengthen not just the outer muscles of the center of the body but also the deep, inner stabilizing muscles of the pelvis, abdomen, and back—the core muscles. Core strength supports the back and neck, promoting healthy posture and freeing the joints to allow natural flexibility of the limbs. This kind of strength and flexibility training translates well into all kinds of other fitness activities.

Pilates mat work is a full-body workout and powerful for developing core strength. However, if you depend exclusively on Pilates for your strength training, you will need to add the resistance exercises done with large and small Pilates equipment. That will expand your options for developing strength in the limbs as well as the core, and provide the progressive resistance needed to build strength.

Many people value the long, lean-looking muscles that come from Pilates and are satisfied with the level of integrative, moderate strength training that Pilates provides. Pilates resistance training is enough to give you functional power, help build bone, and burn more calories because muscle is a calorie burner.

If you want even more strength and muscle, consider incorporating more traditional weight training. Pilates will help you weight train with better alignment, greater range of motion, and better focus.

"By adding Pilates to your cross-training, you'll improve the quality of your fitness, reduce your risk for overuse injuries and improve your climbing. Not only will you log more pitches in a single day, but you'll also climb them in better style," says Eric Horst, expert rock climber.

Cardio and Pilates Cross-Training

Because of the health benefits of cardio training—such as strengthening the heart and lungs, reducing stress, and boosting energy levels—consider adding cardio exercises to your Pilates routine.

Interval training can be especially helpful if you are interested in weight loss. Strength training combined with cardio and a healthy diet is the best formula for weight loss, though Pilates helps weight loss with or without cardio.

Schedule Cross-Training Workouts

Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggest that adults do moderate or high-intensity muscle-strengthening exercise at least two days a week; Pilates would fall into the moderate category. The guidelines also suggest a minimum of two hours and 30 minutes a week of aerobic activity (cardio), in sessions of at least 10 consecutive minutes each. These are minimums. You can work up to more. To get the full benefits of Pilates, aim for three sessions a week.

Cardio and strength training are best done on different days. That way you won't be too tired to do one or the other, and your muscles get a chance to rest and repair—which is how you actually build strength and endurance. It is also a good idea to alternate the exercise intensity levels in your weekly routine. An every-other-day cardio then strength program with alternating heavy and light workouts is a good choice.

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