How to Use Pilates in Cross-Training

Woman on pilates reformer

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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 with Pilates offers a number of benefits, making it beneficial to many different athletes and exercisers who want to improve their fitness levels.

Benefits of Pilates in Cross Training

Cross-training, in general, adds variety to exercise—meaning that you're more likely to stick with your workouts because you won't get bored. But there are also a few benefits to cross-training with Pilates specifically.

Strength Benefits

The Pilates Method is founded on core strength. Pilates mat and equipment exercises strengthen not just the outer muscles of the midsection but also the deep, inner stabilizing muscles of the pelvis, abdomen, and back—known collectively as the core.

Core strength supports the back and neck, promoting healthy posture and freeing the joints to allow for natural flexibility of the limbs. Pilates resistance training can also increase core endurance. Increased endurance means that you can do more without becoming fatigued.

Flexibility Benefits

Pilates helps enhance flexibility or range of motion. Research has connected Pilates with improved flexibility in both the hip and shoulder joints, especially in older adults. Improved flexibility means easier movement in everyday activities, but also in sports.

For example, a 2021 study noted that inadequate shoulder flexibility in tennis players could increase their risk of developing problems in this joint. A 2020 study also found a connection between hip flexibility and sports skill level in elite male sport climbers.

"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.

Performance Benefits

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

Athletes engaging in Pilates may even experience performance-based benefits within their sport. Studies have noted that adding Pilates to an exercise routine can improve performance in athletes who play volleyball and basketball, runners, and more.

How to Create a Pilates Cross-Training Workout

An effective cross-training routine incorporates three types of exercise: cardio, muscle strength and endurance, and flexibility.

Cardio

Adding cardio exercises to your Pilates routine can strengthen the heart and lungs, reduce stress, and boost your energy levels. Combining Pilates and cardio also makes it easier to decrease your body fat and body weight while reducing the size of your waist and hips.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting a minimum of two hours and 30 minutes of aerobic activity (cardio) per week. These are minimums. You can work up to more.

How you get these 150 minutes is up to you. You could do five 30-minute cardio sessions per week, for instance, or you could do around 20 minutes of cardio every day.

Strength

The Department of Health also suggests that adults do moderate or high-intensity muscle-strengthening exercise at least two days a week. Pilates would fall into the moderate category. To get the full benefits of Pilates, aim for three sessions a week.

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, using Pilates equipment expands your exercise options while providing the progressive resistance needed to build strength.

Flexibility

While Department of Health recommendations don't address flexibility, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) suggests doing stretching and flexibility exercises at least two to three days per week, if not every day.

The ACSM adds that, for the best effect, a static stretch should be held between 10 seconds and 30 seconds. Though, older adults may benefit from holding stretches a bit longer, or between 30 seconds and 60 seconds.

Tips for Pilates Cross-Training Success

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's also a good idea to alternate exercise intensity levels in your weekly routine. An every-other-day cardio and strength program with alternating heavy and light workouts is a good choice.

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.

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