How to Use Pilates in Cross Training

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If you do Pilates and add other forms of exercise into your weekly routine, you are cross training. There are some good reasons to do this. Here are a few:

  • Pilates exercises are oriented toward functional fitness, meaning that Pilates teaches you to move better, in general, thereby enhancing performance and reducing risk of injury in other activities.
  • Cross training that combines strength training with cardio is said to be the best way to get in tip top shape and is recommended by the American Council on Exercise.
  • Cross training adds sustaining variety to a workout routine.

Strength and Flexibility in Cross Training

In the simplest of equations, Pilates is the moderate strength training aspect of a cross training program. Pilates has so many more benefits, it's hard to leave it at that. But for now, let's look at Pilates as strength training and how that supports increased flexibility. Strength and flexibility are of special interest 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, giving us healthy posture and freeing the joints to allow a natural flexibility of the limbs. This kind of strength and flexibility training translate well into all kinds cross training activities.

Pilates mat work is a full-body workout and wonderful for developing core strength. However, if you are going to depend on Pilates exclusively for your strength training, you will probably want 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.

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, you might consider mixing in more traditional weight training. Pilates will help you do weight training with better alignment, greater range of motion, and integrative focus.

"By adding Pilates to your cross-training, you'll find that monster stems, killer high steps, and sketchy rock-over moves get easier. By practicing Pilates, 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, you'll climb them in better style," says Eric Horst, expert rock climber.

Cardio and Pilates Cross Training

As you see in the quote above, Pilates cross trains well with anything. Pilates and yoga are a popular combination. But because of the extra health benefits of cardio training such as strengthening heart and lungs, stress reduction, and increased energy levels, you might want to think about cross training Pilates with some of the top cardio exercises like walking and running. Interval training is also becoming a popular cardio option. This would be especially true if you are interested in weight loss. Strength training combined with cardio and good dietary choices is the best formula for weight loss—though Pilates helps weight loss with or without cardio.

How to Schedule Cross Training

Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services suggest that adults do moderate (Pilates) or high-intensity muscle strengthening at least two days a week. The guidelines also suggest a minimum of 2 hrs and 30 minutes a week of aerobic activity (cardio) in episodes of at least 10 minutes each, spread throughout the week. These are minimums. You can work up to more. To get the full benefits of Pilates, you should probably do it at least 3 times a week.

Cross training is really just combining exercise types. In that light, doing things, like yoga and Pilates on the same day, for example, could be fine. On the other hand, 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.

People often underestimate the exertion level of Pilates. I have had numerous emails confirming that people find it too much to do a full Pilates class and cardio on the same day. So as you begin cross training, stick with alternate days or do a very light Pilates workout on a cardio day.

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