Can Pilates replace weights workouts for endurance athletes?

The majority of endurance athletes accept the idea that strength training is beneficial for their sport. While strength training alone will not replace running, cycling, or swimming, it can supplement your training in terms of injury prevention, correcting imbalances, and improving power for small bursts of speed on hills or at the end of a race. Equipment Pilates is undoubtedly a strength training programme. Depending on your height, the number and angle of springs will be set at a resistance to fit your needs. Initial tension is 5lbs for the first inch of tension per spring, and then increases by approximately 1lb per inch, and resistance can come up to be as much as 150 pounds (Multiplying the number of springs and distance travelled will give you the approximate tension in pounds).

Injury Prevention

Strength training helps with injury prevention by increasing the stability and integrity of a joint. Endurance races are often unpredictable and the forces transmitted through the joints are not always conducive to joint health. The improved musculature of strength-trained muscles surrounding a joint can improve stabilisation through faster activation and quicker response, and therefore improve control and minimise injuries when facing uneven ground.

By using springs for resistance in Pilates, there is greater resistance at the muscle’s strongest point of contraction and less resistance on the initiation and completion of the contraction so there is less stress on tendons and ligaments, while working the muscle.

Contrary to traditional weight training, Pilates has a strong emphasis for execution in proper form and is relatively low impact. Most Pilates exercises are also eccentric (lengthening of muscles against resistance) in nature, which is proven to be very useful in combating against the high-force eccentric contractions that have been associated with muscle damage and injury in sports.

Correction of Imbalances

The repetitive motion of running, cycling and swimming can amplify structural and/or muscular imbalances. Many athletes wonder how to adjust their running to correct these imbalances, but in most situations, they only continue to exacerbate the imbalance by repeating the same repetitive motion over and over again.

Strength training helps you to even out muscular imbalances by working on the weaker muscles in isolation. Improper and inefficient muscle activation patterns (i.e. the hamstrings firing before the glutes when running or cycling) can also be corrected with regular Pilates practice.

Improved strength

Endurance training and strength training target different muscle fibres. While endurance training develops stamina and promotes recovery, strength training develops power output during hard efforts such as overtaking and uphill climbs.

For increased strength, you will need to work your muscles to fatigue, with progressively heavier resistance over time. While Pilates is able to help with muscle tone and strength initially, traditional strength training might need to take over once you get stronger and exceed the tension that the spring resistance is able to provide.  However unless you are building strength for powerlifting, body building or Olympic lifting, it is rare that you will exceed the weights offered by Pilates. equipment.

Originally written for Second Wind Magazine

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