If you are only just embarking on your fitness journey, you may be faced with a choice of different exercises.

In this article, we aim to explore and compare the advantages and disadvantages of two popular forms of exercise: Pilates and weight training.

What is Pilates?

Pilates as an exercise focuses on the mind-body connection to improve strength, flexibility, and the body’s postural stabilisers. It is a very core-centric workout.

Pilates can be performed using a variety of positions or equipment to suit the needs of the user.

Traditional Pilates is a mat-based exercise that can also be adapted to be performed seated in a chair for those with mobility issues.

A popular alternative to traditional mat-based Pilates is Reformer Pilates. This variation uses a system of springs, handles and straps to help assist or resist the direction of movement, depending on the needs of the user.

What is Weight Training?

Weight training, also known as ‘strength training’ or ‘resistance training’ Is a systematic method of loading skeletal muscle tissues to improve muscle size, strength, power, or endurance.

Depending on where you look and who you follow, there is an ever-growing list of weight training categories and subcategories. Each with its own unique pros and cons, depending on your goals.

For simplicity, and in the context of rehabilitation, we will look at traditional versus functional strength training.

Regardless of the type of weight training you undertake, it is first important to understand the over-arching F.I.T.T principles. The F.I.T.T principles are broken down as:

F – Frequency (How often & How much you train)

I – Intensity (How hard you train)

T – Type (Which exercises you choose to perform)

T – Time (Time spent in one session)

The F.I.T.T principles are a fundamental pillar of weight training. They allow you to individualize your training programme to achieve your goals more efficiently and effectively, these being: size, strength, power, or endurance.

Bicep Curl

Traditional Weight Training

Traditional weight training focuses on isolating muscle groups and working them near to or up to the point of exhaustion, to break them down and build back stronger again.

This approach seeks to tone a specific muscle group. In its simplest form, the approach utilises a low rep count with a heavier load to achieve ‘hypertrophy’ (muscle growth) or a higher rep count with less load to improve endurance.

An example of traditional weight training would be when you hear someone say they are doing ‘legs day’ at the Gym. Typically, this would involve an exercise that targets the Glutes, Quads, Hamstrings, and calf muscles individually.

Muscle groups can be worked in isolation or as part of a compound exercise, in which multiple muscle groups and joints are used at the same time.

An example of a compound exercise would be a squat or a deadlift, whilst an isolation exercise would be a Bicep Curl or Triceps dip.

Woman Doing Barbell Step Ups

Functional Weight Training

The purpose of functional weight training is to replicate or closely mimic movements that we use in everyday life.

A simple example of functional weight training would be perched squats to replicate the sit to stand the process of getting out of your chair. Another might be using a reebok step up to improve your ability to climb stairs.

Functional weight training is much more dynamic than the traditional weight training approach which tends to be very static.

Pilates vs Weight Training in Rehabilitation

Health Constitution_Pilates Reformer Workout and Spine Alignment

Both Pilates and weight training translate to positive effects for the body, regardless of whether you’re training for rehabilitation or just to keep fit.

Both forms of exercise, when approached in the correct way, are great ways of maintaining strength, flexibility, and joint range of motion as we age. In short, they have a positive effect on injury prevention.

Athletes and amateurs alike can all benefit from supplementing their usual routines with a mixture of Pilates and weight training.

Advantages of Pilates

The mind-body connection focus of Pilates is thought to have a positive influence on motor control which in turn helps to improve walking speed and balance in certain population groups[1]. Alongside this, it may also help to alleviate stress and tension.

This can be particularly useful when looking to prevent or decrease the occurrence of falls for the ageing adult.

Although researchers are yet to reach a firm consensus on their effectiveness, I frequently utilise Pilates style exercises to develop major postural stabilisers, build strength, and improve motor control throughout a joint’s full range.

Anecdotally at least, my patients often feel that this improves their confidence, decreases their fear of falling, and makes activities of daily living feel generally easier.

Clinical Pilates led by a qualified Physiotherapist is widely used as a tool to tackle non-specific low back pain. Recent studies have demonstrated a moderately sized positive effect over the short term (>3 months) when performed at the correct intensity, frequency, and duration[2].

As a low-impact exercise, Pilates is also a great option for those who may not be suited to the intensity of weight training or other types of exercise. It also serves as a good starting point to build a solid foundation after surgery. This should always be guided by your clinician and surgeon.

Woman lifting weights

Advantages of weight training

Weight training is certainly more effective than Pilates for building muscle mass quickly, particularly when performed with a heavy load at low reps. Typically this would look something like 2-3 sets of 6-8 repetitions.

Weight training also has additional strong benefits when it comes to maintaining a healthy bone density, this is especially important amongst post-menopausal women and elderly populations. Maintaining a healthy bone density helps to stave off osteoporotic changes and adds a layer of resilience in the case of falls.

When it comes to rehabilitation, I would say it is hard to pick a clear winner between weight training and Pilates. The injury or rehabilitation goal will often dictate the choice of exercise.

For example, I would always choose traditional weight training when looking to build up quadriceps muscle function in an osteoarthritic or post-operative knee. This would be the quickest way of achieving a stronger and more stable joint.

For a lumbar decompression or chronic non-specific low back pain, however, I would always lean more towards clinical Pilates style exercises. These are much less intense and have less impact, thus reducing the chance of post-operative flare up’s or ruining the surgeons’ hard work.

Health Constitution_Differences of Reformer and Mat Pilates


Pilates and weight training are equally balanced with advantages and disadvantages for both.

The bottom line in all of this is that you should allow your goals to guide your choice of exercise, rather than picking a hard-line approach and trying to bend your goals towards it.

If you are a healthy individual looking to improve lean muscle mass and flexibility then absolutely Pilates is a clear winner.

If you are a healthy individual looking to build power, strength, and size then I would go down the weight training route.

The best place to start would be to discuss your options with a local appropriately qualified fitness professional.

As for rehabilitation, I would always recommend seeking the expert advice of a suitably qualified healthcare professional or Doctor before proceeding.

[1] Seghatoleslami, Ali & Afif, Ali & Irandoust, Khadijeh & Taheri, Morteza. (2018). The Impact of Pilates Exercises on Motor Control of Inactive Middle-Aged Women. Sleep and Hypnosis – International Journal. 20. 262-266. 10.5350/Sleep.Hypn.2018.20.0160.

[2] Eliks M, Zgorzalewicz-Stachowiak M, Zeńczak-Praga K (2019). Application of Pilates-based exercises in the treatment of chronic non-specific low back pain: state of the art. Postgraduate Medical Journal 2019;95:41-45.

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