When most individuals begin a Pilates practice, they do so, intending to get stronger. As a result, it is the instructor’s responsibility to know the mechanisms of muscle contractions, proven strategies to generate hypertrophy(increase muscle mass), and human movement principles to guide clients to achieve their goals.
Essentially, to get stronger, the body needs two things:
Rest (i.e., sleep, proper nutrition, etc.)
For the sake of this series, we are going to focus on providing adequate stimulus and proven strategies to get bodies stronger.
For starters, there are three types of muscle contractions:
Concentric contractions = muscles get shorter
Eccentric contractions = muscles get longer
Isometric contractions = muscles stay the same length
It is also essential to recognize that each phase of contraction can generate different amounts of force. Eccentric contractions generate more force than isometric contractions and isometric contractions generate more force than concentric contractions.
Eccentric > Isometric > Concentric
In addition, it is essential to familiarize one’s self with how muscles actually get stronger. To generate a hypertrophic response, we need to progressively overload the tissues with mechanical tension. That is, we add more resistance to a given exercise over time.
Although this may be counterintuitive to how Pilates may be traditionally taught, it’s important to honor how the human body adapts to imposed demands if we want to get stronger. For example, keeping two springs on for a frog over many years will result in an eventual plateau in terms of strength gains.
So, the question is, do we want to get our students stronger?
If yes, the following will help you on your journey.
According to the Henneman Size Principle, muscle fibers contract in sequential order. If we do not provide enough load, some muscle fibers will not be stimulated, inhibiting a hypertrophic response. To stimulate these muscle fibers, we need to take them close to failure. In fact, only the last five repetitions before a failure will provide enough stimulation to get the muscles stronger, and hypertrophy training is recommended to be between 5-12 repetitions per set2.
To get stronger over time, we have two choices:
Add spring tension
I don’t know about you, but I would rather pump out eight repetitions instead of twenty-five for the same results. So, I recommend putting on that extra spring to enjoy your Pilates strength gains.
Next up in the Building Strength With Pilates series, we will discuss how to apply this to specific exercises so you can apply this to your teaching ASAP!