Building Strength with Pilates (Part 2)

Building Strength with Pilates (Part 2)

When most people begin Pilates practice, they have a goal to get stronger. This could be to improve motor skills, perform a recreational activity better, or simply maintain their daily living activities—however, techniques in a common Pilates class conflict with proven strategies to build more muscle. For example, despite its association with hypertrophy, it is not common to take a particular muscle group to failure or repeat an exercise during a Pilates class.


As discussed in the previous article, muscles get stronger by progressively applying more mechanical tension over time. If I went to the gym to get more muscular biceps, I might start doing 10lb dumbbells. This may get me stronger for a while, but if I don’t change the weight or increase repetitions, I will eventually plateau in strength gains. The solution is simple, I increase to 15lb dumbbells, and when it is time, I graduate to 20lb dumbbells.

Well, how can we do this in Pilates?

Let’s imagine our student is doing Leg Circles on the Reformer with 2 full springs. Like most new students, they say, “Wow, this is killer on my thighs, and I love it! Sign me up for a 10-pack”. Within their 10 sessions, their body adapts and does not have the same response. What if the next time they do feet in straps, they do 2 ½ springs? This way, we are applying more mechanical tension to their body over time to accommodate the adaptation they have achieved to continue their strength gains.

Boom, they’re getting stronger, and buy another 10 pack.

It is also possible to go through leg circles twice in a session. Essentially, this would double their volume, which is strongly correlated with strength gains. For instance, if you did 10 repetitions of leg circles twice per session, you have done 20 leg circles per session. If your student comes in twice a week for 5 weeks, they would have achieved 200 leg circles if you did two sets a session, but if you do 1 set, you have only done 100 leg circles. Simply put, you will likely get stronger from 200 leg circles in five weeks relative to 100 leg circles in the same time frame.

Another technique would be to apply a drop-set. A drop-set is a technique that takes a muscle group to fatigue with a certain amount of load. Once fatigue arises, you reduce the load and keep going. This is another method of increasing one’s volume within a session.

But how do we do this on a Reformer?

You use a heavy spring setting and then reduce it once your student cannot do another repetition.

For instance, in arm circles on the Reformer, it is common to use 1 full spring. If we want to burn out the muscles to get the shoulders stronger, we could start with 1 ½ springs and take the muscles to fatigue. When they cannot perform another repetition, drop the spring to 1 spring and when the student is taxed again, drop it to ½ spring.

Untraditional Pilates?
Yes, but why not follow scientific strategies to get stronger?

Next in this series, we will put it all together and discuss how to put this into programming.

Adam McAtee is located in Long Beach, California and is a Nationally Certified Pilates Teacher who has been in the industry for over a decade. He earned a B.S. in Exercise Science and is currently a Student of Physical Therapy at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. Adam’s passion for education inspired him to create the Pilates Meets Exercise Science workshop in which he bridges the gap between research and the Pilates studio. To him, knowledge is power, and it is essential to remain open to new information while maintaining the ability to adapt over time. To stay connected and learn more about Adam’s work, you can find him on Instagram @AdamMcAteePilates.



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