Pilates for Meatheads: The Yin-Yang of Training

As a professional meathead and barbell aficionado, strength training is right up there with Top Gun and petting my dog on “Trish’s Favorite Things” list.

 

We know how vital lifting weights is to our overall health just as much as we know Top Gun is the greatest movie of all time (not even up for debate).

But as a lifelong meathead, I’ve found that strength training alone can’t be the only thing I cultivate for my health, and neither should you.

This is where Pilates comes in. It’s the Yin to my Yang as far as exercise goes. While I love the nature of strength training, I also love the flow and mental aspects of what Pilates offers.

Dualism in training

The Yin-Yang philosophy refers to the dual nature or interconnectedness of two seemingly opposite or contradictory forces. They can complement  or oppose each other, but neither one can exist without the other (The Interwebz has a genius example of this. You can’t have shadow without light. Boom.)

When it comes to training and becoming a well-rounded athlete (that includes my weekend warriors), there should be some sort of balance in our approach. While I chose Pilates as my Yin, others may choose yoga, Tai Chi, or daily walks in nature. I’m not here to advocate Pilates is the only way, but it is an excellent choice. Here’s why….

#1 You work similar muscles differently

When we weight train we learn things like, how to sit back into our heels in a squat, how to brace our core before a heavy lift, and how to isolate a muscle for hypertrophy gains.

All these things improve our technique and overall strength. In Pilates, however, you learn to use the same muscles you might use in lifting in a whole different way! You stop trying to brace your stomach all the time and instead breath and move your core in a way that engages more muscles at once while stretching your back simultaneously. You learn to activate and create movement from your core (or “powerhouse” as we call it) to move the legs instead of allowing your quads and hips to overpower the movement.

Like it or not, weight lifting doesn’t allow you to think about what your body is doing all the time. You’re too busy powering through, bracing for a lift, perfecting the technique, and exerting all of your strength and power.

#2 Excellence is a lifelong pursuit

Just like lifting weights, there’s always a progression and a next step in Pilates. The moment you grasp the basic concepts of Pilates and understand how to do the exercises, there’s another variation of it to challenge you, the tempo picks up, the equipment changes, and you’re forced to think and practice an exercise you thought you perfected in a  whole new way.

Pilates forces humility and patience, just like the barbell does. You have to respect its power and never give up on it to experience its endless benefits.

#3 Work your weaknesses without beating your body up

When I was diligently training for a meet, my quads and back overpowered everything I did. These were my strong areas, and while I addressed some weaknesses with accessory exercises, it wasn’t enough to correct other imbalances and movement dysfunctions.

You may not realize how your quads take over during an exercise, or how your ribcage flare is preventing you from getting stronger overhead, or even how your pelvic positioning is making your back hurt, but if you are training on top of dysfunction you are creating more dysfunction.

The light resistance used in Pilates is challenging enough to draw awareness to your weaknesses without beating your body to the ground. This is important because unlike weight lifting, we don’t want you to muscle your way through an exercise in Pilates. We want you to move with precision and control.

#4 Feel your core like you’ve never felt them before

Let me tell you something…I train some super strong mofos and each one dies a little during a session from the extensive amount of core work we do in Pilates. That’s because every movement revolves around the core; it’s why we call it the Powerhouse.

If you want to train your entire core musculature dynamically, then Pilates will do that for you. It’s not about getting a six-pack or losing the post-baby belly fat. This is about training your core muscles to move well, move right, and support everything else you do functionally.

#5 It’ll fine tune your strength

What makes Pilates an effective, complementary method to strength training is that it fine tunes things like posture, movement control, damaged ligaments and tendons, while strengthening the intrinsic muscles that’s necessary for true strength.

Practicing things like breath control, ribcage placement and shoulder stability add up to better posture, better alignment, and improved performance. Pilates exercises are so focused on precision and creating balance that it’s an excellent pre-hab and rehab tool.

Pilates can truly make you more a more well-rounded athlete by balancing out your hard training with slow, controlled training. Sure, you can accomplish this in other ways but when fitness becomes your lifestyle, there’s no time to waste on frivolous drills and exercise trends. You find the thing that works for you and make it a regular part of your routine, while having fun.

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