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Pilates and HIIT – Using the Best of Both Worlds to Create a Leaner and More Functional You!

I like functional training. I like the type of workouts that either teach me something or challenge me in a new way. For me, I’ve found this to be a great way to not only stay in shape, but to stay interested in staying in shape. Doing the same thing for long periods of time, is not fun. Also, doing the same thing over and over, day after day, doesn’t benefit your body for a number of reasons. We get stuck! Creating variation in a workout program that efficiently targets different aspects of your body’s ability will create a very effective program that will continue to yield results as long as you stay with it.

In my training and teaching, I have seen that Pilates mixed with some High Impact Intensity Training (HIIT) can accomplish the goals of many as well as keep people engaged in working out.

Why the Switch-Up?

One of my client refers to herself as a “gym rat”. She is a fitness trainer and competitor and marathon runner. Her main issue is that her body holds on to anything that she eats. She has a lot of muscle development and frequently over trains. Her body type is mesomorphic. We’ll refer to her as Client A. Client B is somebody that only does Pilates and has had a history of physical activity. She has great flexibility, almost to her detriment, and her body type is ectomorphic. Both are early in their early 30’s.

For Client A, Pilates is great for her because it makes her do several things: 1. slow down and focus on precision, 2. use all her muscles, not just the ones that she favors, and 3. develop muscles in a wider and different range of motion than she is used to. HIIT is good for her because it takes her out of the fat storing endurance mode.

For Client B, she needs to increase her activity level without losing muscle tone. Creating a more challenging workout program for her will get her more able to develop muscles that will support her frame and reduce issues with sciatica (which nobody should have at that age) caused by lack of muscle and pronounced lordisis.

With each of these clients, I am urging them to alter their workout programs to include at least one or two workouts from the other side of the fence so they can get the best of both worlds.

What Pilates Exercises Should  be Included?

All of them. Traditional Pilates has over 500 exercises, 100 are on the reformer alone. If you are at a studio that sticks to the same 15-20, go somewhere else. There are many exercises that will continue to benefit you no matter how many times you do them, but a quality instructor should be able to create varied and continuously beneficial workouts every time. Also, many moves in Pilates take time to build enough control and flexibility to do well. Proper muscle recruitment, control, and flexibility are what Pilates can offer the Client A types. And as a bonus, their gym workouts will become more beneficial to them because they will not rely on overdeveloped muscles as much.

What is HIIT?

*Science geek-out alert* High Intensity Interval Training is exercising for short bursts to either 1.get your heart rate up to and over 80% of your max heart rate(MHR) or 2. rely on a perceived exertion level then return to a recovery mode.  The concept behind HIIT is that with short bursts at a high intensity level, you start to enter into an anaerobic activity level. In that state, without oxygen, the body starts to burn glycogen, stored glucose in the muscle, and replaces it with lactic acid. During the recovery, the body uses oxygen to break down the lactic acid and convert energy from carbohydrates. In this process, growth hormones are released which are designed for muscle regeneration and growth.  A typical HIIT is to exercise for 15-30 seconds at 100% of your capacity and then take a slightly longer break, 1-2 min, for recovery, then repeat. While it is intense on the body, the benefits are pretty nice.

  1. For starters, the high heart rate and anaerobic burn preserve muscle and burn mostly fat. The greatest example of this is to look at Olympic sprinters’ bodies and compare them to the marathon runners’ bodies. While both are lean, the sprinter has much more fuller developed muscles.
  2. HIIT can be done in a short period of time, 30 min total, which eliminates the excuses for not enough time in the week.
  3. The cardio response from HIIT is really great for cardio endurance. 2-3 times a week will have a comparable result to mid range cardio conditioning.
  4. HIIT produces needed growth hormone. For middle aged adults, the ability to burn fat becomes increasingly harder because growth hormone production is harder to trigger therefore lipolysis isn’t induced as often. In younger adults, hormone levels are different and fat can be broken down more easily; however, growth hormone isn’t always triggered in aerobic activity which can result in burning muscle instead of fat.

What Kind of HIIT Do You Suggest?

My suggestions for a Pilates based HIIT workout are as follows:

  • Start Slow – I suggest 30 seconds of activity followed by 15-20 seconds of rest. This is challenging even for the gym goer and less intense on the first timer so they can set a more moderate pace and still get the cardio benefits.
  • Focus on precision of movement rather than quantity.
  • Include Pilates Mat exercises such as Single Leg Stretch, Criss-Cross, Plank, and Rolling Like a Ball to inspire confidence and familiarity.
  • Introduce plyometric exercises to develop functional strength.
  • Include warmup and cool down into the circuit.

Any high intensity program should be done with doctor’s consent and should not endanger anybody. Middle aged clients or those wishing to lose 30+ pounds will need to monitor the strain placed on their body and should rely more on the perceived exertion level until they gain confidence and skill to advance to higher level of activity.

Finally, check it out for yourself at out my Plyo Mat Classes at Pilates Element on Mondays at 6:30pm, and my Acro Circuit at Pilates + Yoga on Thursdays at 7:15pm and Saturdays at 8:30am.

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1 Comment

  1. I completely agree I have increased my endurance and strength since I started taking your classes. I dropped my gym membership along with a few pounds. Thanks Chris

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