Pilates involves all three types of muscle contraction: concentric, isometric, and eccentric. Compared to other types of exercise, however, Pilates places greater emphasis on eccentric muscle contraction.
Discover why eccentric muscle contraction is important, and find out what Pilates does to your muscle fibers. Plus, learn the top 3 Pilates exercises for muscle growth.
What are muscle fibers?
Muscle fibers consist of smaller structures called myofibrils, which are themselves composed of the proteins actin and myosin. Scientists aren’t quite sure exactly how actin and myosin interact to cause muscle contraction, but recent research suggests a friction-inducing “protein handshake” might be involved.
Whether the sliding filament model ends up being proven correct or not, it’s a fact that muscle contraction occurs when the myofibrils inside muscle fibers tense up. Muscle fibers make up every type of muscle in your body whether it’s:
- Skeletal muscle
- Smooth muscle
- Or cardiac muscle
Types of muscle contraction
Your muscles can contract in three different ways:
- By shortening (concentric muscle contraction)
- By remaining motionless (isometric muscle contraction)
- By extending (eccentric muscle contraction)
Most types of exercise focus primarily on concentric muscle contraction. The dense, bundled-up muscles that weight-lifters display are the result of concentric muscle contraction.
Eccentric muscle contraction, on the other hand, involves extending your muscle fibers past their usual length. When the fibers regrow, they will regenerate longer and stronger than before.
You’re more likely to injure your muscles with eccentric muscle contraction, which is why control is so important in Pilates. With eccentric muscle contraction, you can make your muscles a lot stronger with minimal bulking up.
Pilates and muscle fibers
Pilates is all about intention. You intend that your muscles will lengthen and become stronger, and this intent leads you to take the actions necessary to achieve your goal.
It’s impossible to wish muscles out of thin air. The muscle power you gain in Pilates is mainly attributable to strictly controlled eccentric muscle contraction.
Pilates includes plenty of exercises focused around resisting a force. Rather than aggressively pushing through the force, you strengthen your body against it.
Any exercise involving this passive resistance harnesses the power of eccentric contraction. Research indicates that eccentric contraction might make you stronger than concentric contraction, explaining why Pilates results in massive strength increases without significant bulking.
Pilates muscle contraction examples
Pilates trains your muscles using both eccentric and concentric muscle contractions. In Pilates, the importance of eccentric contraction is simply more emphasized.
It’s untrue that Pilates only helps you refine, not expand, existing muscles. Some examples of muscles Pilates trains that you might not commonly notice include your:
- Internal obliques
- Teres minor and major
- Inner thighs
- Stabilizer muscles
By contracting your muscles using primarily eccentric contractions, Pilates causes you to burn calories and is an excellent form of exercise. Depending on your body’s current condition, Pilates may either bulk or strengthen existing muscle mass.
Pilates activates slow twitch muscle fibers
Types of eccentric contraction exercise like Pilates commonly train slow twitch muscle fibers. Activated by low-intensity, sustained movements, these muscles burn out slower than the rest of your muscle fibers, which are referred to as fast-twitch muscles.
By training your slow-twitch muscles, Pilates improves your stamina, agility, and strength in ways that conventional forms of exercise do not.
Best 3 pilates muscle growth exercises
A truly effective Pilates regimen involves an entire routine of stretches, movements, and poses. It’s important to practice Pilates responsibly and have a clear vision of your goals in mind.
If your primary intent is to maximize eccentric contractions to reshape and fortify both familiar and unfamiliar parts of your musculature, then you should include at least the following three Pilates exercises in your daily routine:
1. Chest Lift
For this exercise, start lying prone on your Pilates mat. With your feet flat on the mat, bend your legs and lightly rest your knees together.
Lift your arms, and place your hands underneath your head. Raise your elbows to engage your triceps.
Use your abdominal muscles to raise your chest off the mat. Don’t raise yourself any higher than the usual resting height of your shoulders.
Hold the position, then slowly lower your upper body down to the mat. Twist your chest in alternating directions at the apex of the movement for even deeper muscle stimulation.
2. The 100
This popular Pilates exercise involves lifting your legs and engaging your arms while laying prone. Starting from a prone position on your mat, raise both of your legs to roughly a 45° angle.
Raise your arms as well, and inhale and exhale as you move your arms up and down. With your legs lifted, continue raising and lowering your arms like you’re treading water.
3. Single Leg Stretch
The Pilates Single Leg Stretch involves raising alternating legs while lying prone. Starting in a prone position on your mat, simultaneously raise your torso and feet with your toes pointed straight.
With your other leg pointed straight out, pull one knee to your chest. Extend that leg again, and repeat the motion with your other knee.