Creating Your Own Resistance in a Pilates Class

February 18, 2022

What is resistance?

Resistance is a push/pull action which engages muscles to help stabilise and strengthen surrounding joints. We constantly experience resistance in everyday activities such as opening the fridge door or moving furniture around. However, it’s important to learn how resistance can be used efficiently to enhance the functionality of the body.

What are the benefits of resistance?

Great alternate to heavy and expensive gym equipment:

Resistance bands are one of the easiest and inexpensive props you can get your hands on. They are sold in many different stores, with many different strengths. They also last for years (as long as you don’t leave them in the sun which can cause them to melt!)  

Efficient way to active muscles and stabilise joints:

Using resistance/resistance bands activates muscles from the very first second of movement. As a result, the joints are then stabilised, creating a very efficient way to move and exercise. This promotes safer ranges of movement within the joints and the muscles are more balanced around the joint.  

Promotes correct form and focus:

It is virtually impossible to activate/work the wrong muscles when using resistance. Generally, the resistance forces you to move in a certain direction, therefore the muscles that are required to activate do so without you needing to think about it. In saying that, it is also important that you focus on the activated muscles to encourage them to ‘lengthen’ while they move in space. This is what helps with muscle tone and flexibility.  

Decreased risk of injury:

Resistance is a fantastic approach to exercising for decreasing the risk of injuries. This is due to the fact that you can tailor the amount of resistance to what you need. There are always easy ways to modify or challenge the resistance throughout any exercise.  

What is the difference between passive and active resistance?

Passive resistant exercises are also known as passive range of motion (ROM) exercises; and your range of motion includes how far you can move your joints in different directions. These exercises are considered passive because you don’t exert much effort.

Active resistance exercises require more force to either push or pull something in space, working within controlled ranges of movement.

Creating your own resistance

The first tip is to experience what working with actual resistance feels like! Getting used to what your muscles feel like when you’re either pushing/or pulling something. Once you get the hang of this, you can then recreate this feeling of resistance during passive movements. Instructors give great imagery and sensory cues throughout the class. But if you’re working out at home, you definitely need to use your imagination when exercising without resistance.  

If you’re wanting the back of your body to engage (triceps, back, glutes and hamstrings to name a few) try the sensation of ‘pull’. Example: imaging you’re pulling your arms through water or imaging you’re pulling your heels towards the sit bones.

If you’re wanting the front of your body to engage (chest, quads etc) try the sensation of ‘push’. Example: feel like you’re pushing a heavy box along the ground with your hands or feel like you’re pushing your toes down into the ground when you squat.

There is also another way to think about resistance within your muscles, without actually adding any physical resistance. This can take some serious brain power and practice but once you get the hang of it, it will change the way you exercise for the better! This is a method used by dancers, mainly to demonstrate different dynamics within movement. However, it also transforms the muscles to be stronger and the joints to be more supported.


Try this:

Stand on one leg. Feel like your supporting leg’s quads, hamstrings and glutes are lengthening up towards the pelvis, which in turn, begins to lift the pelvis up away from the ground. This very simple imagery cue engaged the appropriate muscles to

1.    Activate and lengthen

2.    Support the ankle, knee and hip joint

3.    Improve the balance on one leg

4.    Created resistance against the floor


If we start to actively think about what muscles are involved with certain movements and how to activate them in a way using only the ‘feeling’ of resistance, it’s amazing how positively the body responds.

Click here to read more about how adding resistance can improve your body's flexibility and mobility.

Interested in learning about the toning benefits of using resistance in pilates? Click here to find out more.

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