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Can Pilates Make Muscles Longer and Leaner?

From the Fit Community: Can You Really Make Your Muscles Longer and Leaner?

FitSugar reader JessicaSmithTV wanted to know: are all those claims about creating longer and leaner muscles through exercise true? She asked an expert and posted the answer in our Fit Community.

You've probably heard it numerous times before — a workout that promises to give you longer, leaner muscles (we've often heard this said about PIlates or ballet-based training methods) . . . so can this really be true? Can a muscle truly become longer and/or leaner?

I asked "The Exercise Doctor" Michele Olson — PhD, creator of the Perfect Legs, Glutes, & Abs DVD, and professor at Auburn University Montgomery — to answer this for us. She has studied various forms of exercise extensively and published research on Pilates.


"Muscles are already comprised of 'fat-free' (aka lean) tissue, so any amount of muscle is, by definition, lean. You can't have 'leaner' muscles," says Olson. "If you were to add more muscles from resistance training, you could increase the amount of lean muscle you have and, therefore, have more lean muscle." But most of these methods (such as Pilates or ballet-/barre-style exercises) use relatively light to moderate resistance, which is not enough to create a significant increase in the amount of lean muscle mass you have.

Read on to learn more about if you can make your muscles long and lean.

What about making your muscles leaner? Most of the Pilates/ballet instructors do look pretty lean . . .

As for making your muscles longer, that's impossible, says Olson. "Muscles have a set length once we reach maturity," she explains. "You cannot make a muscle permanently longer." You can, however, build flexibility and core strength, which means you may be more likely to stand taller and appear longer, but it's not because you have actually increased the length of your muscles.

And as for those instructors (though there are certainly exceptions), many of them are genetically built like that to begin with, which may be why they were inclined to choose ballet and/or Pilates to begin with.

So does that mean you should give up on this style of training? Absolutely not! There are plenty of benefits to Pilates and barre methods including a stronger core, greater flexibility, and better posture to name a few (just don't expect to come out with a longer or leaner version of the muscles in your body).

JessicaSmithTV is a certified fitness lifestyle expert, certified Pilates instructor, and the creator of the 10 Pounds Down DVD series. Inspired? Share your own fitness advice in our Fit Community!

Image Source: Thinkstock
Giasbash6260 Giasbash6260 5 years
I started pilates in May, but just recently upped the intensity x10 and WOW do I love it and feel an incredible difference! It's easier than weight lifting (and a lot less boring), yet I still get the same defined look that I strive for! YES!!
Nancy-Einhart Nancy-Einhart 5 years
Great question and such a helpful answer. Jessica, I really like your DVDs ;)
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