While some people love the Zen vibes of yoga, others are all about the burn you get when you’re pulsing through boat pose in Pilates class. But which one is better for your body? And how can you decide whether yoga or Pilates is the right addition to your workout routine?
Here with all the intel is Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., president and chief science officer at the American Council on Exercise.
Q: What’s the difference between yoga and Pilates?
While both yoga and Pilates are low-impact exercises and can be performed on a mat, they’re actually totally different workouts: Most yoga classes involved flowing through a series of poses (like downward dog, tree pose, warrior pose, and cobra) that utilize your body weight as resistance. The focus is on improving balance, flexibility, and the mind-body connection.
Pilates tends to be a bit more fast-paced than yoga.
As you flow through each pose, your yoga instructor will typically guide your breathing as well. Ideally, your breath and movement will become synched the more you practice. Throughout class, you may use equipment like blocks, straps, and pillows to help you achieve poses that you’re not quite flexible enough to reach yet. Yoga also involves inversions like handstands and headstands. It can be done in a heated or unheated studio, or outside, and there’s typically a meditation or intention-setting component in most asana classes.
Here’s a 10-minute yoga routine to give you a feel for what a typical flow could look like:
Pilates, on the other hand, is a workout method created by Joseph Pilates that involves moving through slow, precise, strength exercises with breath control (though the breathing methods within yoga and Pilates aren’t always the same). Pilates focuses heavily on core strength and stability. It can be performed on either a mat or a machine called a reformer, which utilizes a sliding platform with a foot bar, springs, and pulleys for resistance. (There are also machines called the tower and the Cadillac used to practice more advanced techniques or for private lessons.) You’ll hear names of moves like teaser, one hundred, scissors, and pendulum.
Of the two, Pilates tends to be a bit more fast-paced than yoga, and there’s not typically as much focus on mindfulness throughout classes.
Q: Which one is better for me, Pilates or yoga?
When it comes to whether yoga or Pilates is better for your body, it really all depends on your goals. With Pilates, there’s always a focus on core strength and stability, so if you have back issues or play sports that require a strong core (like golf or tennis), that workout will be beneficial for you. If you’re looking for a low-impact workout that will still majorly challenge your muscles, Pilates will give you the burn and shake you’re looking for.
Try these 12, no-equipment Pilates moves to start building strength:
If you’re seeking increased flexibility, relaxation, AND a better mind-body connection, yoga is the way to go. For many people, yoga is not only a workout, but a chance to destress and recenter themselves. Still, there are many different kinds of yoga and Pilates classes—you may be able to find a yoga class that’s more athletic and less focused on mindfulness and a Pilates class that has more of a Zen vibe.
As far as how each class makes your body feel, they both help with your alignment, balance, and strength, but neither is at the high end of the spectrum when it comes to calorie expenditure or cardio intensity—even hot yoga is low on the calorie-burning continuum.
Overall, I would encourage you to give both a try because each offers many benefits. Pay attention to how you connect with the instructor, then pick the class that best suits your needs and that you enjoy most.
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