Both pilates and yoga are enjoyed by fitness enthusiasts all over the world. Are you confused about the differences between these two? There are several differentiating factors that you should consider if you are deciding which form of exercise you want to include in your workout program.
Whether you want to make pilates or yoga a part of your regular routine or you are just looking to incorporate low-impact movement, let’s look at how each of these forms of exercise offers similar benefits but is different in their approach to helping you reach your goal.
One thing I wish I knew when I first started strength training was how important other aspects of movement were to the growth and development of my overall wellness practice. Strength training made me feel strong, but I grew to learn that this wouldn’t be enough for me if I wanted to improve my lifts in the gym, increase my flexibility, and well…stay interested in my fitness routine.
What I love about Pilates and Yoga is that they offer a low-intensity and low-impact workout on the days when I feel sore from a heavy strength session, or the days when I don’t feel like exerting large amounts of energy.
While both forms of exercise work on strength and flexibility, here’s what you need to know about the differences between Pilates and yoga and which is best for you.
A mind-body exercise developed by German physical therapist Joseph Pilates, this full-body workout puts emphasis on alignment, breathing, developing a strong core, and improving coordination and balance, thus making it ideal for postpartum women looking to improve their weakened core from pregnancy.
Incorporating Pilates into my fitness routine has brought me many benefits. The main one is core strength. Because I strength train regularly, it’s important for me to set a dedicated amount of time to build those deep-core stabilizers. Not to mention how tall and lean I feel after I’ve completed just one session. Pilates focuses on building those inner core muscles we cant see using isometric training while lengthening. Think of holding a V-Sit or Bird Dog for an X amount of time.
I include Pilates into my routine at least once a week, sometimes interchanging with my yoga practice. What I love about this low-impact workout is that you can get a 20-30 minute session in and still feel like you got something great out of it. If you’re looking for a low-impact workout to complete on an active rest day or want to slowly ease back into fitness after pregnancy, Pilates is just for you.
Here are some other great benefits:
- Core strength as you work on using your core to perform isometric holds and as you move through short range of motion movements like pulses.
- Total body strength as you work on activating full body muscles while lengthening them such as Plié squats, planks, bird dogs and overhead arm reaches.
- Balance and posture as you work to move the body unilaterally (one side at a time) through movement.
- Working on proper breathing techniques – Proper breathing techniques enable you to keep your abdominal muscles contracted while breathing at the same time. This can even increase your safety while performing exercises and reduce the possibility of injuries.
- Injury prevention and injury rehabilitation – Pilates has been shown to improve low back pain when used as rehabilitation like the one in this study.
What to expect from a Pilates class?
There are two types of Pilates classes. Reformer Pilates uses traditional Pilates equipment that looks like a moving mat with springs, pulleys, ropes, and a sliding carriage. The mat variation commonly known as Mat Pilates is done using only bodyweight or light weights on.…you guessed it, a mat. Most of the follow-along videos found on Youtube are of the Mat variation and can easily be done at home if you are just starting out.
Both variations [mat and reformer classes] focus on resistance training, either using bodyweight or springs to strengthen and stretch muscles simultaneously, while also challenging core strength.
Expect to be using the whole body in your Pilates class with a main focus on targeting your “powerhouse” muscles, which include the glutes, hips, pelvic floor, and lower back.
Yoga is a system of physical and mental exercises designed to instill a sense of tranquility and well-being in those who practice it. With origins in India, it is suggested that it has been practiced for over 5000 years.
Yoga, a Sanskrit word, means to “yoke or harness” and is the root of the English verb ‘to yoke’. Yoga seeks to harness the energy of the body, breath, and mind, and use it more beneficially, thus making the goal of a yogi (someone who practices yoga) to still the mind and find harmony between their physical and mental state.
In general, yoga is a practice of asanas (or specific postures) that are connected to breath (pranayama). While yoga started as more of a mind-focused practice, today’s classes include more physical elements. Now there are many different styles of yoga for all fitness levels and preferences, including types like hatha, vinyasa, power, yin, ashtanga, and Iyengar. There are also more modern styles like hot yoga, chair yoga, and restorative yoga.
I started practicing yoga a couple of years into my fitness journey after commiting to a regular strength training routine. There were days when I felt sore and tight and I was almost always looking for some sort of release before hitting my next training session. I began to follow apps and Youtube videos for beginners to better understand the mind and body connection in relation to the breath. I wanted to practice breathing better in my strength training and I knew that taking on yoga as a regular practice would better train my mind to do this effortlessly.
And to be entirely straightforward, yoga is also a way for me to ground (figuratively and literally) and really focus on my meditation paired with something that I love; which is movement.
I honestly think that everybody should be practicing yoga, and here’s why:
- Mindfulness and relaxation as you dive deep into your practice and bring your awareness into the present moment
- Promoting balance as you use deep core stabilizers to practice holding unilateral poses.
- Flexibility – Yoga poses stretch your muscles & increase muscle strength and endurance, with emphasis on movement through a full range of motion to increase flexibility and mobility as muscles are stretched and lengthened.
- Learning proper breathing techniques as you coordinate the breath and movement in a continuous flow of motion.
- Injury prevention – Yoga is an excellent way to stretch tired muscles and increase flexibility, focus, and balance – all of which contribute to injury prevention in different ways.
- Addressing anxiety and depression – Because of its gentle, calming, and fluid nature, it can be useful for easing symptoms associated with anxiety and depression. The involvement of different body poses, breathing techniques, and meditation may help with concentration and loss of energy as you focus on your breath and movement during your practice.
What to expect from a Yoga class?
As mentioned, there are many styles of yoga, so classes can vary widely. The main factor is that a yoga class will connect your breath with each pose and you’ll often move slowly through each position, with a reminder from the instructor to breathe and be present in the class and in each pose. In most yoga classes, you’ll either practice flowing quickly through poses or hold poses for a little longer, while still connecting one to the next.
Expect to be using your whole body while you hold and move through various asanas. Don’t be fooled by the gentleness that is yoga. You will build strength as you hold poses for 20 seconds or more.
Most yoga classes offer props like blocks, straps, or blankets to help you modify and be comfortable in poses.
So which class is right for you?
Both yoga and Pilates are great low-impact exercises to add to your fitness schedule. Depending on your goals, one may be better suited for you than the other.
If your main goal is to build strength and muscular endurance, especially in the core, opt for Pilates. Go for yoga if you want something a little more restorative, low key and if you want a more meditative session.
It’s always smart to check with your doctor or physical therapist about what might be right for you. With a variety of in-person classes and online instructional videos to choose from you can decide how to include one or both options into your fitness routine.