Yoga Versus Pilates: How to Figure Out Which Workout Is Better for You

Yoga vs. Pilates: Here Are Their Differences and Benefits



If you've clicked on this story, then you're likely interested in learning more about the differences between yoga and Pilates. Whether you're a yogi or Pilates enthusiast, there's always something to be learned when it comes to these popular practices. You might have taken these classes in the past, but only the surface can actually be covered in an hour-long session.

In essence, both yoga and Pilates focus on establishing a deep mind-body connection. Also, they can both be done on yoga mats in many cases and with stretchy apparel to help promote flexibility. However, the way in which you move and hold your body and muscles varies greatly between yoga and Pilates.

To help break down the idiosyncrasies between the two low-impact modalities, we've tapped yoga instructors and Pilates experts to break down what makes each unique and also what makes them similar. Plus, find out more about the benefits and how you can incorporate these forms of movement into your daily routine. Whether you're healing from an injury or just looking for a new workout regimen, it's never too late to add some different exercises to your rotation.

What Is Yoga?

Yoga vs. Pilates: Here Are Their Differences and Benefits


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You might think of yoga as holding the Tree Pose for a few minutes, but the practice can be as expansive as you want it to be. "Yoga is a discipline that links the mind, body, and breath through movement and asanas (postures)," says Annie Woods, Yoga Medicine 500hr teacher and student. "We use these asanas to help move the body in ways that promote hydration for the tissues, strength, and flexibility in the muscles, as well as balance and proprioception."

The movement in combination with breathing techniques makes yoga suitable for calming the nervous system, improving focus, and clearing away some of the unwanted noise—even if just for a short time.

Depending on what you're looking to achieve, the sequence of poses you follow in yoga practice will set the tone for your session. Essentially, you're your own guide whether you decide to keep it simple or increase the intensity. "In a Hatha-based practice, you are in poses held statically for an extended amount of time. This can strengthen the body by holding isometric muscular contractions," says Zac Armstrong, a master trainer with YogaSix. "However, in a Vinyasa-based practice, you will typically flow through poses with a Chaturanga, 'yoga push-up,' between poses at a moderate pace, which can increase cardiorespiratory fitness and endurance."

Benefits of Yoga

Yoga vs. Pilates: Here Are Their Differences and Benefits


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Like any exercise, yoga helps get the heart rate up and break a sweat (even if it's not as much as a Crossfit class). "Most yoga classes work to approach the body as a whole, working in its entirety to create harmony and balance through movement and breath," says Woods.

Additionally, there are many different types of yoga methods, making it accessible to those of different fitness levels and interests. "If you're looking for a slow, deep stretch that calms your nervous system and helps you unwind, restorative yoga or Yin yoga might be your thing," says Woods. "If you're looking for a physically demanding, highly focused, and disciplined challenge, then power yoga or Ashtanga yoga might be for you."

What Is Pilates?

Yoga vs. Pilates: Here Are Their Differences and Benefits


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In general, Pilates requires an individual to develop a strong connection between their mind and body. "Pilates is a workout that incorporates the full body by making sure the spine is moved in every direction, creating an emphasis on the core," says Vanessa Johnson, NCPT, director of education for Club Pilates. "Every workout is meticulously thought out, ensuring that the body is moving in all planes of motion. It's also a low-impact workout, meaning it's customizable for individuals who may have restrictions with other rigorous workout regimens."

According to Johnson, Pilates instructors use descriptive terminologies and concepts that help the client to create a strong level of awareness of where their body is in space, also referred to as proprioception. During a typical Pilates workout, there is a strong focus on building strength and stability in the core and the spine whether you're doing Pilates on the reformer or mat. Some of the most popular Pilates moves include swimmers, mermaids, bridges, twists, and side bends.

However, Armstrong shares that there are some slight differences between the two. "In mat Pilates classes, there is a lot of focus on holding the C-curve to strengthen the lower abdominals," he says. "In reformer classes, the focus is typically controlling eccentric movements."

Benefits of Pilates

Yoga vs. Pilates: Here Are Their Differences and Benefits


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Aside from getting in a workout at a Pilates class, the exercise form can also be used as a means of rehabilitation, whether that's from injuries, surgeries, or other mobility impairments. "Physically, Pilates practice helps increase strength and lengthen the muscles, aid in flexibility and balance, and protect the joints and other important parts of the body from injury," says Johnson. Pilates can also be modified to where people of different activity levels can move their bodies in ways most helpful for them.

Similarities Between Yoga and Pilates

Yoga vs. Pilates: Here Are Their Differences and Benefits


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If you've read this far, then you can probably tell that yoga and Pilates have some overlaps and similarities. First, yoga and Pilates are both considered to be low-impact forms of exercise and focus on the mind-body connection. "Yoga and Pilates can feel similar in the body, as they both require controlled muscle movements, the use of your body weight as resistance, and specific breathing techniques that help link the movement and the breath," says Woods.

Additionally, both practices can use the entire body or target specific muscle groups. And when it comes to increasing the intensity, weights can be added to either one to create more resistance and challenge.

Differences Between Yoga and Pilates

Yoga vs. Pilates: Here Are Their Differences and Benefits


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While there are some similarities, Pilates and yoga have their differences—they are different practices at the end of the day. At a basic level, Pilates can be done on a mat or with different devices that add more challenges and resistance. However, yoga is typically done on a mat with minimal props (yoga blocks, bands, etc.).

Both disciplines have their own specific postures and movements that make them unique. "During a Pilates workout, there is constant movement, including pulsations and repetition, and very little holding patterns," says Johnson. "Yoga relies more upon creating a position and holding it."

Workout Gear to Shop

Bring this mat to your next Pilates or yoga class for a comfortable place to practice.

Add some resistance to your next Pilates session with this pack of resistance bands that feature a buckle. Easily snap the buckle together and feel the burn with light, medium, heavy, and extra-heavy bands.

Compressive leggings are essential for any workout to keep everything in place. Available in nine colors, these squat-proof leggings provide four-way stretch and ultimate comfort. They're available in sizes XXS to 6XL.

For any workout, you'll need a durable pair of sneakers, like these lightweight shoes from Brooks that provide support and cushion for your feet.

This lightweight, vegan-suede mat with six millimeters of cushioned support will keep you comfortable during your practice.

Add these weighted bangles to your arms or ankles during your next workout for some extra resistance. Available in one-pound and two-pound sizes and in seven vibrant colors.

Finding a supportive sports bra to work out in can be difficult. However, this one provides support for high-impact workouts and features sweat-wicking fabric to keep you cool and dry.

Wear this stretch-knit tank, which features racerback straps and a cropped hem, to your next yoga or Pilates class.

When it's time to clean your mat, this cleanser made from odor-reducing probiotics gets rid of dirt and oil while preserving the mat's integrity.

Yoga blocks can enhance the practice and help you modify certain poses as needed.

Use this strap to both carry your mat and stretch during your practice. It features adjustable looped ends and nylon fabric.

Available in sizes XXS to XL, this crop top is best for yoga, barre, and Pilates with its gentle support and adjustable straps.

These shorts have a mesh back for maximum breathability during any workout. There's a deep back pocket to hold your phone and other essentials.

Keep your body dry during your workout with this soft sweat towel made from nylon and polyester.

Get to work on those poses in this split-back yoga tank designed to move with you and keep you supported.