With both Pilates classes and yoga studios available on every corner these days, choosing between these popular low-impact workouts can be a challenge. While both can target strength and flexibility, they take different approaches, and understanding the differences will help you determine the perfect fit for your fitness journey.
Main Differences Between Pilates and Yoga
Pilates and yoga are both holistic workouts emphasizing body awareness and control, but they take different approaches.
In Pilates classes, building your core strength is the main focus. As a result, the exercises largely target the ab muscles, hips, lower back, and glutes. Joseph Pilates developed specific “contrology” exercises to challenge the “powerhouse” muscles that support the spine to stabilize the core before incorporating limbs to assist movements.
Pilates and Yoga both aim to build full-body strength, but yoga has more of a focus on enhancing flexibility and muscle movement. Practicing yoga helps increase your body awareness and mobility.
With Pilates, you get more intense muscle toning and sculpting. The controlled movements act as resistance training to fire up your muscles. Additionally, the spring resistance reformers and bands used in Pilates further intensify the burn, allowing you to make the exercises more challenging.
Yoga is usually gentler, with some exceptions, such as power yoga. Both Yoga and Pilates strengthen the body-mind connection through controlled movements, however it takes longer to build muscle with yoga.
Joseph Pilates actually developed the Pilates method as a rehab program for injured soldiers. The laser focus on precise alignment and small-range movements helped facilitate recovery and restore mobility. Though now practiced widely, Pilates continues to be an excellent rehab and injury prevention tool.
Yoga started thousands of years ago as a spiritual and lifestyle practice using physical poses to prepare yogis for meditation and greater mind-body awareness. Though the West has popularized yoga as exercise, meditation and breathwork remain essential elements.
In Pilates, you perform small, controlled movements while using your core strength to stabilize your body. You flow from one targeted exercise to another with smooth transitions. The idea is to deeply engage the muscles, not perform big, dynamic power moves.
When practicing yoga, you’ll hold poses – sometimes for several breaths – before flowing mindfully to the next posture. As you sustain each pose, you’ll focus on your balance, flexibility, and steadiness.
There are many ways to practice Pilates; just a mat like in yoga. In Pilates, you’ll often use specialized equipment, such as the Reformer, Wunda Chair, and Cadillac, which feature springs, pulleys, straps, and bars to provide resistance and assist with proper alignment. Magic circles, resistance bands, and similar equipment can intensify mat Pilates, too.
Yoga is typically done on a mat. Blocks, straps, blankets, and other props allow yogis to modify their poses or deepen their stretches. But for those craving a challenge, suspended yoga uses slings and hammocks to play with balance and gravity.
Both Pilates and yoga facilitate mindfulness, breathwork, and presence. The ability to quiet the mind while moving the body allows the user to reap immense mental health benefits.
In Pilates, Joseph Pilates’ concentration, control, precision, and breathing principles reinforce the mind-body connection. The intense mental focus required helps anchor you wholly into the present moment.
Yoga translates to “union” and aims to unify the mind, body, and spirit. The breath synchronizes movement, while seated meditation calms mental chatter.
Deciding Between Pilates and Yoga
When choosing between Pilates and yoga classes, think about your goals, intensity preferences, and what classes are available. Trying introductory sessions can also help you determine which practice clicks most.
Consider Your Goals
While both Pilates and yoga increase flexibility, balance, and mindfulness, Pilates prioritizes core strength and toning muscles. Yoga sessions are usually slower-paced so it may take longer to see the physical benefits.
Factor in Intensity Preference
If you want a gentle workout, yoga’s meditative style is likely perfect, though power yoga takes up the intensity a notch. For an invigorating, muscle-defining burn, Pilates reformers and mat workouts are a great option.
Evaluate Available Classes
See what Pilates and yoga classes are offered around you to understand your options fully. Finding instructors you connect with can really enhance your experience, so consider their qualifications and teaching style. Many studios offer beginner classes so you can experience them first-hand.
Try Introductory Classes
Take a beginner Pilates and yoga class to get a feel for which practice resonates most. While both improve mindfulness and form, hands-on experience is the only way to really figure out which you prefer.
Join the RTR Pilates Community and Reach Your Fitness Goals
When trying to decide between yoga and Pilates classes, remember to pick the practice that fits your goals and lifestyle best. With a range of levels and class options, we feel that at RTR you can get the variety you likely seek.
If you’re still not sure which is right for you, why not take one of the highly popular Pilates classes at RTR Pilates in Northern Virginia, Washington DC or Maryland? With several locations to choose from, classes are available for everyone. Our experienced instructors, trained in proprietary methods, lead research-backed workouts targeting all your muscles. Contact us today to learn more about our incredibly supportive community and how we can help guide you on your journey toward strength, flexibility, and joyful movement.