As two of the most popular modern workout regimens, yoga and pilates have quite interesting and varied pasts, one with a 5,000 year history in Southeast Asia, and the other a globe-trotting European-based practice. But which is better in the long run? This is a head-to-head battle of stretching vs. strength! Meet The Competitors Yoga is an ancient technique intended to unite body and mind through stretching, strength moves, breathing, and meditation. But what makes it more than just a good workout is the yoga lifestyle— embracing values like tolerance and abstinence from violence, lying, and stealing. Modern yoga practices are based on the teachings of thousands of years of instruction, but Westerners typically practice variations of Hatha Yoga, combining yoga postures (asanas) with specific breathing techniques (pranayama). If yoga is the wise older practice, Pilates is its hip younger sibling. Currently a favorite of the rich and famous, this method was actually developed in the early 1900s by Joseph Pilates to help rehabilitate World War I soldiers. Pilates is generally split into two categories— mat exercises, and those using a Pilates machine (sometimes called a Pilates table, or the “Pilates Reformer”). The routines combine low-impact flexibility and core strengthening exercises utilizing body weight and calisthenic training.
Despite their very different pasts, Pilates and yoga overlap in several ways. Both have been used to rehabilitate a surprising assortment of injuries and syndromes, including (but definitely not limited to) stroke, drug abuse, anxiety, joint injuries, and fibromyalgia Yoga in stroke rehabilitation: a systematic review and results of a pilot study. Lynton, H., Kligler, B., Shiflett, S. Continuum Center for Health and Healing, New York, New York. Topics in Stroke Rehabilitation, 2007 Jul-Aug;14(4):1-8. Yoga for rehabilitation: an overview. Telles, S., Naveen, K.V. Vivekananda Kendra Yoga Research Foundation, Banglore. Indian Journal of Medical Sciences, 1997 Apr;51(4):123-7. Rehabilitation after total hip and knee arthroplasty: a new regimen using Pilates training. Levine, B., Kaplanek, B., Scafura, D., et al. Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois. Bulletin of the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases, 2007;65(2):120-5. Effect of pilates training on people with fibromyalgia syndrome: a pilot study. Altan, L., Korkmaz, N., Bingol, U., et al. Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of Uludag, Bursa, Turkey. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 2009 Dec;90(12):1983-8. . Yoga’s proven to be especially effective for mental and emotional rehab, while Pilates is used more often for physical rehabilitation. And with good reason— Pilates has been shown to improve upper body and core muscle endurance and flexibility, while yoga can improve mental and emotional health by calming the sympathetic nervous system (which controls stress levels) and the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis (which regulates hormone levels) Pilates for improvement of muscle endurance, flexibility, balance, and posture. Kloubec, J.A. Department of Health and Exercise Science, Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2010 Mar;24(3):661-7. The health benefits of yoga and exercise: a review of comparison studies. Ross, A., Thomas, S. School of Nursing, University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2010 Jan;16(1):3-12. . But that’s not all yoga does. One study found yoga lowered BMI and improved endurance and flexibility in school children with asthma, though there is still some debate as to whether yoga is a good substitute for more traditional forms of exercise [The effect of yoga exercise intervention on health related physical fitness in school-age asthmatic children]. Chen, T.L., Mao, H.C., Lai, C.H., et al. Department of Nursing, Chung Jen College of Nursing, Health Science and Management, Chiayi City, Taiwan. The Journal of Nursing, 2009 Apr;56(2):42-52. . But there may be no need to choose between the two. Some experts say practicing Pilates can help build strength to improve yoga performance. Because stretching (yoga) may lower the risk of muscle injuries, it’s unlikely that combining the two would cause overuse. Just the same, if muscles are sore, give them time to rest and recover. Another bonus of both is that they can be done right at home. Fitness videos galore are available for the at-home practitioner who wants to save a buck or a trip to the gym, though a starter course may be a good idea to learn the basics of either regimen. In the end, this face-off comes down to personal preference and fitness goals. Yoga’s the go-to choice for stress relief and a mind-body workout— though it could be good for physical fitness, too— while Pilates is typically better for strictly strengthening muscle.