Which class will suit you best – Pilates or Yoga?

Which class will suit you best, Yoga or Pilates?

There are many types of Yoga, from the relaxing Hatha to the dynamic Ashtanga so it is impossible to give a accurate comparison without attending each of the classes you are choosing between. For the purpose of this article I will, compare the basic principles which I follow in my classes of ‘I Move Freely Pilates’ and ‘Freestyle Fitness Yoga’.

It is important to look first at why you are considering taking up the exercise programme.  What do you hope to achieve from it? How would you describe your current physical condition and general health?

Getting back to exercise after a period of back pain?

Both Yoga and Pilates are often suggested to people with back pain and research has continually shows that both can help with it’s management. Exercise is often more effective than painkillers over a longer period and can help avoid the need for medical intervention. For most conditions, some activity is better than none so any exercise is likely to be beneficial.

If you have back pain the recommended exercises consist of gentle flexion and extension. This is best performed in an ‘unloaded’ position, usually lying on the floor initially to allow the muscles to flex and extend without the risk of spasm. So how is this movement treated in yoga and pilates classes?

Many yoga positions involve curling your spine, either from standing (as in rolling down towards your feet), from sitting rolling back to lie flat on the floor, or, from lying bringing your feet over your head. In all these positions there is some load or strain on the spine.

Although there are Pilates exercises which roll down I tend to leave these out of my classes as so many people find it aggravates theback pain.  I believe that it is possible to exercise the back avoiding unsupported spinal flexion.

When you recover from a period of back pain it is essential to train your core muscles to support your spine and pelvis. This can reduce the likelihood of a recurrence and prevent further damage. Pilates exercises focus on this area so they can be of enormous benefit to you.

Any exercise which is performed sitting on the floor will load the spine and this is aggravated by leaning forward. This is frequently seen in yoga but rarely in pilates. If you find it uncomfortable to sit on the floor with your feet out in front of you then Yoga is probably not for you.

Looking for an exercise class to keep you moving as you get older?

As the body ages it becomes increasingly important to keep it moving, encouraging joints to keep their range of movement, preventing stiffness and to recover from any surgery which you may have had on damaged joints.  The key to keeping good mobility in this instance is to encourage movement within the normal range.  Pilates is likely to include this in the warmup section of the class.  Yoga encourages a greater range of movement which may not be achieveable if you have joint damage caused by aging and could cause more pain.

Spinal twisting is an area where there is potential for spinal load which can lead to pain or damage. Several Yoga positions involve a twisted spine which for a healthy spine is unlikely to cause a problem. If your spine has any kind of degeneration trying to push yourself to achieve more movement can cause more damage. I am keen to encourage engagement of the supporting muscles to increase control through twisted positions. This is more likely to be achieved in a Pilates class where twisting is usually done on the floor and with abdominal engagement.

You are looking for increased flexibility?

If you are young, fit and healthy then Yoga is a great place to achieve greater flexibility.  Many yoga positions encourage increased range of movement through the joints as well as through muscle length.  Much of our flexibility is genetic but there is often room for improvement.  While Pilates will often include stretching it will be to maintain existing flexibility rather than with the aim of increasing flexibility.

Looking for increased strength?

Both Yoga and Pilates will improve strength although in different ways.  Pilates will work to increase abdominal strength to give the core area strength and stability.  It will also work to strengthen gluteus (butt) muscles which in conjuction with the abdominal work give great core stability.

Yoga will often assume that you have good core strength.  If you don’t have that core  strength then you may use incorrect muscles to perform the movements.   Yoga will improve upper body strength through positions which involve taking part of your body weight on your hands.  Lower body strength will be gained by standing positions and balances.

Looking for core strength?

For core strength I would recommend Pilates as the focus is so specific on the muscles which give you that strength.  While Yoga will give core strength you will get more benefit from a Yoga class if you already have some core strength. Yoga usually includes ‘the plank’ which is one of the most beneficial exercises using many core muscles as well as building strength. Perfect if you are already fairly fit but possibly to be aimed towards if you are a beginner.  In ‘I Move Freely’ Pilates we work towards the ‘plank’ lifts with graduated versions.

To conclude:

The benefits of yoga;

Strength, flexibility, core strength maintenance


Building of a strong core, back exercises and maintenance of joint mobility.

If you have any questions about this article do get in touch.

Remember that all classes vary so this is not intended as a comprehensive guide.


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