Pilates vs yoga: which is better for you?

When you want to shake up your fitness regime and do something new, should you pick pilates or yoga? Health and fitness writer Amy Abrahams gives a balanced view.

While similar, “yoga is made up of a series of static postures and pilates is based on putting yourself into unstable postures and challenging your body by moving your limbs,” says Dawne Likhodedova, founder of Be Pilates.

Both improve muscular and postural strength, she adds, but each practice has its own benefits – so before hitting a class, consider these options:

If you want to build strength, try... PILATES

Pilates uses resistance, positions and apparatus, such as the Reformer machine, to engage muscles, leading to impressive body conditioning. “It’s good for the mind-muscle connection,” says Dalton Wong, founder of Twenty Two Training and co-author of The Feelgood Plan. “The older you get, the more muscle mass you lose, so pilates targets the specific muscles responsible for a strong, stable body, leading to muscle definition.”

If you want flexibility, try... YOGA

Yoga is recognised for improving flexibility, posture and balance. But its benefits for your bones and joints go further – a study* last year found just 12 minutes of yoga a day can lead to an improvement in bone quality. If you’re a beginner, try something gentle like Hatha yoga, or Iyengar, which uses props, such as blocks and straps, to help alignment. For something more dynamic, try faster-paced Ashtanga.

If you have back pain, try... YOGA OR PILATES

For non-specific lower-back pain, the NHS says there’s some evidence pilates can offer relief, thanks to its focus on the core and use of supportive apparatus. Meanwhile, a University of York study** found that regular yoga can lead to a significant improvement in back function and ability to undertake activities. So it’s a tie.

If you want to hone your abs, try... PILATES

While yoga works the abdominals in a generalised way, pilates “particularly increases strength and tone of abs and core muscles,” says Likhodedova. Try this ‘hundred’ move: lie on your back with legs in tabletop position (hips and knees bent at 90 degrees, so the shins and feet are parallel to the floor), lower back slightly flat to the floor, and arms by your side with palms down. Draw in your stomach muscles. On an exhale, lift the head and shoulders from the floor. While flexed forwards, pulse arms up and down – building up to 100 times – before lowering head, shoulders and feet back to the floor.

If you’re feeling stressed, try... YOGA

Yoga’s focus on spiritual well-being and meditation (especially the relaxing savasana, or ‘corpse’ pose, that often ends a class) makes it ideal for improving mood. “Yoga is great for breath and reduces stress levels,” says Wong. Not just that, researchers at Boston University School of Medicine*** found that three sessions of yoga a week can lessen anxiety and help fight off depression. And breathe...

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