Pilates vs Yoga: Which Is Right for You?

Pilates vs Yoga - ALIGN Pilates Studios - Austin, TX

Pilates vs Yoga: Which Is Right for You?

Pilates vs Yoga: Which Is Right for You?

Let’s say you’re a runner. You’ve been running for years. You’ve run marathons, 5Ks, and everything in between. You love running but your knees are taking a beating. After so many years, they’re not holding up like they used to. Your friends start recommending other exercises to try. The two that keep coming up? Yoga and Pilates.

Of course you’ve heard of them. Maybe you’ve done some YouTube yoga and you have a friend who takes that PiYo (Pilates+yoga) class down the road. So, are Pilates and yoga the same? Do they work the same muscles? Follow the same routine?

When it comes to Pilates and yoga, there can be a lot of confusion. People tend to throw both fitness modalities under the same umbrella, and understandably so. They are both low-impact. They are both strengthening exercises. You can do them barefoot on a mat. But just because they have similarities doesn’t mean yoga and Pilates are the same.

Pilates and yoga have different histories and backgrounds, they use different types of movement, and they offer different results for the mind and body. Depending on where you are in your fitness journey, one, or both, might be right for you.

What is Pilates?

What is Pilates? - ALIGN Pilates Studios

Pilates was founded by German physical trainer Joseph Pilates in the early twentieth century. Growing up, Joseph suffered from several illnesses and dedicated his life to improving his health. His quest led him to gymnastics, martial arts, weight lifting and…yoga. He used what he learned from various fitness modalities to create what would become present-day Pilates: a form of exercise that focuses on using the core to make intentional movements that strengthen the entire body.

Some of Joseph Pilates’ first students were World War I veterans recovering from injuries. He later taught professional dancers in New York City where he opened the first Pilates studio.

There are several different types of Pilates available today, the two most popular being mat Pilates and reformer Pilates. Joseph Pilates invented the reformer—a type of platform on wheels—for his students who needed help achieving the mat exercises. He later created several other pieces of equipment like the Cadillac (also known as the trapeze table), the chair, spine corrector and ladder barrel to make Pilates more accessible and scalable for students at all levels. At Align West, we teach reformer Pilates in a variety of formats. At Align East, where we host our teacher training program, we have every piece of original Pilates equipment so our teachers can be well-versed in whatever equipment would help their students most.

Mat Pilates uses the basic moves of Pilates but without the reformer and only a few pieces of basic equipment or no equipment.

Whether doing reformer Pilates or mat Pilates, you’ll likely see numerous benefits with regular practice including:

  • muscle strengthening and toning
  • increased flexibility
  • decreased joint pain
  • improvement in balance

Pilates is often recommended for low back or hip pain and is a trusted pre- and post-natal exercise for women looking to maintain and rebuild strength in their core and pelvic floor.

Pilates changed my life completely. Being opened up to this world gave me a head start into health and wellness.”

Brooke Bowersock

Balanced Body Pilates Principal Educator

What is yoga? - ALIGN Pilates Studios - Austin, TX

What is Yoga?

While Pilates was created as a way to build physical strength, yoga has a more spiritual origin.

Originating in ancient India, yoga has associations with Hinduism and Buddhism reaching as far back as 3,000 years ago. In its original form, yoga was an exercise of the mind, focusing on meditation and helping practitioners detach from suffering. Today, the Western yoga we most often practice emphasizes meditation and breathwork but also focuses on physical strength and flexibility.

In the U.S., studios offer various types of yoga, the most popular being vinyasa, hatha and ashtanga. Any yoga class will move you through a series of poses held for extended periods or moved through quickly depending on the type of class you’re taking. Each pose serves a different purpose, but the focus remains on the breath and the present moment, making it a meditative exercise working the mind and body.

Benefits of yoga include:

  • increased flexibility
  • muscles strengthening
  • reduced stress and anxiety
  • reduced joint pain

Yoga is also beneficial as a prenatal exercise and has been proven to help reduce back pain in pregnant women and help with labor and delivery.

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How do I know which one is right for me?

When choosing between yoga and Pilates (though you can always do both if you have the time!), think about your goals. Are you looking to improve your mental health? Increase strength? Rehab an injury?

For injuries, Pilates is probably the place to start as it includes more physical therapy-type moves and can easily be scaled and modified.

While both exercises have been proven to better mental health, yoga will introduce you to meditation and other mindfulness exercises.

Yoga and Pilates both increase strength, but Pilates is more focused on increasing physical strength, starting with the core that ultimately supports the entire body.

If you’re pregnant or recently gave birth, yoga and Pilates can be easily modified to support your changing body or help you rebuild strength after birth. Pilates is especially helpful for restoring core and pelvic floor strength after birth while yoga provides a safe way for women to maintain strength and flexibility while pregnant.

There is a time and place for both exercises. It just depends on what your mind and body need.

In addition to your fitness goals, consider the following when trying to decide which exercise is best for you right now:


What studios are close by? Which ones offer class times that work for your schedule? If you’re interested in both types of exercise, let time and proximity decide for you.


Do your friends take yoga or Pilates? Or are there studios that offer a more communal environment? We are much more likely to work out and keep working out if we have support, so ask a friend if you can tag along to her next class.


What sounds like the most fun to you? If you’re not sure, try both classes to see which one you enjoy more. When it comes to fitness, whatever you enjoy the most you will sustain the longest. Doing a workout simply because it burns the most calories isn’t as sustainable as an exercise you actually enjoy doing. Choose the class that is the most fun for you or makes you feel the best and you’ll find yourself doing it for years to come.

Whatever you decide to do, know that Pilates and yoga can be done at any age. They are exercises that adapt to you and your body as you get older, stronger and more flexible. All movement is good movement. Do what feels best for your mind and body right now.

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