Pilates vs. Yoga

This is Boat pose in Yoga and a Teaser in Pilates

This is Boat pose in Yoga and a Teaser in Pilates

Pilates vs. Yoga, which is better? The debate rages on.  Both are mind/body exercise regimens, both are primarily resistance training, both make you look and feel fabulous.  So which one is the best fit for you?  Take our little quiz to find out ...
  • Are you detail oriented?  If yes, steer towards Pilates
  • Do you like to move quietly and observe the world around you? If yes, steer towards Yoga
  • Do you like a more choreographed workout? If yes, steer towards Pilates
  • Do you like to explore poses? If yes, steer towards Yoga
  • Were you an athlete when you were younger? If yes, steer towards Pilates
  • Do you have an excellent sense of balance? If yes, steer towards yoga
  • Do you get back pain? If yes, steer towards Pilates
  • Would you like to really focus on flexibility? If yes, steer towards Yoga
Pilates, in general, is for detail-oriented people who would like to develop a great sense of body awareness, core strength, and flexibility.  The class pace is fairly quick, you'll do 40 to 50 different exercises in a one hour class.  The movements have a steady flow to them and a lot of them are adapted from when Joe Pilates trained the elite ballerinas of New York City in the 1930s and 1940s so there is a choreographed element to them. Top instructors complete at least 500 hours to receive their certification and are well versed in anatomy, physiology and working with physical limitations like joint surgeries and other injuries.  We are, particularly good at helping or resolving back pain issues.  Pilates instructors can work with anyone from a 96 year old house-bound great-grandma (one of my former clients) to professional athletes such as basketballer Shaquille O'Neill or golfer extraordinaire Tiger Woods. Yoga, in general, really focuses on flexibility and body awareness.  Standard classes tend to last 90 minutes and frequently there is an order to the exercises that clients repeat, exploring and improving their poses over time.   There is a wide, wide variety of yoga classes, some that are meditative and slow moving and some that are steaming hot (90 to 110 degrees!) and flow swiftly from pose to pose.  You can be very de-conditioned or a highly skilled athlete (Pittsburgh Steelers) and still get a great workout. Top Yoga instructors have studied under other gurus to learn their skill and completed a lengthy certification program.  They can take years to develop their craft and are, just like their students, always improving their practice. I have to admit my biased here.  I'm a Pilates instructor and a Pilates studio owner.  I am immersed in the Pilates culture.  I probably take about 4 yoga classes a year.  I always enjoy them, always say to myself I should go right back to the newest/greatest studio but I never do.  I always go back to my first love, Pilates. I would love to have input from others in the yoga and Pilates spheres.  Please share your ideas!

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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11 Responses to Pilates vs. Yoga

  1. Joe Williams December 3, 2009 at 8:14 pm #

    Folks, if you want excellent guidance and instruction on pilates, go no further than Lisa. You won’t be disappointed.

  2. Janice @ Lazy Mama Fitness December 5, 2009 at 9:49 am #

    Great article! I’ve just recently signed up for a pilates class and love it!!! Sometimes I prefer yoga over pilates (like when I want to get all bendy) and sometimes I prefer pilates (like when I want to focus on core strength).
    All the best, Janice @ Lazy Mama Fitness http://www.lazymama.com

  3. Anne February 11, 2010 at 2:38 pm #

    Love Love Love your site! Just discovered it from a RT on Twitter. Plan to look around a bit. Pilates is definitely different from yoga, but I find that they are equally challenging when you embrace what the “focus” is for each.

  4. Rob April 5, 2010 at 5:12 pm #

    Hi Lisa, I’ve been reading your posts after Mr Brogan mentioned you earlier today….it’s good stuff, I’m now an RSS subscriber, thanks. In very vague terms I was thinking about the principles of yoga, pilates and qigong and how, at the basic level, there’s an emphasis on strengthening your inner core (I nearly said that’s what it was all about). It just struck me as interesting as I see this principle is being used throughout gyms (spin class, body pump etc.).

    Wow now I’m in the mood for Pilates, just need to find a class!



  5. Lisa Johnson April 5, 2010 at 5:48 pm #

    Thanks for the very nice comments Rob. Mr. Brogan was incredibly kind to mention me today … :-) if you need a Pilates studio near where you live just send me an email via the contact page and I can direct you to a local studio. I know a lot of Pilates peeps through twitter and just through working in the industry forever.

    Be Well,


  6. Rob April 6, 2010 at 5:03 pm #

    Thanks will do.

  7. Becca July 21, 2010 at 7:55 am #

    Thank you SO much for the great article. My problem now is that I fit into BOTH categories! I’m very detail oriented and I have a LOT of back pain, but I am definitely NOT an athlete (nor was I EVER) and I have a horrible sense of rhythm (hence my reason for never taking an aerobics class).
    I do have a good sense of balance, but I also want to find something that will help me gain some core resistance. Hmmm…what to do?!
    P.S. I’m BRAND NEW to exercise… hoping to shed my inner couch potato

  8. Lisa Johnson July 21, 2010 at 9:12 am #

    Becca from your list I would say start with the most important thing. Back Pain. Pilates is specifically designed to strengthen the muscles of the spine and to help alignment and posture. EVERYTHING a Pilates Instructor does relates back to the spine and keeping it strong and supple. If you have quite a bit of back pain though I don’t recommend starting with a mat class. Take a few classes on the equipment first so the instructor can get you stabilized and then work into mat classes and group classes down the road.

    If this isn’t possible then I recommend the Stott Back DVDs. It’s got great simple exercises that are quite effective. Good luck! Email if you have any more specific questions.

  9. Holly September 8, 2010 at 2:17 pm #

    Hi Lisa,
    I have to say I love them both, but if I had to choose it would likely be Pilates! I incorporate Pilates moves into all of my fitness classes and I also add a lot of Pilates into many yoga moves. A strong core in essential and without Pilates I would probably still be the chronic back problem world! Great comparison. Thanks. Holly

  10. Lisa Johnson September 8, 2010 at 8:22 pm #

    Holly thanks for the honest comment. Pilates is more structurally based than most Yoga so I’d have to say, as far as your back is concerned I agree with you. But, there are plenty of yoga instructors out there who are great at fixing backs too. With Pilates though, the spine is everything, everything relates back to the spine.

  11. Relationship Coaching December 21, 2010 at 3:24 am #

    Pilates and yoga share the same techniques to develop tone and strengthen the muscles of the entire body. Compared to yoga postures, Pilate’s poses are strikingly similar but there are some differences between these two. Pilates mainly concentrates on cultivating core strength in the body and lengthening the spine. Also, Pilates is a valuable tool for increasing strength, definition and proper posture. Yoga aims to work the body equally and unite the body with mind and spirit.

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