My client looked at me with a glint in her eye. “So … what do you think of The New York Times article about yoga vs Pilates?”
Her: They kinda bashed Pilates … said it was good for core and not much else.
Me: Really …
Her: Yeah, they said you can’t get a good arm or leg workout from it.
I looked at my client’s amazingly sculpted arms and said, “What do you think?”
Her: Yeah, I thought you’d be annoyed.
I’ve been here before … For some reason, Gretchen Reynolds, who does most of the fitness reporting for The New York Times, doesn’t have a very high opinion of Pilates. I honestly wonder if she’s ever even tried it. She just grabs one study factoid here, another study factoid there, both of which reinforce her own skewed opinion, and the Times prints it.
Which leaves me wondering about their moniker: “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” In Reynolds’ most recent piece, she used a Pilates study that had a whopping NINE people in it. It’s sad that I’ve taught group Pilates mat classes bigger than the cohort size of a study quoted in the nation’s most esteemed newspaper.
To wit, according to HuffPo, over the past three years The New York Times has mentioned Pilates exactly six times … It has mentioned yoga 12 times in just the first seven-plus months of 2013. Pilates isn’t even an afterthought; it’s something that is occasionally called forth, usually to compare it against something “better.”
Yoga vs Pilates
Here’s the thing: Pilates and/or yoga is only as good as the person teaching it. Your instructor will inform your class and guide you through a total body workout. Or not. At the end of the day, it comes down to the talent of the teacher and how well they know their craft.
The other truly annoying issue is that the article only looks at Pilates mat work. It doesn’t include any small props, and it doesn’t include Pilates equipment, such as the Reformer or Chair. Basically it’s looking at about 5 to 8 percent of the total repertoire of exercises. Imagine if they did that for yoga, only discussing Hatha, while completely ignoring Bikram, Ashtanga, Kundilini, and the like. People’s reactions would be far from zen.
The Truth: Pilates is About the Core
Here’s what I know to be true. Pilates does focus on the core … it’s what we do! Every exercise — whether it’s a bicep curl or a squat — includes engagement of the abdominal muscles, what many instructors call the core. (Honestly I just call them “your abs,” but that’s me.)
So you are working out your biceps AND your abs, and then you work out your butt AND your abs. It’s one of the reasons why Pilates is so bloody effective at ditching the muffin top.
I tell my clients I expect you to walk in the door and suck your abs in and not let them go until you walk back out again.
Just imagine how effective that is to defining and shrinking your midsection. It’s cool, no?
BUT as I mentioned above, you’re also doing bicep curls and squat-like moves and all sorts of other exercises. It is completely a stem-to-stern workout and I just wish I could get my hands on Ms. Reynolds for an hour so I could prove her quite resoundingly wrong.
As for yoga, yes, you are working the upper body quite a bit and lots of legs as you hold those warrior poses. You are definitely working and sweating. There is less emphasis on abs in yoga … I’ve never seen a yogini with a six-pack, although I have seen plenty of healthy, strong, vibrant yoginis.
Injury Rates for Yoga vs. Pilates
The injury rate for yoga is pegged at 3.5 people per 10,000. For comparison, golf is 39 injuries per 10,000 participants. Golf is a tough sport on your back, and it’s one of the reasons so many golf pros do Pilates. We keep them healthy, as well as improving their game. After an extensive search on the internet I couldn’t find any statistics for Pilates injury rates … apparently it’s not high enough to keep track of.
So there’s that …
But again, it comes back to the teachers. If you’ve got a good instructor, they’ll keep you safe. If you don’t, then to a large extent, you’re on your own to listen to your body.
What do you think of yoga vs Pilates? Does this seem like a silly debate the media likes to poke at occasionally? Or do you truly think one is better than the other?
Ultimately it comes down to which one you prefer. After all, some people are runners and some people aren’t. We all need to find the workout that sticks for us, and that comes before anyone else’s opinion about a particular sport.