Similar to yoga, Pilates is a form of low-impact exercise that aims to develop one’s balance, strength and endurance, Amanda Freeman tells us, founder and CEO of SLT, an NYC-based Pilates fitness studio. Created nearly 100 years ago by Joseph Hubertus Pilates, the primary goal of Pilates is to support muscle balance, core strength and postural alignment through small, slow, precise movements. And even though you won’t be jumping around or dropping it low a la Zumba, you can still expect to be drenched in sweat within the first ten minutes of class. You can practice Pilates on a mat or on a special machine called a reformer, which is a flat, sliding platform composed of springs and pulleys that provide varying levels of resistance. It might look like a torture device on stilts (and it may feel like one mid pike) but the reformer is a uniquely designed machine that can train multiple parts of the body at once while simultaneously promoting flexibility and balance.
Are There Different Types of Pilates?
“Pilates has been reinterpreted in countless ways using a variety of different pieces of equipment,” Freeman tells us, including the reformer, the chair, the tower and the mat. “There’s everything from classical Pilates, power Pilates, mat Pilates and best of all, high-intensity Pilates which has grown in popularity,” including her own iteration, SLT, that merges Pilates with cardio on a machine called a Megaformer. Classical Pilates is the purest in form, following the original system and incorporating both mat and reformer work. It was originally created to help rehabilitate soldiers during wartime but was soon adapted to help dancers get long and lean. Contemporary Pilates is the more modern version, weaving in new understandings of biomechanics with the traditional Pilates exercises to create a system that’s arguably safer and more functional. There are a ton of other hybrid-Pilates options out there as well and, similar to yoga, finding what’s best for you is entirely dependent upon your goals and personal preferences.
What Are the Benefits of Pilates?
There’s a reason celebs like Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz and Naomi freaking Campbell practice Pilates on the reg. “Pilates is known for its amazing results,” Freeman says, “that long, lean and toned muscle definition. When done right, you’ll feel it working immediately.” How, you ask? “Pilates works the slow-twitch muscle fibers,” also known as the endurance muscles, which are involved in postural control and sustained movement rather than explosive moves, like sprinting. Additional health benefits, according to the Better Health Channel, include:
- Increases muscle strength and tone, particularly in the core
- Improves coordination and balance
- Increases metabolism
- Faster rehabilitation post-injury
- Increases flexibility
- Increases lung capacity
- Improves concentration
- Improves posture
- Increases spine stabilization
- Improves injury prevention
So, What’s the Difference Between Yoga and Pilates?
Yoga and Pilates are often grouped together as similar forms of exercise. Though they both focus on mind-body awareness, are rooted in breathwork, are considered low impact and can help improve balance and strength, the similarities stop there. “Yoga prioritizes breath before movement,” Schenone explains, “whereas Pilates prioritizes movement, then breath. Furthermore, yoga focuses on increasing flexibility and strength in the limbs, spine and joints, while Pilates focuses first on core strength, then on balancing the body’s muscle groups.” Likewise, you’ll never find a reformer in a yoga studio. “Pilates is traditionally performed on unique equipment while yoga is done on a mat,” Freeman says. Schenone adds that, in addition, most Pilates moves are made lying down, while a bulk of the poses in yoga are conducted standing up.
Finally, their founding principles and basic roots are also where these two workouts differ. “The key difference between yoga and Pilates is the spiritual and mental component,” Schenone says. Yoga prioritizes mindfulness and the connection to one’s spiritual self. Pilates is founded on the practice of rehabilitation, strength and endurance.
If you’ve never done either (or are new to working out in general) Pilates and yoga are both great options for people looking to add a ritual of mobility and movement to their daily lives. If you’re already pretty active, they’re a great way to gain strength, maintain flexibility and alleviate stress.