Pilates vs Yoga Compared: Which One Is Right For You?

All our fitness and training resources are rigorously vetted by our expert team and adhere to our Exercise Advice Guidelines.

Many people have a tendency to lump Pilates and yoga together since they are both forms of exercise that are generally seen as low-intensity forms of movement that focus on the mind-body connection and may take place on an exercise mat.

However, there are several key differences between yoga and Pilates exercise.

Understanding some of the differences between Pilates vs yoga can help you decide whether Pilates or yoga better meets your overall fitness needs or if there are benefits to incorporating both yoga and Pilates into your routine.

In this guide to Pilates vs yoga, we will discuss the basics of what yoga and Pilates exercise each entail, and then we will look at the key differences between yoga vs Pilates to highlight how Pilates and yoga workouts differ.

We will look at: 

  • What Is Pilates?
  • The Differences Between Pilates vs Yoga
  • Should I Do Yoga Or Pilates?

Let’s get started!

A person doing a yoga pose.

What Is Pilates?

Before we address the differences between Pilates versus yoga, it is helpful to answer the question: What is Pilates?

Although people generally have an idea of what yoga is, there are a lot of misconceptions about Pilates, which can lead to misunderstandings about the difference between yoga and Pilates.

Pilates is a form of exercise that aims to strengthen the core muscles, improve muscle tone, increase balance, prevent injuries, and provide other benefits that we will address.

Joseph Pilates, the founder of Pilates exercise, originally called his method “Controlology” and designed Pilates based on the guiding principle that “It is the mind itself which builds the body,” speaking to the emphasis on the mind-body connection in Pilates.

The Differences Between Pilates vs Yoga

Despite some similarities between yoga and Pilates exercises, there are notable differences between yoga vs Pilates, including the following:

A person doing a yoga pose.

Pilates vs. Yoga: Origins

One of the biggest differences between Pilates versus yoga is a matter of the origins and history of each form of exercise.

The practice of yoga is far older than Pilates, dating back over 5,000 years ago, with origins in Ancient India, where the Rig Veda, a sacred Sanskrit text, first mentions the term. 

Compared to yoga, Pilates is still in its nascent stages.

German-born Joseph Pilates developed the foundations of Pilates and didn’t really bring Pilates as a form of exercise to the public until 1923, when he moved from Germany to New York City and opened the first Pilates studio. 

Furthermore, yoga has spiritual and religious roots, whereas Pilates workouts were developed as a form of rehab.

Yoga is one of the schools of philosophy in Hinduism and is also a component of the meditative practices of Buddhism and Jainism. 

Plus, the practice of “yoga“ includes multiple limbs or branches, with the asanas, or poses that we think of for yoga workouts, being only one component of yoga as a discipline.

Joseph Pilates developed Pilates exercise after observing the physical consequences of battle injuries on the function and health of soldiers in World War 1. 

Pilates exercises were developed to serve as a form of fitness training that could help rehabilitate injured soldiers by strengthening, stabilizing, and stretching certain muscles.

Therefore, one of the key differences between yoga vs Pilates is that yoga has spiritual and religious ties, whereas Pilates was designed to be a functional form of exercise or rehabbing injuries.

People doing planks.

Pilates vs Yoga: Principles and Focus

While Pilates and yoga both focus on core strength, breathing, the mind-body connection, and centering, a difference between yoga vs Pilates is that yoga has a broader scope beyond physical movement in terms of defined principles.

Yoga integrates other factors, such as diet and lifestyle behaviors, whereas Pilates focuses on the physical practice in your Pilates workout session.

There are five core principles of “points” of yoga: 

  1. Proper Exercise (Asanas)
  2. Proper Breathing (Pranayama)
  3. Proper Relaxation (Savasana)
  4. Proper Diet (Vegetarian)
  5. Positive Mindset and Meditation (Vedanta and Dhyana)

Pilates was originally developed to focus on the following six core principles: 

  1. Centering
  2. Concentration
  3. Control
  4. Precision
  5. Breathing
  6. Flow

Since its inception, Pilates now has additional principles, such as proper alignment, at the heart of Pilates workouts.

A pilates class.

Pilates vs Yoga: Benefits

Research-backed benefits of Pilates include the following:

Yoga has many of the same benefits, and unique ones as well:

  • Improving flexibility
  • Reducing back pain and joint pain 
  • Increasing mobility 
  • Boosting mood and overall well-being 
  • Improving sleep
  • Improving quality of life
  • Supporting weight loss
  • Increasing bone density 
  • Reducing stress and anxiety 
A pilates machine.

Pilates vs Yoga: Equipment 

Yoga and Pilates workouts can both take place just on a yoga mat with your body weight, but there are also some optional Pilates equipment and yoga products that can vary how you practice yoga versus Pilates.

Many styles of yoga use “yoga props“ such as yoga blocks, yoga straps, pillows, boaters, chairs, and yoga wheels. 

Mat Pilates workouts take place on a yoga mat, but other styles of Pilates use specialized equipment.

Reformer Pilates uses a special piece of Pilates equipment known as a reformer, and Scott Pilates uses some traditional strength training tools such as stability balls, foam rollers, and BOSU balls.

People in a yoga class.

Yoga vs Pilates: Exercises

The other main difference between Pilates vs yoga is the movements or exercises themselves.

In yoga, exercises are called “poses“ or “asanas” in Sanskrit. 

Examples of common yoga poses are Child’s Pose, Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I), and Tree Pose (Vrksasana).

Depending on the style of yoga you are practicing, yoga poses are generally held for longer than Pilates exercises, which are more dynamic and involve small, precise movements.

Examples of common Pilates exercises include scissors, teasers, one hundreds, and pendulums.

Pilates vs Yoga: Workouts

Most people who are interested in comparing Pilates vs yoga want to know the answer to the question: “Which is a better workout, Pilates or yoga?”

A person in a yoga pose.

This question is difficult to answer because there are so many types of yoga and different types of Pilates. 

Within the styles of yoga and Pilates, some are much more vigorous and challenging from a muscular or cardio standpoint, so you can’t really do a head-to-head comparison of yoga vs Pilates calories burned, Pilates vs yoga strengthening benefits, etc.

In general, neither yoga nor Pilates is going to give you as much of a cardio workout or burn as many calories as vigorous aerobic exercise like running, cycling, etc., nor will yoga or Pilates build muscle or increase strength as much as traditional strength training or circuit training workouts.

Instead, yoga and Pilates both can incorporate some cardio, some strengthening, but also flexibility, serving as more of a hybrid style of exercise in its own unique category.

In terms of calories burned, it all depends on the intensity of yoga vs Pilates workouts that you are doing.

Pilates and yoga have both been shown to increase flexibility, but yoga tends to focus on improving flexibility more than Pilates.

People meditating in a yoga class.

If you want to increase core strength or total-body strength, it is better to do Pilates vs yoga, but for upper-body strength in particular, yoga versus Pilates is a better option.

Reformer Pilates will burn more calories and boost your heart rate more than most types of yoga unless you are doing vigorous Vinyasa or power yoga.

You can buy The Micro, by Lagree Fitness, if you want to take your at-home Pilates workouts to another level with the new, compact version of the Pilates Megareformer.

Should I Do Yoga Or Pilates?

There isn’t going to be a universal answer as to whether it is better to do Pilates or yoga for every individual.

Because there are differences between yoga and Pilates, and there isn’t necessarily a “winner” in the Pilates vs yoga comparison, you will need to weigh the differences between yoga versus Pilates to decide whether you want to do Pilates or yoga (or both!).

Yoga and Pilates workouts can both improve flexibility, core strength, mindfulness, kinesthetic awareness and boost overall fitness.

Moreover, because Pilates and yoga are both forms of exercise, they also share the benefits of physical activity, such as decreasing blood pressure, burning calories, supporting weight loss goals, improving mood, and decreasing anxiety and stress. 

Plus, studies have found that consistently maintaining a yoga or Pilates routine can help reduce back pain. 

Ultimately, adding both Pilates and yoga to your workout routine can be beneficial. 

Which do you prefer? Let us know! If you would like to check out our wall Pilates guide, click here!

A person holding a yoga mat.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.