Is Pilates or Yoga Better for Toning Your Body?

In short – A combination of lengthening and strengthening can help improve your muscle tone.  Pilates and yoga both come under the “low intensity, steady state” exercise category. This type of exercise is great in so many ways.

Low intensity steady state exercise is low impact to our bones, joints and ligaments which can help prevent multiple injuries including osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, fractures or broken bones. It helps to build aerobic fitness (endurance) through better blood flow and transportation of oxygen resulting in a stronger and more efficient heart muscle.

Aerobic exercise allows your body to break down carbohydrates and fat for energy. Low impact exercise like Pilates and yoga is great for slowing down and exercising at your “recovery” pace which can also help you achieve your goals faster. Research suggests we should aim for 3-4 moderate intensity sessions of around 30-60 minutes per week for good heart, lung and muscle health.

With this in mind it is important we have a balance of the right exercise so we don’t burnout and cause injury. The benefits of Clinical Pilates and yoga are that these allow your body to still achieve good strengthening and stretching of muscles, while being completed at an intensity that will be unlikely to cause injury.

In an athlete’s training program, Pilates and yoga are often included in a weekly schedule for an “active recovery” session. This means that they are still able to complete some exercise for the day, without the high intensity and impact of their usual training loads. For the rest of us, Pilates and yoga can be included as part of a normal, healthy week. 

Before we explore which type of exercise is best, let’s identify what the differences are between Pilates and yoga.

Pilates focuses on postural awareness through lengthening and activating (or relaxing) appropriate muscles. The activation of these muscles can then be translated into functional exercises for you that will help with your walking, running or any other chosen sport.

A Pilates class at Instinct Health will be a 45-minute session using specialised Physiotherapy and Pilates equipment, with exercises that have been chosen based on your individual goals or injuries. Your Physiotherapist will monitor and progress your exercises at a pace that is appropriate for you, and importantly make sure you are completing the exercises correctly.

This means both at the correct tempo, or speed, and with the correct body position. You will be cued to think about your breathing, where your limbs are, and which muscles to be concentrating on contracting.

The specific benefits of Pilates can include:

o   Increased muscle strength and tone

o   Improved abdominal (or deep core) muscles strength

o   Improved strength in the muscles of the lower back, hips and pelvis

o   Improved postural awareness & muscle control

o   Improved tone to your legs, arms and core WITHOUT creating bulk

o   Improved spinal stability

o   Safe rehabilitation of injuries & injury prevention

o   Balanced strength on both sides of the body

o   Improved flexibility, co-ordination and balance

Yoga focusses on increasing the flexibility of our joints and gradually improving the flexibility of our bodies as a whole. There are many different varieties of yoga but there are common themes across all styles of yoga. At Instinct Health, we practice a variety of styles including Vinyasa, Flow and Purna.

Each of these different practices focus on awareness of the body, in particular breathing patterns aligned with the mind. The postures adopted in each of our yoga classes will focus on stretching and strengthening different muscle groups, all while staying mindful of the intrinsic feeling within each body part.

Yoga will typically use both the body’s own weight as its challenge for strength, and a variety of props. In a yoga class, you will typically be exposed to equipment including straps, blocks and bolsters.

These can be either used to challenge you, or make a particular pose more achievable for you. For that reason, we can still improve our body’s strength during a yoga class. Using the fundamental principles of Pilates, we can also then activate and strengthen our core muscles during a yoga class.

Some of the benefits of yoga include:

o   Improved cardiovascular fitness

o   Reduced blood pressure

o   Reduction in stress

o   Increased feelings of happiness

o   Improved body awareness

o   Improved balance

o   Meditation to help quieten the mind from everyday stress

o   Better sleep

o   Increased ability to concentrate

When comparing the two types of exercise, both Pilates and yoga will increase the body’s tone, or resting muscle strength. Pilates has the ability to use both body weight and additional external resistance options like a Pilates Reformer to achieve this, while Yoga will typically use body weight to challenge us.

Both variations of exercise will target the smaller muscle groups to make sure the right muscles are being activated, and in the correct sequence. As physiotherapists, we at Instinct Health believe that we should lengthen and strengthen muscles, joints and ligaments, and both of these principles can be achieved in either Pilates or yoga.

Your individual goals and injuries may dictate which of these two might be more appropriate for you. In a lot of cases for our clients, they see the benefits of completing both of these sessions in a week to complement one another. If you want to run faster, lift heavier weights in the gym or even just be pain free when playing with the kids, these exercises are for you!

If you’re looking to try pilates in Camberwell or physio in Camberwell, come by our studios at Instinct Health and see the effects for yourself.

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