Pilates Vs Yoga: What Is The Difference?

Photo of author
Written by
Last Updated:

Although yoga and pilates are both forms of exercise that promote the mind-body connection and may take place on a mat, there are actually quite a few differences between the two workouts.

The primary purpose, intensity, movements, and benefits of yoga and Pilates differ, among other factors.

While there isn’t necessarily a definitive “better” workout when it comes to Pilates vs. yoga, it’s helpful to know the differences between Pilates and yoga so that you can understand which type of exercise is better for you, as well as how to best incorporate yoga and Pilates into your workout routine.

Curious to know whether your next workout on your yoga mat should be a yoga flow or a Pilates sequence? Keep reading for the rundown on Pilates vs yoga, where we discuss the differences between Pilates and yoga to help you find your exercise match.

We will look at:

  • How yoga and Pilates are similar,
  • The differences between the origins and principles of the two disciplines,
  • The differences between disciplines when it comes to strength, flexibility, weight loss, and more,
  • And finally, we will discuss which is better, yoga or pilates!


Let’s get into it!

Pilates Vs Yoga What Is The Difference

How Are Yoga And Pilates Similar?

Before addressing the differences between Pilates and yoga, it’s useful to touch upon the similarities and reasons why these two forms of exercise are often grouped together.

Pilates and yoga can both increase flexibility, core strength, mindfulness, kinesthetic awareness, and overall fitness. As Pilates and yoga are both forms of exercise, they also share benefits such as improving mood, decreasing blood pressure, burning calories and aiding weight loss, and decreasing anxiety and stress. 

Maintaining either a regular yoga or Pilates practice has also been shown to reduce back pain.

The Differences Between Pilates And Yoga

Despite the similarities between Pilates and yoga, there are notable differences as well:

Pilates vs Yoga: Origins

One of the biggest differences between Pilates and yoga simply comes down to the roots or origins of each discipline. Yoga dates back over 5,000 years ago with origins in Ancient India, where the Rig Veda, a sacred Sanskrit text, first mentions the term. 

Pilates Vs Yoga What Is The Difference 10

Yoga also has spiritual and religious ties, as it forms one of the schools of philosophy in Hinduism. Yoga is also a component of the meditative practices of Buddhism and Jainism.

Pilates, on the other hand, is in the nascent stage relative to yoga. The foundations of Pilates are the brainchild of German-born Joseph Pilates, who moved from Germany to New York City in 1923 where he opened the first Pilates studio. 

Developed after observing the deleterious effects of battle injuries on the function and health of soldiers in World War 1, Joseph Pilates’ goal was to develop a form of fitness training that could help rehabilitate injured soldiers by strengthening, stabilizing, and stretching certain muscles.

Joseph Pilates originally called his method “Controlology” and designed it 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.

Pilates is not associated with a particular religion or spiritual practice.

Pilates Vs Yoga What Is The Difference 2

Pilates vs Yoga: Principles and Emphasis 

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

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

Since its inception, additional principles, such as proper alignment, have been ascribed to Pilates.

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)

Therefore, while both Pilates and yoga focus on movement, breathing, and centering, yoga has broader breadth or scope when it comes to defined principles, integrating lifestyle factors such as diet.

Pilates Vs Yoga What Is The Difference 3

Pilates vs Yoga: Primary Benefits

Research-backed benefits of Pilates include the following:

  • Improving core strength 
  • Improving posture
  • Reducing back pain 
  • Increasing mobility
  • Increasing flexibility 
  • Improving kinesthetic awareness
  • Decreasing pain 
Pilates Vs Yoga What Is The Difference 4

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 quality of life
  • Supporting weight loss
  • Increasing bone density 
  • Reducing stress and anxiety 

Pilates vs Yoga: Equipment and Practice

Pilates and yoga can both take place on a yoga mat with nothing more than your body weight. However, there are also options for different accouterments.

Pilates Vs Yoga What Is The Difference 5

Many styles of yoga make use of “props” such as yoga blocks, straps, and wheels. For example, restorative yoga uses pillows and bolsters and Iyengar yoga relies heavily on blocks, straps, and ropes.

Although mat Pilates does take place on a mat, other styles of Pilates, such as reformer Pilates, take place on specialized equipment. Forms like Scott Pilates make use of props such as stability balls, foam rollers, and BOSU balls.

Therefore, there are notable differences in the tools and equipment used in Pilates vs yoga. 

Pilates vs Yoga: Movements

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

Compared to the sequencing in Pilates, yoga poses are typically held for a longer period of time before transitioning, and changes from one pose to the next involve more dramatic, gross, full-body positioning changes than transitions in Pilates.

Pilates tends to focus on smaller, more precise movements with less drastic body positioning changes or transitions between movements. Examples of Pilates moves include the teaser, one hundred, scissors, and pendulum.

Pilates Vs Yoga What Is The Difference 6

Pilates vs Yoga: Aerobic Workout

One of the most touted benefits of many popular forms of exercise is the impact of physical activity on heart health and cardiovascular fitness. Yoga and Pilates can both reduce the risk of heart disease and improve cardiovascular function. 

However, compared to exercises like running, swimming, rowing, cycling, and HIIT workouts, neither Pilates nor yoga is a particularly aerobically-challenging workout. That said, the range in intensity across different styles of yoga and levels of Pilates differ wildly, with some styles and levels posing a much more demanding cardio workout.

In general, in a head-to-head match of Pilates vs yoga, when it comes to the cardiovascular workout, Pilates workouts on machines are usually more aerobically intense and will increase your heart rate more than most types of yoga. However, mat Pilates is usually a less challenging cardio workout than Vinyasa class, Bikram, or hot yoga.

Pilates vs Yoga For Weight loss

Weight loss comes down to the number of calories you burn relative to the calories you consume. Exercise factors into the calorie expenditure side of the equation, so Pilates and yoga can both burn calories and help you lose weight.

Pilates Vs Yoga What Is The Difference 7

Comparing the calories burned doing Pilates vs yoga is difficult, again because of the range In intensities and styles of each form of exercise. According to Harvard Health, a 125-pound person can expect to burn about 120 calories doing Hatha yoga for 30 minutes, while someone weighing 185 pounds will burn around 168 calories for the same workout.

While these numbers seem low, keep in mind that Hatha is low-intensity yoga compared to forms like Vinyasa. More vigorous classes, such as a challenging Vinyasa flow, may burn 1.5-2 times as many calories.

There is a paucity of research surrounding the calorie expenditure in Pilates. Most fitness organizations cite that 30 minutes of Pilates also burns about 120 calories for someone weighing 125 pounds and 160 for someone closer to 180 pounds. 

Reformer Pilates classes that incorporate cardio movements can burn a significantly higher number of calories.

Ultimately, however, the average energy expenditure is likely to be similar across most forms of Pilates and yoga.

Pilates Vs Yoga What Is The Difference 8

Pilates vs Yoga: Flexibility

Though consistent practice of both Pilates and yoga have been shown to increase flexibility and mobility, yoga poses (asanas) tend to focus more on flexibility than Pilates moves. 

If you’re looking to increase your range of motion and reduce stiffness, yoga workouts may trump Pilates.

Pilates vs Yoga: Strength

Pilates and yoga can both increase muscular strength, though Pilates tends to shine in the area of core strength while yoga may lead to greater increases in upper body strength, depending on the asanas you practice. Reformer Pilates can also be more of a total-body workout than classical or mat Pilates. 

Which Is Better, Pilates Or Yoga?

As is likely clear after examining the factors that differentiate Pilates vs. yoga, there’s no clear-cut answer as to which is a better workout. Your fitness goals and needs are the primary factors to consider when evaluating which modality of exercise is best for you.

Pilates Vs Yoga What Is The Difference 9

Pilates may be best for those looking to build core strength, improve posture, and increase mind-body awareness and control. Yoga may be better for improving mobility and flexibility, alleviating depression, and promoting a sense of overall well-being. 

Additionally, within the individual umbrellas of yoga and Pilates, there are quite a few diverse styles and subtypes, so there are likely the best forms of each for your particular needs. 

For example, if you are looking for a hardcore sweat, Bikram yoga may be ideal, whereas if you want to reduce anxiety and focus on connecting your breath with movement, a Hatha class may be better. In Pilates, a reformer class will provide more of a cardio workout than mat Pilates. 

Pilates and yoga can both be beneficial forms of exercise, and may bring different improvements to your physical and mental well-being. Consider getting acquainted with each discipline by trying classes of multiple styles to determine what feels best for you.

Unsure how to begin?

Check out these articles to help you on your way:

Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, and contributes to several fitness, health, and running websites and publications. 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.