Pilates vs Yoga: Which One’s Best for You?

14 Feb 2019

Yoga and Pilates used to enjoy small, niche followings, but they’ve both exploded in popularity over recent years. Today, they have millions of practitioners in the UK, supporting over 4,000 studios and other businesses throughout the country.

To the uninitiated, yoga and Pilates can seem like more or less the same thing. However, there are a few subtle differences which can really show in both classes and long-term results.

If you’re looking to add something new to your exercise regimen, and you’re having trouble deciding whether to go for yoga or Pilates, we’re here to help! In this post, we’ll pick apart the difference between them, and help you decide which one is best for you.

Psychology and Spirituality

We’ll start with one of the lesser-known aspects of the Pilates vs yoga debate: psychology and spirituality.

Yoga originated in India more than 5,000 years ago and is heavily rooted in Hindu philosophy. In western countries, “yoga” is generally used to reference the Hatha branch, a system of physical exercises. Many of us take up yoga as a workout, but it doesn’t take long to discover it has a deep spiritual core. Delving into this aspect of yoga can provide some serious benefits for your mental health. There’s even enough evidence that yoga helps with anxiety and depression that medical professionals have started recommending yoga therapy for these conditions.

In the words of Katie Portman, our blogger friend who runs poutinginheels.com, “I don’t do it every day (although this is certainly what I’m aiming towards) but when I do find the time to practice a yoga routine, I always find that it benefits me so much. Mentally, spiritually AND physically. It really is something that I believe anyone of any age can benefit from and something I hope to continue and improve at throughout my life and into my advancing years.”

Pilates is a much younger school of exercise; developed by German athlete Joseph Pilates while he was a prisoner in a British internment camp during World War I. Compared to its Indian counterpart, it’s much more focussed on the physical side of things, so Pilates may be the choice for you if you want to skip the spirituality.

Back Problems

Pilates is known to be an excellent remedy for back pain, which is becoming a bigger and bigger problem with the sedentary lifestyles modern people lead. Many common Pilates exercises were developed to align the spine and build core strength, and overall the system is brilliant for gaining stronger, more supportive back muscles.

Certain yoga poses can also be great for dealing with back pain. Katie says: “I’ve been a fan of yoga for around seven years now, since becoming pregnant with my first child, my daughter Elsie, back in 2012. After hurting my back in early pregnancy, I found that doing a gentle pregnancy yoga routine was not only really good for helping to strengthen my back muscles but was also fantastic at helping me to relax and de-stress.

If helping your back pain is a priority for you, it’s recommended you work with an experienced yoga teacher. Some poses, when done incorrectly, can even make back problems worse! Proceed with caution if you’re planning to take the self-taught route.


Flexibility is one of the most common talking points in the great Pilates vs yoga debate, and probably the most tangible difference between the two practices. Yoga poses have a greater focus on improving flexibility in the muscles and joints, and long-time practitioners will notice a major improvement in their mobility. This is part of why many doctors recommend yoga for those suffering from arthritis and similar conditions.

If you’re starting from a place of little or no regular exercise, Pilates can certainly improve your flexibility, but will only take you so far. This is because it has more of a focus on building and toning various muscle groups, particularly your abs.


Seeing as you’re reading this, you may just be looking for one more way to lose weight. So, what’s better for this, yoga or Pilates?

By and large, there isn’t much difference between the weight loss benefits of yoga and Pilates. Having said that, if you’re looking to pick up a new type of exercise for weight loss and weight loss alone, Pilates is probably your best option.

Unlike yoga, Pilates incorporates the use of machines called “Pilates reformers”, which give you the option of a more intense and dynamic workout. Most people don’t get onto reformers during their first session, but once you build up to it they can provide much greater cardio and weight loss potential.

Class Structure

The typical class structure found in yoga and Pilates is another point to consider. Generally speaking, yoga classes tend to be more flexible and varied. There are thousands of routines combining countless poses in yoga, and what you’ll be doing in class often depends on the teacher and the style of yoga they specialise in. This sense of surprise and variety is what keeps many people coming back for more!

Pilates classes are usually a little more rigid. Routines are done in a set structure, and you’ll know what to expect more often than not when you enter the studio. If you’re looking for a set exercise routine you can power through without too much thought going into it, Pilates could be the choice for you.

Bear in mind that these are just generalisations, and that the structure of yoga or Pilates classes will always depend on the teacher running the class. If you think class structure will be important to you, it’s best to shop around and try a few different classes before settling on one.

Whether you feel you’re more yoga or Pilates, it’s important to have the right get-up for your workout. If your gym wear’s looking a little thin on the ground, explore a range of comfy joggers, cosy hoodies, loose cotton tops, and more in our Time to Chill collection!

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We hope this post has helped you decide which of these popular exercises is best for you. Why not share your choice, and your reasons why, in the comments below?

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