As an avid practitioner of both Pilates and Yoga, I was interested to read a recent article in the NY Times comparing these two forms of exercise based on their ability to help build strength.
I try to do yoga at least 3 times a week (for a minimum of 1 hour) and also hit the Pilates studio about 1-2 times per week. I love both, but was intrigued to see what the science said about the strength benefits.
The article cites 2 studies. In one, researchers found that Pilates may help build up abdominal strength by as much as 20%. This is not surprising given that the Pilates method is centered on building core muscles. Anecdotally speaking, I know that if I up my number of Pilates sessions to three times per week, I’ll see a noticeable difference in the look and feel of my abs within just a couple of weeks. What is less clear in the scientific review is whether other areas of the body are strengthened as well.
The other study, published in the Asian Journal of Sports Medicine, looked at yoga and found that after six months of daily sun salutes (with no other resistance training) participants could bench-press significantly more weight and complete far more push-ups and pull-ups than at the start of the study. The authors concluded that yoga, specifically hatha style yoga, could strengthen large areas of the body.
From personal experience I feel that both forms of exercise can help overall strength. Given that there are so many varieties of Pilates now, some methods (like the one I do with the Megaformer that also incorporates strength moves from the Barre Method) benefit way more than just the core. (My sore arms, legs, and abs can attest to this!)
In terms of yoga, it’s a great overall form of toning, although there too, it depends on the method and level of intensity. (I’ve taken some yoga classes where I felt just ‘relaxed’ while others I’ve barely been able to walk out the door my muscles were so depleted).
So, while the data is interesting, I’m not entirely convinced that one is better than the other for building strength. I think both yoga and Pilates can be very helpful. The bottom line, as always, is to do the exercise that you love, do it with consistency, aim for variety, and have fun!