Pilates – better than yoga?

Kim Easton Smith

Yoga has been a celeb favourite for years but it has a rival. Pilates is creeping up in popularity among the Hollywood set with the likes of Khloe Kardashian, Lady Gaga and Vanessa Hudgens seen attending classes.

Pilates is often seen as Yoga’s gentler cousin, but its focus on core strength and toning is just as tough and different levels mean you can always get a challenging workout that’s right for you. Pilates is a more modern form of exercise, focusing entirely on the body and as such is all designed to give you an all-over workout.

We spoke to SportsShoes’ Pilates expert Emily Wilson to find out why it might be time to ditch the yoga mat and pick up a Pilates ball.

Pilates – what actually is it?

Pilates is an exercise system that was originally developed in the early 1900s. It incorporates elements of yoga, martial arts, weight training and other Western forms of exercise. The Pilates method is a unique approach to exercise that develops body awareness - improving and changing the body’s postural alignment habits.

Pilates focuses on correct breathing and strengthening deep core-stabilising muscles of the lower abdomen and back. The exercises are low impact and tone and stretch all areas of the body, increasing strength and flexibility in muscles and joints which results in greater ease of movement.

[Why Pilates worked for me - and could for you]

[10 tips for Pilates beginners]

Yoga or Pilates?

Pilates and Yoga are similar in that they both focus on strength, flexibility, posture, balance and good breathing techniques. But Yoga's primary difference is that it has a spiritual element with a focus on a unity between body and mind. Yoga classes may involve chanting, meditation or relaxation. Yoga poses were originally invented so Yoga practitioners could hold their bodies in static positions for long periods while they were meditating.

Pilates classes, on the other hand, involve precise exercises that target specific areas of the body with an emphasis on strengthening the core muscles. There are two basic forms of Pilates, mat-based Pilates and equipment-based Pilates. Mat-based Pilates, which is the most popular form, is a series of exercises performed on the floor using gravity and our own body weight to provide resistance.

Equipment-based Pilates uses specially-designed equipment and accessories to provide muscle resistance (as Vanessa is using in the top image).

Pilates’ holistic approach sets it apart from many other forms of exercise. Osteopaths, physiotherapists and general practitioners recommend Pilates as one of the safest forms of exercise today.

The benefits of doing Pilates

 Pilates can help with your general fitness, specific health conditions and your overall well-being including:

- Improved posture and balance
- Toned abdomen and body
- Improved mobility in all joints and the spine
- Preventing injuries and aiding recovery
- Improved balance
- Greater strength and co-ordination
- Can help alleviate aches, stress and tension
- More efficient digestion
- Better circulation and respiratory system
- Maintains and can increase bone density
- Enhanced immune system
- Reduced back pain

[Jennifer Aniston's body is down to 'yogalosophy', apparently]

Can Pilates help with weight loss?

Pilates is beneficial to do alongside all forms of exercise, to help give your whole body balance and avoid over-using one muscle group. It can contribute to weight loss and burning calories if done regularly and intensively. An hour’s Pilates class (depending on intensity) can burn around 300-400 calories.

As Pilates conditions your muscles, it also helps the body become more efficient at burning calories and  helps you appear leaner as you learn to hold yourself better.

You’ll also enjoy improved circulation, giving your body the oxygen it needs to flush out toxins, which will help make any aerobic exercise, such as running, more effective.

[Anti-ageing face yoga]

The core muscles

Your core muscles are formed of a small group of muscles; an abdominal muscle called Transversus Abdominis, the pelvic floor and multifidus (back muscle). These three muscles make up what is known as your deep ‘core’.

The Transversus Abdominis wraps horizontally around the sides of the body, between the lower ribs and pelvis. Tightening this muscle gives a feeling of a ‘girdle of strength’ around the torso, stabilising the lumber spine and pelvis.

The pelvic floor is a strong muscular ‘hammock’ from the coccyx to pubic bone, formed of both superficial and deep muscles. It’s a vital centre of strength (particularly for women) that supports your pelvis and internal organs, as well as giving you stability in your pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen.

Strengthening your deep core muscles is recommended to prevent injury when you play sport or work out and helps improve your overall performance – meaning workout work more for you.

It’s starting to sound more fun to us than hours spent in Downward Facing Dog. If you want to give it a go, find out more at the Pilates Foundation. And for more fitness advice and kit visit SportsShoes.