Yoga vs Pilates: what's the difference and which is right for you?

If you've ever wondered about yoga vs Pilates and why you might want to choose one over the other, we've got all of the details for you

yoga vs pilates: woman on the left sitting cross-legged doing yoga, and woman on the right with her legs up doing pilates on a mat
(Image credit: Getty Images / Future)

If you're looking for a low-intensity exercise that's gentle on the joints, but incredibly effective, you may be wondering about the differences between yoga vs Pilates—and the pros and cons of each exercise. We've detailed everything you need to know, including how each one can help you to reach your fitness goals, and why both can provide a seriously superior workout.

As two of the most popular workouts, the difference between yoga vs Pilates can create a lot of confusion—after all, both workouts appear to be fairly similar. Both yoga and Pilates are low-impact workouts (you shouldn't be totally out of breath doing them), typically done in classes with one of the best yoga mats, and involve moving your body into lots of floor-based poses and movements. However, they are very different when it comes to the results they achieve, and the methods in which they achieve those results. 

Let's explore the differences between yoga and Pilates, to help you figure out the right option for your fitness goals.

Woman stretching while practicing yoga in park

(Image credit: Getty)

What's the difference between yoga vs Pilates?

Whether you're looking to shed some pounds, or just to live a more active lifestyle, starting a new workout routine can be confusing. There are so many options that it can be easy to get lost as you try to search for the right workout. And choosing between yoga vs Pilates can be one of the most difficult decisions of all!

As mentioned, yoga and Pilates can seem very similar to those who have never participated in either. While both can be done in a class, they can also be done independently too, without any problems; there are many great online Pilates classes or yoga sessions available. Often, controlling breathing is very important in both exercises also—but that, for the most part, is where the similarities end.

It's important to note that yoga is very diverse, with many styles established over thousands of years, given that it's a more traditional practice. Pilates, on the other hand, has a much more refined definition, as a discipline that was only recently invented in the 1920s by trainer Joseph Pilates. 

Some other key ways in which pilates and yoga typically differ are:

  • Pace and intensity—Though there are fast-paced styles of yoga, such as the hybrid style "power yoga," Pilates tends to be much more focused on fast-paced workouts than yoga. Yoga tends to emphasize mindfulness and deliberate movements, as opposed to speed and intensity—meaning early morning and late evening can be some of the best times to do yoga.
  • Variety of options—There are many different types of yoga, from Hatha to vinyasa to kundalini yoga, all requiring slightly different approaches. Pilates, on the other hand, is generally the same wherever you go—aside from one option, Reformer Pilates. This is a Pilates workout done on a machine that looks almost like a sun-lounger—it's full of different parts and apparatus, to really maximize your workout. For example, the flat bed itself moves up and down, to allow you to work certain parts of your body extra hard.
  • Health benefits—Both yoga and Pilates are excellent workouts in general if you are persistent and work hard, but they are designed to achieve different results. Yoga is primarily focused on balance and flexibility and is often used as a mindful exercise, to achieve better mental health and a calmer state of mind. Pilates, on the other hand, is primarily about strengthening your core, through slow and precise exercises.
  • Overall experience—Pilates is an intensive strengthening workout. For those that like more intense workouts and seek out that "runner's high," Pilates will probably hit the mark. Yoga is often much more therapeutic and focused on mind and body harmony. While you still may be sore after a yoga class (and it can be very physically demanding!), many people find it a recharging and relaxing experience.

woman using a reformer pilates machine wearing a beige workout set

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Consider your goals before deciding on yoga vs Pilates

Both yoga and Pilates offer huge health benefits when it comes to building muscle, burning fat, and increasing endurance and flexibility. Though they focus on different areas, they are both great workouts to incorporate into your lifestyle.

But if you only have time to add one of these workouts to your life, it's vital to consider what you actually want to achieve from your exercise regimen before embarking on either one. So which would work best for you?


If you're interested in a stronger core to get in shape while strengthening back and waist muscles, Pilates may be for you. Many people who are involved in sports that involve rotation and core strength, like golf or tennis, will find a lot of benefits in Pilates workouts.


If you're less interested in core strength and more interested in overall body health, yoga may be preferable for you. Yoga can help renew flexibility when you feel you just can't stretch like you used to, and the breath control taught by yoga can make working out in the future easier, even for those that are seriously out of shape. Plus, yoga can work wonders on your mental health, providing a space for stillness and reflection that we often can't easily get in our busy lives.

Whether you choose that yoga or Pilates is the right choice for you, it's advisable to stick with it and push through hurdles, to see serious results.

Amy Hunt is a lifestyle writer and editor, and was previously Lifestyle Channel Editor at, having been with the brand since 2015. She is passionate about everything from entertainment to books, to homes, food and wellness. When she isn't editing, researching or writing articles, he's busy burying her nose in a gripping thriller, practising yoga, or buying new homeware.