Flexibility is an essential part of overall health and fitness. It helps our bodies remain supple and limber, allowing our muscles to move much more manageably through their entire range of motion. However, despite its importance, flexibility is often a forgotten part of the fitness picture.
While some exercise routines encourage stretching, not all do, leaving many folks stiff and inflexible. So, perhaps you’re looking for an addition to your fitness routine to improve your body’s flexibility and come across yoga and pilates. Which one will help you reach your flexibility goals?
Generally, the answer is yoga, as it prioritizes flexibility and mobility more than Pilates. That said, this might only be true for some, so stick around to learn more!
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a low-impact practice that intertwines physical, mental, and spiritual practices. While the Western world knows it primarily as an exercise technique, it’s deeply rooted in spirituality. Yoga’s origins date back thousands of years to ancient India, when it was thought to have been written around 1500-1200 BC.
Its origins are a bit blurry, as there isn’t an exact point that researchers can pinpoint as its inception. The practice was passed down from generation to generation, evolving from the ancient practice into its adapted version standard in the Western world.
Today, we know yoga as a form of exercise that focuses on the tie between the mind and body, honing the muscles to improve strength and enhance flexibility while prioritizing breathwork and innate peace.
Of course, there are several types of yoga, each with a different approach. Most of the yogas we do today are considered “yang” yogas and are active forms of practice, such as hot yoga, Ashtanga yoga, or Vinyasa yoga. On the flip side, there’s also yin yoga, which takes a passive approach to the practice.
The more active types will have you breathing more rapidly, with your heart rate well into its working zone. On the flip side, the passive approaches often keep your breathing steady, encouraging your heart rate to slow into a more relaxed rhythm and soothing the mind.
Benefits of Yoga
Yoga is known for its abundant benefits, from improved strength to easing arthritis symptoms. Here are a few critical benefits of regularly practicing yoga:
- Improves strength, balance, and flexibility: Yoga often involves various poses and sequences that enhance overall strength, balance, and flexibility.
- Offers back pain relief: Yoga offers deep stretches through various parts of the body, including the back. Regularly incorporating these stretches that target the back can help alleviate stiffness and pain in the area and improve mobility.
- Improves sleep: Research shows that practicing yoga before bedtime can help soothe the mind and body, helping you relax for sleep. It can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
- Improved moods and increased energy: Some people may notice increased mental and physical energy by practicing yoga regularly, as well as fewer negative feelings and a boost in alertness and enthusiasm.
- Stress and anxiety management: Practicing yoga gives you dedicated time to focus on your body and mind, which can support stress management, mental health, and mindfulness.
- Promotes heart health: Like any exercise, routinely practicing yoga can reduce stress levels and body-wide inflammation, which contributes to your heart health.
- Can ease arthritis symptoms: Various studies demonstrate the correlation between regular yoga and reduced arthritis symptoms. Participants in these studies noticed that yoga eased some of the discomforts of tender and swollen arthritic joints.
What is Pilates?
Pilates is a low-impact, low-intensity, full-body workout that targets strength and flexibility through various poses. While it includes full-body poses and sequences, it heavily emphasizes core strength, which aids in improving overall fitness and well-being.
Unlike yoga, Pilates doesn’t date back hundreds of years. Instead, its origins stem from the early 1900s, when Joseph Pilates, an athlete and physical trainer, developed the practice. This exercise technique employs around 50 exercises to target different muscles, improve endurance, and hone balance, flexibility, and posture.
However, while this exercise technique isn’t quite as old as yoga, it is just as popular. It’s important to note that Pilates is more of an exercise technique than a focus on the mind-to-body connection like yoga is. Since it focuses on the exercise aspect more than the mind-to-body connection, it can be an excellent approach to weight loss.
Benefits of Pilates
While different from yoga, Pilates offers many of the same benefits as yoga. Here are a few notable benefits that often accompany routine Pilates practices.
- Improved core strength: Pilates places your core muscles in the spotlight, focusing on them in countless movements throughout each session. Over time, this translates to improved core strength.
- Improved posture: Weak, imbalanced muscles often translate to poor posture, so by strengthening and aligning your body through Pilates, your posture may improve.
- Decreased stress: Pilates can help down-regulate the nervous system, which aids in reducing cortisol levels. Cortisol is commonly known as the stress hormone, so reduced levels can significantly reduce overall stress.
- Improved flexibility and mobility: Like yoga, Pilates can help improve your mobility and flexibility, although improvements are entirely dependent on your practice frequency.
- Boosts mood: Exercise of any kind can help deliver those feel-good endorphins, leaving you happier than you were before you started, and Pilates is no different.
- Improves balance: Core strength is a cornerstone of Pilates, and core strength goes hand-in-hand with balance. By strengthening your core, you might notice you have better balance in certain poses.
Does Pilates or Yoga Make You More Flexible?
Pilates and yoga are similar in many aspects, as they both offer a low-impact approach to overall fitness. Each approach has specific focuses, making each better suited to particular scenarios.
So, which one will make you more flexible? In the following sections, we outline the importance of flexibility, the targets of each practice, and personal preference.
The Importance of Flexibility
Flexibility is often long forgotten, even for dedicated gym-goers of all fitness levels. The spotlight remains on contracting the muscles to build strength, leaving the stretching and elongating of those muscles sitting on the sidelines. But while it might not be a priority for everyone, flexibility is essential to a well-rounded fitness routine.
Supple and flexible muscles offer extensive benefits, such as improved mobility, posture, and muscle coordination. A well-stretched muscle can achieve its full range of motion much easier than a stiff, inflexible muscle, so flexibility also contributes to improved athletic performance.
On top of that, it reduces the risk of injuries and can help alleviate muscle soreness by elongating the muscles through a deep stretch. It can even contribute to a better overall “shape.”
Targets of Yoga and Pilates
When evaluating yoga and Pilates to determine which offers better flexibility results, it’s essential to understand the target of each practice. Both types of exercise incorporate multiple focuses, such as strength building, flexibility, and mobility, but each has a different priority.
Generally, yoga focuses on flexibility and building muscle strength, whereas Pilates prioritizes building core strength and honing overall strength. Of course, Pilates incorporates various moves and poses that target your flexibility, but it isn’t the primary focus of most Pilates classes.
Because of this, yoga is usually the more suitable pick if improving your overall flexibility is your goal.
For some folks, the answer to the primary question of which is better for flexibility might come down to personal preference. After all, if you despise Pilates but enjoy yoga (or vice versa), but Pilates is what gets the flexibility results, you might not be motivated to achieve what you’re hoping to achieve.
So, if you prefer one practice over the other, stick with that one. While yoga often targets flexibility throughout each session, Pilates incorporates it, too. So, while you might not see results as quickly with Pilates, you can still hone and improve your overall flexibility with Pilates alone.
It’s important to note that your flexibility progress hinges on your practice frequency. If you don’t practice at least a few times per week, it’ll take much longer to notice results with either approach.