strengthening yoga pose

Alternatives to High Intensity and High Impact Workouts

You may have heard of Pilates and yoga before as an alternative to your usual high intensity and high impact workout routine. When you think about these exercises you may think somewhat about strength and certainly about stretching, but what about toning? Is Pilates good for toning? What about yoga? Is one better than the other?

To understand how both of these exercises help promote toning of the body, it helps to first understand a bit more about each.

Both Pilates and yoga are non-impact and low-intensity exercises. They are also referred to as “low intensity, steady state” exercises, meaning they help build endurance and cardiovascular health through increased blood flow to the heart, but are also helpful for finding a “recovery pace”. Athletes might incorporate one or the other as part of their active recovery sessions, but they are substantial exercises for the everyday person, especially if you are looking to reduce impact and the risk of injury. Thirty to sixty minutes of yoga or Pilates three to four times each week is recommended for good lung, heart, and muscle health.

Yoga vs. Pilates for Toning

When it comes to some of their differences in terms of toning, yoga incorporates body weight in poses, many of which work all muscles at once. In contrast, the purpose of Pilates is to contract and release specific muscle groups at a time. Both end up building strength and incorporate the stretching necessary for finding length in the body which contributes to toning.

While yoga will sometimes utilize props like a strap or a block to allow someone to go deeper into a pose or stretch, Pilates equipment such as Pilates Reformer is used to increase resistance. So, if you think about it, both exercises have their own way of teaching you to activate, contract, and release muscles in order to build and tone them, just with a different method and pace. Each exercise promotes body awareness this way, too, although Pilates focuses more on small movement work while yoga focuses more on breathwork.

The breathwork in yoga along with the postures are how you achieve some of yoga’s unique benefits:

  • Body awareness
  • Increased levels of happiness
  • Improved concentration
  • Lower levels of stress
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Better sleep

Let's compare those with some specific Pilates benefits:

  • Muscle engagement and control
  • Flexibility
  • Increased core strength
  • Strength in lower back and pelvis
  • Better posture
  • Increased tone without bulk
  • Spinal stability
  • Coordination

Try One, or Try Both?

You can see that both yoga and Pilates produce similar results, but depending on your individual goals, there might be one that is more suited for you. If possible, try incorporating both and come to understand these benefits better for yourself. If you find that one feels limiting or restrictive due to any injuries, try switching to the other. The fact that both exercises are low impact means they are unlikely to cause injury. Plus, there is the added bonus of body awareness which will help you determine when something just doesn’t feel right. The bottom line is that both promote toning through strengthening and lengthening, along with many other benefits. And if you need help determining where to start, consult your physiotherapist for guidance.