Pilates vs Yoga: Which is Best for Runners?

Pilates vs Yoga: Which is More Beneficial for Runners?

By now, you likely know that in order to run well, you need to do more than only running. (You also need to run a good amount of volume!) The list of supplemental training can feel daunting at times: eating enough, foam rolling, mobility work, cross-training, enough sleep, and strength training. On top of it all, you may hear coaches and runners preach the benefits of Pilates and yoga. But do you need to add those extra workouts into your training? And if you do, how do you know which is more beneficial – pilates vs yoga?

Importantly, neither Pilates or yoga is absolutely essential to become a better runner. If you enjoy them, you can find ways to incorporate them into your training. If you don’t enjoy them, know that they are not necessary, especially if you include resistance training.

Pilates vs Yoga for Running Performance

Many runners turn to Pilates or yoga to gain the benefits of strength training. While yoga may improve balance and flexibility, it only leads to small gains in strength. Yoga will improve strength compared to no weight-bearing exercise; however, it does not elicit the same adaptations as resistance training (such as weight lifting.) (You can learn more about yoga for runners in this article.)

No research shows yet if the strength adaptations from yoga improve running performance. However, a 2018 randomized controlled trial published in PLoS One demonstrated the potential for strength adaptations from Pilates to positively affect running performance. The invention group followed a 12-week progressive Pilates program and resultingly experienced a significant improvement in their 5K time (25:39 to 23:13) compared to the control group (25:19 to 24:37). It is worth noting that these runners only had about nine months of experience and ran on average twice per week; more experienced runners may not see the same response from the intervention.

One area where yoga may offer performance benefits is mindfulness. Yoga can improve mood, enhance relaxation, and regulate breathing – all of which may be beneficial for running performance. A 2006 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine compared yoga to other motivation preparations before a one mile time trial on the track. Yoga poses before the mile time trial yielded a 1-second improvement from baseline. However, the researchers found that the participants yelling affirmations to each other produced a greater improvement – by 5-seconds in the mile test.

While some theorize that yoga’s emphasis on breathing may improve running, the research does not indicate a clear connection. A 2020 case-control study in International Journal of Exercise Science did not find any improvements to running economy when trained runners added yoga to their routine. However, some subjects did not that they perceived running as easier. If your goal is to improve your breathing in running, the effective approach is to gradually run more. Based on the principle of specificity, aerobic adaptations will make a bigger difference than yoga breath.

Injury Risk Reduction with Yoga vs Pilates

A 2023 randomized control trial in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies had 34 novice runners follow either a 12-week Pilates program or continue running without Pilates. The runners who did Pilates saw a reduction in knee valgus (knee collapsing inward), although this reduction was not statistically significant. (It may have been due to Pilates, to adaptation to running load over 12 weeks, or chance.)

However, the reduction in knee valgus could play out over a longer timeline. Perhaps the reductions would continue over 6 months, 12 months, or even longer time horizons. We know from previous research (such as this 2015 RCT) that improvements in hip and core strength (which are targeted in Pilates) do lead to reduction in knee pain for runners.

Research does not necessarily report the same for yoga. However, just because the effect has not yet been studied does not mean it is non-existent. Many runners report that yoga has helped them lower their risk of injury. In coaching, I’ve seen some athletes benefit from regular yoga practices (when coupled with strength training). Yoga is not a guarantee against injury, but it’s also not something to entirely dismiss yet.

Pilates vs Yoga for Mobility and Flexibility

Generally speaking, runners do not need more flexibility. Increased flexibility (longer muscle length) reduces the necessary muscle tension to create a spring-like mechanism that returns energy into the muscle when running. (Learn more about static stretching for runners in this podcast episode.)

Yoga will improve flexibility – which may or may not have a negative effect on your running economy. That’s not to say yoga is detrimental for runners; many runners report that it helps them. However, you do not need to include yoga in your training to improve your flexibility, since being more flexible will not directly benefit you as a runner.

Pilates does not incorporate stretching like yoga does. The focus in Pilates is on hip mobility, hip and core strength, and muscular endurance. The focus on mobility instead of flexibility may make Pilates slightly more beneficial to runners than yoga.

Pelvic Floor Strength & Pilates

One aspect of fitness where pilates may be superior to yoga is pelvic floor strength. Pelvic floor weakness is a concern for all runners, but particularly for female runners during pregnancy and after childbirth. As observed in a 2021 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that a Pilates practice during pregnancy reduced pelvic floor trauma and injury during childbirth. However, research is still debated on the exact benefits of Pilates on pelvic floor strength, as other research finds no significant effect in non-pregnant populations if it does not include specific pelvic floor exercises. (It’s worth noting that, I did prenatal Pilates during my pregnancy; each class included specific pelvic floor cues.)

Should Runners Do Yoga or Pilates?

Neither yoga or pilates are a necessity for runners. Pilates may offer more strength benefits than yoga, while yoga improves flexibility more. Ultimately, it comes down to what you enjoy the most. If you enjoy neither, do not feel like you need to include it – your running will be fine without them. If you enjoy yoga or Pilates, don’t worry about the pilates vs yoga debate and stick to what you enjoy.

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30 Responses

    1. Thank you! It’s good to mix it up between the two – engages so many different muscles when you switch between workouts to strengthen all parts of the body!

  1. I choose yoga! But Pilates interests me. If my yoga studio offered it, I’d go. I’ve done it at home a few times but I haven’t found anything that really excites me. Any recommendations for home use?

    1. Some Pilates workouts are really boring, I agree! Right now I love Pilatesology, which has free workouts on their YouTube channel and then a monthly subscription on their website – they fun, challenging, and not boring. This video is also my current favorite right now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTxdeZGr4rc – it’s a fun total body Pilates workout. Hope these help and you enjoy them! 🙂

  2. and you know, I choose pure barre because it incorporates both! I do like the short yoga for runners videos because they stretch me nicely when I need it but I prefer pure barre overall because it covers everything for me -strength, balance, stretching, core etc.

    1. Some of the Pilates workouts I’ve done with the toning ring lately remind me a lot of barre, actually! There was one with leg and arm pulses using the toning ring and I kept swearing at how much it burned – which made me think of how strong pure barre must make you!

  3. I do more yoga than pilates, but I think its just because pilates is so challenging for me. I think both have so many great benefits! The biggest barrier for me lately is time- I want to fit in everything but each week I need to pick a few supplemental workouts to go along with my running.

    1. It’s hard to fit in supplemental workout with running, especially when mileage or intensity (or goodness, both) increase and it’s not just an issue of time but also energy. I think that’s why I’ve learned more towards Pilates lately – that way if I only lift once a week there’s still a good amount of strength training in my week.

  4. Excellent breakdown. I think that they both have their place, and I like them both. Sort of like which cross training is best for you–it boils down to needs and preference! Thank you for linking up!

    1. Thank you! And thanks for hosting. Personal preference definitely plays in, as do individual needs such as whether strength or injury prevention matter more. And when in doubt, there’s always Yogalates 🙂

  5. I take a class at my gym that’s called PiYo- Pilates/Yoga! It’s the best of both worlds because it starts with slow yoga flows and stretches, then goes into the strength and core work of pilates and ends with meditation. So good!

    1. Thank you! Trying a new method of Pilates can definitely help if you want to get back into trying it. Pilatesology, Pilates Anytime, and Stott are all great methods that you can try from home, and each have their subtle differences so if you don’t like one another may work 🙂

  6. I’ve actually never done either! I’m not able to take any classes, so are there any Pilates clips on YouTube that you’d recommend? I’ll give it a try!

  7. I would like to talk more Pilates on our run tomorrow. Incorporating some yoga into my training has typically been my “thing” mainly because it was….”easy” (easier) than Pilates only because I have not ever done Pilates. I can feel the benefits that yoga has given my body, but I would love to try out something new. Especially since I have not done any yoga in about 2 months….hmmm…..

    1. Definitely! 🙂 Pilates is a great variation especially if yoga has gotten dull. There are several good beginner workouts out there to start which makes it easier as well 🙂

  8. I do Pilates a lot more than yoga. If I”m pressed for time, yoga is the first to go on my schedule, but I’m always doing Pilates moves to help my strength.

  9. I’ve never done Pilates but I know a few people who love it. I should really look into it because I love how stretchy I feel after yoga but I tend to get bored. Thanks for linking up!

    1. Thank you for hosting! You should definitely give it a try – I find Pilates so much more mentally engaging than yoga, since it has a faster pace and no meditative time. And you still do get a good stretch – Pilates always makes me feel taller afterwards.

  10. I’ve tried yoga before, and I’ve found it depends on the instructor. And I think I’d feel the same about pilates–I need a teacher who will be really involved, not go too fast, be patient and show me how to do moves, etc. I like to incorporate certain yoga stretches into my daily routine, just because they feel good. What I’d really like to try is a Barre class!

    1. I agree so much – even with home videos the instructor makes such a difference in terms of challenge, fun, and form. I know several runners who love barre! You should check out Meredith’s blog (The Cookie Chrunicles, her link is above in the comments) – she has some great posts on barre workouts for runners 🙂

  11. I tried pilates last year, but I felt that doing those workouts and running was just too much for my glutes to handle 🙁 But I did notice that the exercises my PT is giving me for recovery are really similar to some beginner pilates moves, so I can tell that they would definitely help strengthen a runner’s core! I just really love that yoga gives me a place to relax and meditate. My body and mind really appreciate that!

  12. I’ve tried Pilates a couple times and didn’t really enjoy it because I find high-rep exercises boring – but then I don’t know enough about Pilates to know whether it’s just a certain style I didn’t like.

    I do mostly yin/restorative and hatha styles of yoga, so I definitely consider it a recovery activity rather than a workout. Yoga before bed also helps me get to sleep if I’m stressed, which is sometimes the most important benefit!

    1. Some Pilates style workouts are high rep, but traditional Pilates really only does 3-8 reps of a move before progressing to a next move. I don’t like the high rep ones either – too much like strength training 🙂 Yoga is so good for sleep!

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