I have a not so secret (because I’m certain I’ve mentioned it already) to share with you today: I have not done yoga in months. Minus a few yoga stretches here and there, I think the last time I actually did a yoga video was…sometime in the fall of 2015?
Miraculously, the lack of yoga in my life has not resulted in injury or overwhelming training fatigue. In fact, I feel as if I recover more quickly and am stronger in my running than ever. Why? One word: Pilates.
Regular readers know that I love Pilates and believe it offers significant benefits for runners. One of my goals for 2016 is to practice Pilates more, and for most of this year I’ve done at least two Pilates workouts per week. I even taught Pilates back during my college years.
Of course, just as there is no cookie cutter training plan in terms of running, nor does every runner respond equally to supplemental training. So let’s look at the differences between Pilates vs yoga, their unique benefits for running, and how to choose which one is best for your running and goals.
Pilates vs Yoga: Which is Best for Runners?
Variety and Intensity
One benefit of yoga over Pilates is the wide variety of styles offered. You can practice yin yoga or restorative yoga on a rest day, use power yoga or vinyasa for strength training, or hatha for flexibility and mobility work.
Pilates does offer various levels of experience, but usually a Pilates workout will be physically demanding. Whether you’re on the reformer or a mat, you are constantly engaging your muscles and working your core hard. You can make your Pilates workout easier by modifying the movements or shortening the duration, but there is no such thing as recovery Pilates (that I know of).
The primary focus of Pilates is to build strength, particularly core and spinal strength. Pilates was, after all, developed as a rehabilitation exercise for WWI soldiers.
Many of Pilates workouts incorporate upper body work, especially the back, and hamstring and glute work (which helps runners who are quad-dominant). The movements founds in most Pilates routines emphasize muscular endurance, which is desirable for endurance athletes. Rarely do I finish a Pilates workout without feeling as if I worked every muscle in my body, but the workouts never render me as fatigued as heavy weight lifting – which is ideal for balancing running and a strength routine.
If you have a love/hate relationship with weight lifting, Pilates may just be your answer. A 2010 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that weekly Pilates workouts “promote statistically significant increases in abdominal endurance, hamstring flexibility, and upper-body muscular endurance.”
Yes, yoga can build strength, particularly in the core, but strength is not the primary focus of yoga. More often than not, yoga is more about stretching and mindfulness than increasing muscular endurance and strength.
When deciding which one is best for your running, consider your flexibility levels. Pilates requires less bending, twisting, and contorting than yoga. Less flexible runners may find Pilates more approachable than yoga, and feeling apt and comfortable doing an exercise (not to mention enjoying it) is essential for making it part of your regular training routine.
Some research indicates that becoming a faster runner and increasing your flexibility are opposing goals. Of course you don’t want to be so tight that it causes pain or discomfort. However, as a 1996 study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise concluded that “inflexibility in certain areas of the musculoskeletal system may enhance running economy in sub-elite male runners by increasing storage and return of elastic energy and minimizing the need for muscle-stabilizing activity.”
That said, gentle stretching within your range of motion will prevent injury, undo the negative effects of sitting, and mobilize your hips. Thus many runners turn to yoga for stretching after a run, and it’s hard to deny how good a downward dog feels on tight calves.
Many runners cite yoga as the best tool in their training arsenal for preventing injury. Yoga can remedy muscular imbalances, prevent overuse injuries, correct poor running form, and rebuild connective tissue.
Beyond injury prevention, Pilates provides an optimal rehabilitation program for injured runners. Unlike yoga which incorporates many standing poses, Pilates is performed in a prone or supine position lying on the mat. This means runners in any sort of boot or other physical limiter can still perform many Pilates exercises. Especially for runners whose injuries stemmed from weak hips, Pilates is fantastic for building foundational strength to return you to running without overtaxing your body.
Both Pilates and yoga foster a mind/body connection, but in different ways. Only yoga incorporates meditation and a spiritual aspect. The structure and precision of Pilates leaves no room for meditation, unless you’re meditating just how freaking much teasers hurt.
What Pilates lacks in spirituality it makes up for in mental strength. Pilates emphasizes precision and control, which are powerful tools for building your mental strength in running. Think of a half marathon or marathon: control is essential in those first few miles to prevent yourself from going out too fast and later hitting a wall.
Both Pilates and yoga require concentration and attention to breathing, which will significantly benefit runners. Being able to concentrate during a race improves your performance and experience. Breathing, as we all know, is essential for running, as your ability to uptake oxygen directly affects your speed. Being able to control and monitor your breathing endows you with better control over your pace as well, especially in races or harder workouts.
Specificity is the guiding principle when developing a training program: how will each workout help me achieve my specific goal? When adding supplemental workouts to your running, you must ask the question of how they will improve your running for your specific goals.
Pilates builds foundational strength from your core (which includes abs, obliques lower back, hips, and glutes). In Pilates, your core is referred to as your powerhouse because it is where every movement comes from. Even when you’re performing leg lifts or push ups, your core provides the strength and power for that move.
Running also relies power and strength in the powerhouse. Your glutes, even more so than your quads or calves, are responsible for your stride and speed. Your core helps you maintain proper upright running form. Pilates teaches you to better generate power and strength from your core and glutes, which directly transfers over into your power, strength, and economy as a runner.
Running requires single leg strength and balance. When you think about it, running is simply a series of single legged hops. Vinyasa and ashtanga yoga improve your balance and incorporate many single leg poses such as tree, eagle, and warrior III.
Pilates vs Yoga: How to Pick the Best One for You
This will sound obvious, but the best way to determine whether Pilates or yoga is best for your running is to try them both. See how your body responds and what effects it has on your running. Most of all, note which one you enjoy the most.
When choosing yoga or Pilates, you should carefully consider your goals. Do you want to increase your muscular endurance, prevent injury, and improve your running form? Opt for Pilates. Do you want to stretch, prevent injury, and mentally relax during a hard training cycle? Then head to a yoga class.
Money and time do not have to be deciding factors: there are several fantastic options for practicing Pilates and yoga on a budget and from the comfort of your own home. Mat Pilates is the purest form of Pilates, so you don’t need to join a studio and use the reformer to reap the benefits from it. If you’re new to either yoga or Pilates, you will benefit from attending a studio class and receiving instruction on form.
And you don’t have to even pick: there’s no one out there saying you can’t practice both yoga and Pilates.
Linking up with Coaches’ Corner!
Which do you choose: Pilates or yoga?
What’s the strangest fitness class you’ve ever tried?