Posts In: Reformer Pilates

Pilates vs Yoga

April 8, 2020
Group class

This seems to be a commonly asked question, over the years. We might be thinking which practice is better for strength and flexibility? The differences between Pilates vs Yoga is not the answer here. Let’s explore the main differences here.

First main difference

The breathing is the first thing to discuss. Pilates practitioners use the diaphragmatic or 3-part breath. It involves the upper respiratory, the lower respiratory, and the diaphragm. Inhaling through the nose, filing the lungs with air and exploring through the mouth, until the lungs empty.

Yoga has over 500 documented breathing patterns. The most common breathing pattern called the ujjayi breath involves a 3-part breath, like Pilates breathing, however, the inhale and exhale are both with a closed mouth. The exhale is an ocean-like sound in the back of your throat.

Both practices are great for you

Whether you practice Yoga or Pilates, your body and mind will benefit from either practice. The most ideal thing to do is to engage in both practices, in my opinion. There are many benefits that are shared between the practices.

  • Improved lung capacity
  • Better circulation
  • More energy
  • Better sleep
  • Great digestion
  • Increased strength
  • Increased flexibility
  • Less back pain
  • Less joint pain
  • Mindfulness
  • Focus
  • Concentration


The Pilates method was created in the late 1800s and brought to New York City in 1920 by a man named Joseph Pilates. Ballet dancers still use Pilates, both mat and apparatus or equipment, in their dance studios across the world today. Pilates on equipment may include the Reformer, Cadillac, Tower, Wunda Chair, Barrel, and may involve smaller props like the long box, light hand weights, a Magic Circle, neck pillows, or a trapeze. Mat Pilates uses no equipment and can be practiced anywhere with a mat. Pilates classes are taught and learned in levels, beginning with level 1 through level 5.

One can achieve the total benefits of Pilates in just 2 days a week, at a level 1 or 2 class. 10 minutes of Pilates engages more muscles than 10 minutes of any other strength training practice! Pilates has repetitions and uses every small intrinsic muscle in the front, back and sides of the body in each exercise. There is an emphasis on moving with your breath and maintaining the spinal function, which uses core strength. The whole body, from head to toe, gets stronger and more flexible. We should use Pilates as an alternative strength training practice and improve flexibility. There is NO impact on the joints when practicing either mat or apparatus Pilates.


I find Yoga to be grounding and thoroughly enjoy both meditation and chanting sessions. There are 1,000 lineages of Yoga, for example, Kundalini Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Bikram or Hot Yoga, Acro Yoga, Restorative Yoga and more. The goal for your Yoga practice may change daily. One day you may need meditation and breathing more than an intense physical Yoga practice. Yoga can be practiced every day or as needed. There are so many wonderful benefits to a daily practice.

Yoga is a broad general term these days and actually means “union” in Sanskrit theory and can be dated to B.C. Classes can be found all over the world in classes, studios, homes, and outdoors. Guided meditation classes are becoming more popular today. It is essential to understand what type of Yoga you want/need before you jump into a Yoga class. For instance, not everyone likes Hot Yoga! If strength is your goal, a Power Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga may work best for you. If relaxation is your goal, Restorative or Yoga Nidra would work for you.

Discussion and endnotes

We may have certain fitness goals to achieve or want to try something new. If you have any more questions about either Pilates or Yoga, please reach anytime at or book your next session or a free demonstration on our booking page

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Pilates works for everybody who is looking for a strength training practice that does not impact your joints.

Portsmouth, NH

Reformer Exercise

Named after Joseph Pilates (1800), who is given credit for developing the exercises and concepts of the practice.  Over the past century, Pilates has gained recognition as being a form of strength training utilizing body resistance and is unlike any other strength training practice in this way. Pilates works for everybody; nothing shapes your body the way Pilates does! “10 sessions to feel the difference, 20 to notice a difference, 30 for a whole new body.” Another name for the Pilates practice is Contrology.

Pilates on and off the mat

Reformer Pilates is practiced using a spring-loaded machine and sliding carriage.  There are straps for your hands and practicing feet, along with a foot bar, shoulder pads, and headrest.  Each exercise begins with breathing and controlled movement which offers NO impact on your joints.  Reformer Pilates improves back pain and alignment.  This practice will intensify your mat practice in either Pilates or Yoga.

Mat Pilates is also very convenient and can be practiced anywhere without the use of expensive equipment.  As little as a practicing ten minutes, a day can provide benefits for the body/mind.  Roll out your mat and get ready for a total body workout!

Physical Benefits

Flexibility:  You may not be flexible now; however, flexibility improves over time with a dedicated practice.  We recommend 2 to 3 days per week for optimal results.

Spinal Health: Offers great flexibility to your spine which allows the body to move with ease and eliminates pain associated with the lumbar or sacral spine.  Our spine moves in 6 directions which teach the body to bend forward/backward, rotate side to side, and neutral or imprint spine.  As spinal mobility and alignment increases, better posture means reduced pain, improved respiratory system, and core control.

Core Strength:   Your “powerhouse’ or core center initiates every exercise.  Stronger core muscles offer better balance and coordination in other sports (running, cycling, and swimming) or body mechanics (sitting, standing, and walking).

Shoulder stability: Joints and muscles, in the shoulder,  move in a circulation motion.  Scapular isolation allows the body to bring the shoulder blades closer to the spine.  Which also increases the strength and mobility of the rotator cuff muscles.  Shoulder stablility is important for golfers, baseball, cycling, tennis and better posture, overall.

Increased range of motion, balance, strength, and coordination: The entire body is strengthened and lengthened.  This is a result of isolating and contracting muscles in the core, upper and lower body, hips/glutes, upper back, and ankle/feet.  Therefore, there is no better practice than Pilates to teach the body strength, flexibility, balance, control, and fluidity.

Body Awareness: Pilates will teach you how to isolate muscle groups and target the core body.  Body awareness is helpful to walk, run, or move with more confidence.

Mental Benefits

Mental Focus: Your breath is synchronized with your movent.  Overall, breathing will calm your mind and help you focus on the exercises.  Increased focus will improve brain-focusing tasks like math, making lists, driving, reading, etc.

Concentration: The practice trains your body and teaches your mind how to move with control.  Over time, the mind and body become one.

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The Sacroiliac joint, known as the SI Joint, supports the movement and transmits forces between the spine, pelvic floor, and hip joint. Many muscles attach to these bones and can influence SI joint biomechanics and stability.  These muscles include the abdominals, spine extensors, gluteal muscles, hip rotators, pelvic floor and latissimus dorsi muscles.

SI Joint Pain

Have you experienced unexplained lower back pain?  Lower back pain affects 80% of the population, and most people will seek treatment of some kind.  Lower back pain may or may not be accompanied by radiating pain down the outside of the leg toward the knee.  Usually, one finds the lower back pain and leg pain on one side, either the right or the left.  This type of pain is referred to as SI joint pain or Sacroiliac joint pain.

Another way to treat SI joint pain is to stretch and strengthen the muscles surrounding this joint.  Since the sacroiliac joint does not pivot; the job of this joint is to stabilize the pelvic floor and hips.  Once the torso moves into a twist, keep the hip bones supported.  Neutralize the pelvic muscles will allow the body to twist from the waistline and use the obliques.

I would describe the pain as a dull or tired ache, which is only present some of the time.  If twisting or forward bending is painful, the SI joint could be dysfunctional.  One day during an intense spin class, I decided to increase the intensity on my bike, adding a few gears to the maximum level.  I felt a “pop” in my left lower back which did not hurt at the time.  However, later that day, my lower Back felt a dull, tired ache.  I had to apply ice to that area for the next four days.

These are a few other reasons sacroiliac joint pain may occur.  Walking is a prime example of how the hip joint alternately moves forward and backward with each step.  Every increase in hip width causes an increased torque across the SI joint.  Women are more likely than men to incur SI joint due to Hip anatomy.  Pregnancy can stretch a female’s hip and pelvic floor muscles and may lead to SI joint pain.  If one leg is longer than the other, this can shorten the stride on one side which makes it difficult to immobilize the SI joint.

*If you are experiencing lower back or leg pain, please consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

Pilates mat exercises

Several Pilates mat exercises improve hip stabilization and keeping the pelvic floor neutral.  Pilates will also increase both the strength and flexibility of your abdominal muscles, obliques, hips and gluteal muscles.  There is no impact on the joints in the body.  The following are three Pilates mat exercise to do at home:

**A few tips before you start, create a breath pattern with long inhales and deep exhales, move slowly and in control and keep your abdominals engaged throughout the exercise.

1. Side Leg Lifts

Start lying on your side with your back against a wall, legs are straight.  Once your hips are stacked, flex your foot while raising your leg.  Only lift as high as a few inches, keeping your focus on stabilizing your Hip bones and extending thru your heel.  Pause two seconds, then slowly lower down.  Repeat ten times on each side.

2. Knee to Chest

Start seated on your mat with knees bent and feet flat.  Take a deep inhale and slowly exhaling, start to roll back with your lower abdominals engaged.  Scoop your navel to the spine in a ‘C’ curve.  Roll halfway down, resting on your elbows.  Lift both feet off the floor, to a tabletop or knees over hips.  Begin by tapping one foot toward the mat, and slowly return.  Alternate legs, and repeat ten times on each side.

core, abdominal

Knees to Chest for Sacroiliac Joint exercise

3. Bridging on a ball

You will need a 65cm inflatable stability ball.  Lie on your back and rest your heels on the top of the ball.  Keeping feet flexed, lift your hips up so that your hip joints are in a parallel line.  Begin by extending your legs to straight and then rebending to your bridge position.  Repeat ten times.  Keeping your hips lifted the whole time,  move slowly and continue to breathe.  Click on the link below to view this exercise.

Keeping a neutral pelvic floor allows me to spin at a higher intensity without any back pain.   If you experience lower back pain, please contact The Pilates Room at 603-817-4829 to schedule a free consultation.

Do you suffer from Pelvic Floor Dysfunction?

For more information, please visit our page Pelvic Floor Dysfunction; what is it?

The first clients of Joseph Pilates and his wife Clara were dancers who studied at their studio in New York during the 1920s and 1930s.  Today, athletes who use this method include runners, swimmers, skiers, tennis players, and cyclists. However, anyone can use the exercises to add core strength and flexibility, as well as increased mobility in the spine, hips, and shoulders.


Pilates looks deceptively easy.  The exercises focus on a range of motion rather than resistance.  This means that the entire body is working smaller, intrinsic muscles in each exercise.   A client will increase strength in these smaller muscles that are close to the bone.  Another benefit includes the extension of the spine which increases flexibility.

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Joseph Pilates created his system of exercises for wounded veterans.  He attached springs to their bedposts to offer resistance training while moving through a range of motion; this is similar to the concept of Reformers.  Pilates can be done on the mat, or on equipment such as the Reformer, Cadillac, Barrel, Wunda Chair, and Ped-O-Pull.

As a certified instructor and athlete, I began using the Pilates system in 1997 and noticed an increase in my running speeds and less pain in my joints.  One year later I came across the finish line in first place!  Pilates became my streamlined practice, and I stopped going to the gym.  Whether you are a beginner or an athlete who has been training for years, there is a level for you. According to NFL defensive back Johnson Bademosi, quoted in Men’s Fitness:

“It’s hard to prepare for what’s needed on the field by just lifting weights.  Pilates challenges you with really unfamiliar movements.”

Schaerlaeckens, Leander (2018, March). 5 power Pilates moves to make you a better athlete. Men’s Fitness. Retrieved from

Pilates and golf

Golfers will notice a better swing in their game.  We focus on rotation of the spine and exercises that increase strength, flexibility, and range of motion of the upper back, shoulders, and hips.  Exercises include the 100, a 10 cycle breathing exercise that builds core strength.  Kneeling bicycle, side overs, and single leg circles are examples of other exercises to help your golf game.

Pilates helps to tone muscles rather than shorten them.  This makes it unique to other strength training methods that use weight-bearing exercises which overload the muscle and shorten it.   Bademosi, among other athletes, uses the system to increase his range of motion, and lengthen muscles through extension, rather than shortening them.  Each exercise uses core strength so everyone can improve their game with stronger abdominal muscles.

Other benefits include improved coordination, balance, muscular control, better posture, reduced joint pain, and faster recovery time.  A growing number of athletes are finding Pilates a benefit to their daily routines.

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Pilates has helped those living with Scoliosis.  Read on to learn more about Pilates exercises for those with living with this condition.

I would like to acknowledge having worked with Karen Clippinger, M.S.P.E., who taught the formatted Pilates exercises to help those with scoliosis. The Pilates Room is proud to offer private and semi-private Pilates sessions, in addition to building healthy working relationships with those who become clients.


Scoliosis, defined as a bone condition, involves an abnormal sideways curvature of the spine.   This condition inflicts about 2% of the U.S.  Whereas; females have a higher index and experience greater severity than males.

There are two types, discussed here.  Nonstructural scoliosis can improve with specific treatment.  The second type, known as structural may be present at birth and caused by genetics, trauma, or neuromuscular conditions (abnormal muscles or nerves).

How Pilates exercise will help those living with Scoliosis

Pilates exercises will strengthen intrinsic muscles and increase flexibility.  Lateral flexion is seen in some of these exercises and will increase symmetry and balance to the thoracic spine.  Working through the range of motion and specific upper back exercises improves the mobility of the upper to mid back or thoracic spine.  Lumbar and Pelvic activities such as the Bridge, or Single Leg Stretch will increase the strength and mobility of the abdominal or other related lumbar and pelvic muscles.  The two regions of the spine discussed, thoracic and lumbar, are areas to focus on those with scoliosis.

All Pilates exercises use either resistance training or weight bearing techniques.  The equipment is known as the Pilates reformer, the Cadillac, the Wunda Chair, and Barrel.  There is no impact on the joints as related to most weight-bearing exercises.   During your first consultation, we discuss a client history and address your questions.  Please consult your doctor before beginning any exercise routine.

Author: Michele McCauley, The Pilates Room
Date: March 13, 2018
Narrative: Karen Clippinger, M.S.P.E.

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