First off, I know this may ruffle some feathers, so before you get riled up, it's just a humble opinion, and I'm certainly open to debate if someone wants to comment below, please don't hesitate. I've been seeing and hearing a lot about both yoga & pilates in the media and from acquaintances lately. I've heard a lot of claims being made regarding the benefits of both. Yes I've participated in sessions of both on more than one occasion, just to see what all the fuss is about and to broaden my fitness horizon a bit, which I'm always willing to do. Here's what I found.
Yoga is great, I think everyone should be doing some of this stuff on a regular basis. Almost every client I train has some kind of issue or limitation that is caused by lack of flexibility. By taking the time to restore a full range of motion at all the joints, you are really setting yourself up for greater success in every movement you engage in. Certain movements cannot be safely loaded or sometimes even performed at all, due to poor mechanics, mis-alignment, and bad posture, due to tight muscle groups and lack of flexibility. Flexibility leads directly to improved athletic performance, in the gym and on the field or court. It's also excellent injury prevention, as well as a good way to maintain your sense of balance. Strong supple connective tissue that can bend, twist, flex, extend, under load and through a full range of motion, is far less likely to be strained or torn when forces are acting on it. Yoga does a superb job of increasing your range of motion at every joint, and teaching you the art of relaxation, getting in touch with your body, your breathing, and your alignment.
However, it is a mistake to think that your fitness is complete if all you do is yoga. I congratulate you for getting off the couch, and yes it's a great thing, but well-rounded fitness requires much more.
Aspects of fitness that yoga does NOT address:
Strength- If you are doing nothing at all, and you start doing some yoga, will you get stronger? Absolutely. There is a small component of strength with yoga, depending on your bodyweight and how de-conditioned you are. But yoga should not be thought of as a strength workout by itself. Even if you're not an athlete, you need to maintain your muscle, and yoga does not go far enough toward this. You need to lift heavier weight to avoid muscle loss, and to improve bone density.
Speed- Everything with yoga is done slowly. This is fine for flexibility work, but life often demands that we move fast. It's critical to maintain quickness and speed, in a variety of movements. Yoga does not enhance this.
Power- Power is defined as speed and strength combined. Moving a load with speed is a vital quality to maintain for both athletes, and grandma. It's only a difference by degree. If you want to be light on your feet, have good reaction time, and teach your body to store and release energy, you need to do power-oriented training. This can be as simple as throwing a medicine ball or hopping over a line on the ground. Yoga does nothing to enhance power.
Agility- Athletes and non-athletes need agility. This is generally defined as the ability to change direction quickly, or change quickly from one movement pattern to another very quickly. I suspect that most people would prefer not to lose this ability. Guess what, if you don't practice it, you lose it. Yoga does not help agility, obviously.
Okay I could go on regarding stamina, accuracy, and coordination, cardiorespiratory endurance, energy system development, but you get the idea. It is very easy to fall in love with a particular method of training or to embrace something that you're really good at, and call it the end-all and be-all. We see a lot of this, and my previous article on specialization covers some of this. So while I love yoga and I'm impressed by individuals who have a high level of mastery with it, it is simply nowhere near enough to do only yoga and think you don't need anything else, and all your bases are covered? Comments??
Pretty much ditto for Pilates, except I'm a little less impressed by it. The benefits are often exaggerated, and the equipment is bulky and expensive. I applaud you if you're doing it, just don't be fooled into thinking that it's giving you comprehensive fitness. I repeat, if you're starting from zero, then you will experience small improvements in strength, power, speed, etc...but that's only if you're starting from a de-conditioned state, in which case you have nowhere to go but up, and just about anything would be good! If you're capable of doing more, and getting on your feet and moving your body on your own, without being strapped to an artificial contrivance, then you should do so. Also, let's make a distinction. If this is simply the only thing you're able to do, for whatever reason, that is certainly better than doing nothing at all.
So, if you already are doing some form of resistance training, metabolic conditioning, plyometrics, agility work, and other skill acquisition, and you just want to improve your core strength, and your dynamic flexibility, then Pilates is great for just that one specific purpose.
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