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The Differences Between Yoga, Aerobics & Pilates

author image Tracey Allison Planinz
A professional writer since 2008, Tracey Planinz writes articles on natural health, nutrition and fitness. She holds a doctorate and two professional certifications in her field, and continues to develop her education with additional classes and seminars. She has provided natural health consultations and private fitness instruction for clients in her local community.
The Differences Between Yoga, Aerobics & Pilates
A man doing navasana or "boat pose" on a mat. Photo Credit: Antonio_Diaz/iStock/Getty Images

Yoga, Pilates and aerobic exercises can be found in many popular fitness programs. However, there are a few fundamental differences between the three styles. Not only are they completely different forms of fitness, but they have different focuses and end results. It is important to discuss these differences with your doctor before choosing a style that is right for you.

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Philosophy is one of the ways these three forms of exercise differ. Yoga is an ancient discipline that involves more than just stretching. Its teachings include proper diet, breathing techniques, asanas or postures and principles of ethical living. Those who practice yoga advocate "living yoga" each day, rather than just "practicing" yoga when they exercise.

Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates, a fitness teacher and natural health enthusiast. His approach was to develop core strength, flexibility and physical control through exercise. He taught that through Pilates you can have greater balance, strength and control over the body.

Aerobic exercise is a style that developed over time. By definition it is any form of exercise that utilizes the large muscle groups, increases the heart rate and is sustained for a period of 20 minutes or more. Examples of aerobic exercises include jogging, biking, swimming, in-line skating and dancing. The goal is to improve cardiovascular function.


The method of fitness differs significantly among yoga, Pilates and aerobics. Part of the physical aspect of yoga includes pranayama, or breathing exercises, and asanas, or postures. These can be practiced sitting on a mat or using various standing poses. The positions are generally held for up to one to two minutes.

Pilates exercises are practiced almost exclusively on the floor. They may be practiced while lying supine or sitting upright. They will engage the core muscles of the body and the large muscles of the arms and legs. The poses are held while performing repetitions of the exercise.

Conversely, aerobic exercise involves constant movement. While running, biking and swimming are all considered forms of aerobics, aerobic classes generally are designed around sets of dance steps and other moves choreographed to keep the body in constant motion and the heart rate up.

Physical Requirements

Because of the different physical approach of each of these three styles of fitness, there are different physical requirements involved. Yoga involves a lot of stretching, isometric contractions and does require a certain level of flexibility and sometimes balance to execute the poses correctly.

Pilates also requires some flexibility to begin with, although it does increase over time. The most important prerequisite for Pilates is core strength, especially the abdominal muscles. Again, these will build over time.

Lastly, in order to engage in aerobic exercise, you mainly need strong cardiopulmonary function. Because the heart rate will be elevated, it is a good idea to get medical clearance before beginning an aerobic exercise program.

End Results

While the goal of yoga, Pilates and aerobics may be overall health and well-being, practice of each produces particular end results. Yoga is purported to alleviate stress, headaches, back pain and other health conditions. Pilates helps you develop strong core muscles, especially in the torso, and large muscle groups of the body. Both Pilates and yoga help to increase flexibility and balance. The end result of aerobics is quite different. It helps to improve cardiac function and breathing capacity, while increasing strength in the muscles. Practitioners of each of these three forms of exercise claim they help you to burn fat and lose weight.

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