Yoga and Pilates are great forms of exercise that have many health benefits. I've practiced both throughout my career in health and fitness. I'm not going to attack either of those methodologies because I see value in both. But way too often I hear terrible claims and marketing ploys that mislead people.
"Yoga gives you long lean muscles."
"Pilates will lengthen your muscles and give you that tone you want."
I feel as if people have the notion that Yoga and Pilates do something special to your muscles compared to plain old resistance training. It's as if Yoga and Pilates gives the physique of a dancer and resistance training gives the physique of a bulky bodybuilder. But the truth is these claims are false.
In order for you to understand that those claims are false I have to explain a little anatomy and physiology. But in its simplest form because I don't want to bore you.
Muscles have a fixed origin and insertion. In other words, they start somewhere and end somewhere else. Aside from surgery, these attachment points cannot change.
It would seem that basic static stretching would be the best way to lengthen muscles. Yet, this is not the case. Stretching will indeed help you achieve greater joint range of motion, but it does not do so by actually lengthening the muscle. It works by decreasing the brain’s perception of a threat and “releasing the brakes,” so you can stretch a muscle further than normal. Stretching works on the nervous system to increase “stretch-tolerance.”
Common sense would say that the more intense the exercise, the greater its effect on total body fat loss. This is true. Higher intensity exercise is more effective at reducing total body fat compared to lower intensity exercise. The purpose of Yoga and Pilates is not to exert the greatest amount of effort or burn the highest number of calories possible during the session. Both combine exercises and poses with other tactics aimed at centering the body and improving mental state. Some of which include breathing, meditation, and flow. Yoga and Pilates sessions can indeed be intense. But if your approach is to exhaust yourself then you’re missing the point. When lifting weights you can crank up the intensity as high as tolerable, which lead to greater caloric expenditure and fat burning long term.
Progressive resistance training does a better job of promoting lean muscle than Yoga or Pilates. Over time this will lead to greater changes in body composition. Thus, resistance training is better suited for leaning out the body and reducing body fat stores than Yoga or Pilates.
You do not have to choose between resistance training, Yoga, or Pilates. If you enjoy all of them, you can do all three throughout the week. Yoga and Pilates are effective forms of exercise with many positive attributes with regards to health. If you desire long, lean muscles, lifting weights in the gym will get you there faster than Yoga or Pilates. Yoga and Pilates will build muscle and reduce fat, but they won’t do it as efficiently as resistance training. It’s time we put an end to misleading marketing tactics and stick to the science.
Weppler, C. H. (2010, March). Increasing Muscle Extensibility: A Matter of Increasing Length or Modifying Sensation? Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association. Retrieved from http://ptjournal.apta.org/content/90/3/438.long