Updated 02 May 2017

Pilates or cardio – which is best?

The controlled stretching of Pilates or the sweaty, breathlessness of cardio – which workout is better?

Pilates and cardio couldn’t be further apart in terms of exercise styles, but does one trump the other in terms of the benefit you get? 

Pilates is physical movement designed to stretch, strengthen, and balance the body with a focus on breathing. Cardio is any exercise which accelerates your heart rate, such as cycling, running, rowing, using an elliptical or an aerobics class. 

In an ideal situation, a combination of both Pilates and cardio would be best as it would give your body the best of both – strength, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness. So, to determine which is better suited for you, you must first decide what your goal is – to lose weight? To get stronger? To get fitter? To train for a specific event? To recover from an injury?

Benefits of Pilates
Pilates offers improved core stability, flexibility, better posture and balance, and has been specifically shown to reduce back pain. In other research Pilates was shown to improve flexibility and mobility of the pelvis and lumbar spine. 

But is it enough to get you fit? According to researcher Stefanie Spilde at the University of Wisconsin, the cardiovascular benefits appear to be limited. “Even though participants feel as though they’re working hard—and from a muscular standpoint, they are—they are not achieving significant aerobic or calorie-burning benefits from their efforts.”

Benefits of cardio

Aerobic-style workouts strengthen the heart and lungs and help reduce body fat, increase energy levels and endurance, and the subsequent release of endorphins from it can also reduce anxiety, improve mood and help people cope better with stress. 

Dr. Kerry J. Stewart, Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine says “one of the key benefits of cardiovascular exercise is that it helps to control, or modify, many of the risk factors for heart disease.” 

He added that as a person’s cardiovascular fitness improves, so will their oxygen consumption and endurance and the heart rate and blood pressure will be lower.

The conclusion
So which is better? Both will improve your fitness and flexibility, and both will burn some calories. But to decide between the two it is all entirely dependant on your goal and your reason for exercising. 

If weight loss is your goal, cardio workouts will ultimately burn more calories.

If you want to improve your overall flexibility and strength or have a health condition to consider such as lower back pain, then Pilates is the way to go. 

This article is provided through a sponsorship from Pfizer in the interests of continuous medical education. Notwithstanding Pfizer's sponsorship of this publication, neither Pfizer nor its subsidiary or affiliated companies shall be liable for any damages, claims, liabilities, costs or obligations arising from the misuse of the information provided in this publication. 
Readers are advised to consult their health care practitioner for specific information on personal health matters as this is not the intention or purpose of the publication. Specific medical advice or recommendations on the clinical management of patients will not be provided by Pfizer. In this regard Pfizer does not support the use of products for off label indications, nor dosing which falls outside the approved label recommendations and readers must refer to the Package Insert of any product for full prescribing guidelines.


Live healthier

Lifestyle »

E-cigarettes: Here are five things to know

E-cigarettes have become hugely popular in the past decade, but a rash of vaping-linked deaths and illnesses in the US is feeding caution about a product that's already banned in some places.

Allergy »

Ditch the itch: Researchers find new drug to fight hives

A new drug works by targeting an immune system antibody called immunoglobulin E, which is responsible for the allergic reaction that causes hives.