If you're looking to increase your physical fitness and be kind to your joints, there are dozens of specialized low-impact workouts to choose from. Three of the most popular are yoga, pilates and barre, each of which have large numbers of dedicated adherents. Yoga and pilates share more similarities with each other than they do with barre, but all three types of workouts are designed to increase muscle strength, build stamina and improve flexibility without causing too much trauma to your joints and muscles. So which workout is the right one for you? Below is a brief description of each type of workout to help you determine which route to take.
Yoga is an ancient practice that originated in India roughly 5,000 years ago. Several different types and styles of yoga have evolved throughout the centuries, but the core premise of the practice remains the same: It's designed to increase your flexibility and strength, and to improve your cardiovascular and respiratory health.
One of the main distinguishing characteristics of a yoga class is its focus on the entire body. According to the American Osteopathic Society, practicing yoga on a regular basis will improve your overall energy and vitality levels, and it will help balance out your metabolism as well. Many yoga practitioners emphasize the holistic benefits of yoga as well; depending upon which style of yoga you choose, you may engage in diverse practices such as breathing techniques (called "pranayama"), or certain types of meditation. With yoga, every muscle receives equal treatment during workouts. The various postures you assume are accompanied by equivalent counter-postures to help create a sense of balance in your body. If you're looking for a workout that offers something for the mind, body and spirit, yoga is definitely a top choice.
Pilates is a considerably younger practice than yoga, as it was invented in the middle of the 20th century by a military self-defense instructor named Joseph Pilates. Although the original practice was mainly focused on building strength and endurance, several of Pilates' proteges went on to incorporate dance into their pilates workouts, which caused the exercise system to explode in popularity.
Like yoga, pilates classes offer a total body workout, but the main emphasis of pilates is to align your spine and strengthen your core. While yoga workouts assume postures that involve several muscle groups at the same time, pilates focuses on more regimented movements that are designed to build your spine and core strength. Pilates is primarily low-impact, but it still challenges your body enough for you to feel it once you're done. Most of the movements are performed from a sitting or reclining position, and they use your own body weight as the main resistance. Pilates helps you to build long, lean muscles, and it increases your muscle elasticity and joint mobility, all of which are key factors to injury prevention.
Of the three, barre is the most distinctive type of workout, because it incorporates the use of a ballet barre, and it definitely carries a ballet-inspired influence. Barre classes incorporate a varied mix of elements from yoga, pilates, functional training and dance, and it is generally considered to be more intense than yoga or pilates. This does not mean, however, that barre is hard on the joints; in fact, it's a surprisingly low-impact workout in relation to how well it exercises your muscles. As with the previous two types of workouts, barre focuses on building core strength, but it also features several isometric exercises that will work the daylights out of your lower body. These tiny movements include several small pulses, rotations and squeezes that will place a demand on every inch of your muscles. The good thing about barre workouts is that you can modify the exercises as needed if you're working your way up from a beginner level, or if you're pregnant or have injuries.
Deciding which workout will be the right one for you is a very personal choice, and it will largely depend upon your individual fitness goals. If you're looking for an workout that will provide the most holistic benefits, yoga will probably be your safest bet. If you're primarily interested in building core strength, pilates probably fits the bill the best. If you want to target core muscle groups that are often neglected or under-utilized in other forms of strength training, barre is definitely an excellent choice. The important thing to remember is that you should keep in mind what type of results you want to obtain, and then make your workout choice accordingly.