Alt-fitness heavyweights battle to win over the outward bound
It's official: With 11 million and 16.5 million American practitioners respectively, youngblood Pilates and centuries-old yoga have gone mainstream. What's less clear is which path to strength and flexibility is best suited to outdoor athletes. Devotees are fiercely loyal to their style and clearly divided along party lines, with adventure sports heavies like surfer Laird Hamilton, a yogi, and triathlete Paula Newby-Fraser, a Pilates proponent, planted firmly in two opposing camps. "Yoga and Pilates are like two fraternities—I don't want to say people get snobbish about them, but because people take real pride in the work they do, each group begins to feel that their workout is the best one out there," says Edward Jackowski, Ph.D., CEO of Exude.com Fitness. Which discipline is right for you? We let the two heavyweights go head-to-head to determine a champ. (Watch out for flying sticky mats.)
Why It's Hot:
Outdoor athletes practice yoga for its emphasis on stretching opposing muscle groups and building functional strength (not bulky muscles) through weight-bearing postures. Refreshingly light on gear, once you've learned the basics, your workout can travel with you—even into the backcountry. Vinyasa and its subset ashtanga, which emphasize fluid movement from one pose to the next, have emerged as the styles of choice for athletes such as climbers and surfers whose sports demand wiry strength, enhanced body awareness, and maximum flexibility.
Chris Sharma (sport climber), Laird Hamilton (surfer), Lynn Hill (climbing pioneer)
"By practicing yoga, an athlete gains greater stamina and centers the mind, creating a calm, focused presence when competing," says Tias Little, master teacher and columnist for Yoga Journal.
"You run the risk of overstretching in yoga, whereas Pilates works on stabilizing muscle groups, which can be safer," says Karrie Adamany, Pilates instructor and co-owner of the Manhattan studio The Pilates Edge.
$10 to $25 for an hour-and-a-half-long group vinyasa class. Find a teacher near you at www.yogafinder.com.
Bring It Home:
Book: Journey Into Power by Baron Baptiste ($10; www.amazon.com)
DVD: River Flow Yoga, Level 1 ($20; www.tiaslittle.com)
Why It's Hot:
"Pilates draws type A personalities who aren't interested in the softer side of yoga," says Pilates trainer Shari Berkowitz. In lieu of peaceful meditation, it incorporates heavy machinery (i.e., the spring-and-pulley Reformer) and minimalist aids like a rubber ball. It also emphasizes the balance-boosting core muscles of the back and abdomen more than most yoga styles. Athletes whose sports require increased stability, like skiing and trail running, are prime Pilates candidates.
Paula Newby-Fraser (23-time Ironman champ), Leanne Pelosi (snowboarder), Johnny Spillane (world champion Nordic skier)
"Pilates sessions, especially those that use a Reformer, are more easily tailored to be sport-specific than yoga sessions," says Lauri Stricker, climber and author of Pilates for the Outdoor Athlete (Fulcrum Publishing, 2007). "Pilates can more effectively correct the strength imbalances that some athletes develop."
"While Pilates isolates individual body parts, yoga works the body as a whole.
It gets you to that feeling of being in the zone—the same feeling you get when you're having a peak moment as an athlete. Pilates doesn't do that," says power vinyasa guru Baron Baptiste, who brought yoga to the Philadelphia Eagles.
$40 to $100 for an hour-long individualized workout. Group mat classes run $10 to $15; www.pilatescoalition.com lists certified teachers.
Bring It Home:
Book: The Pilates Body by Brooke Siler ($12; www.amazon.com)
DVD: Power Pilates Beginner Workout ($20; www.powerpilates.com)
THE CHAMP: For those single-sport athletes willing to put their money where their game is, private Pilates sessions, which can be tailored to your body and the demands of your sport, win the prize. But for multisport adventurers looking for an all-around workout, yoga works best. At $10 to $25, it's a relative bargain.