Which Is Better: Pilates or Tai Chi?

Woman leading group of people in tai-chi position, low angle

Both Pilates and Tai Chi offer numerous health benefits for the body and mind. Pilates focuses on building core strength while Tai Chi helps improve flexibility, agility and balance. Which one you choose to incorporate into your fitness routine will depend upon your specific goals. Pilates and Tai Chi have several different practice styles, and you may end up including both disciplines as part of a comprehensive fitness regimen. Those with health concerns need to check with their doctor before beginning any new form of exercise.

Weight Loss

Both Pilates and Tai Chi burn a moderate amount of calories but ultimately these forms of exercise are focused more on muscle conditioning and less on shedding pounds. A 150-pound person burns almost 250 calories doing Pilates for an hour or 300 calories performing an hour of Tai Chi. A study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise found that while Pilates is not an intense cardio workout, it is effective at building a strong core and improving your flexibility.

Muscle Toning

Both Pilates and Tai Chi shine when it comes to muscle conditioning. Pilates focuses on your core, targeting the muscles in your abs, back, arms and legs. Performing Pilates exercises on a specially-designed apparatus called a Reformer builds muscle strength and flexibility, while doing Pilates matwork is important for further refining your core muscles.

Tai Chi concentrates on body movements designed to allow life energy, known as "qi," pronounced chi, to flow freely throughout your body. Dozens of gentle movements are performed slowly and thoughtfully in a single class, often engaging neglected muscles ripe for toning.

Balance and Agility

Tai Chi is widely known for improving, balance, coordination and agility. Tai Chi also encourages proper posture and supports a healthy spine. The variety of movements increases your body’s range of motion with continued practice. Because it is low impact and is so effective in improving balance, Tai Chi is recommended for seniors who find other forms of exercise too challenging.

Pilates strengthens motor skills while improving core strength and flexibility, vital in maintaining good balance and posture. Like Tai Chi, Pilates routines are easily modified to accommodate you if you are worried about falling and can help build confidence when walking and performing daily activities.

Stress Relief

Tai Chi is widely touted as being an effective exercise to reduce stress and relieve anxiety. Because Tai Chi directly incorporates deep breathing and meditation into each session, all participants have the ability to benefit both physically and mentally. Of particular emphasis is linking body movement to mental concentration, encouraging thoughtful contemplation of the physical body and the emotional spirit.

Pilates encourages focused breathing which is known to calm a racing mind. Guided imagery emphasizes creating your own calm and peaceful place within yourself. In all aspects, Pilates highlights the importance of mindfulness -- of being present within the moment and not letting your mind wander into negative thoughts.