While most people who follow a fitness program are generally aware of Pilates as a muscle-conditioning program, there are still a lot of questions from women who have never experienced a Pilates class firsthand. Is Pilates the same as Yoga? What are the benefits of Pilates? Can I do Pilates with a bad back? Can I do Pilates if I’m pregnant?

These are some of the burning questions that women have about Pilates.

Q. Is Pilates The Same As Yoga?

A. Yes and no. Both yoga and Pilates emphasize the importance of linking breath with movment. Both yoga and Pilates are physical forms of exercise that attempt to build on the mind-body connection. And some of the classical yoga poses were incorporated by Joseph Pilates when he developed his original series of Pilates strength-training movements. The benefit of yoga and Pilates both include increased strength, better flexibility and an improved sense of general well-being.

But there are also subtle differences between Pilates and yoga. Yoga tends to hold poses longer, where Pilates is a more dynamic flow of movement. It is not necessary to use props during yoga practice, but Pilates makes use of various props for mat work and specially engineered Pilates machines that add intensity to the workout.

Music often plays an important role in yoga practice, but is rarely used during Pilates classes. Most yoga classes incorporate some type of meditation, but a separate period of meditation is not present in most Pilates classes or lessons.

Q. What Are The Benefits Of Pilates?

A. Pilates provides long lean muscles, improved posture, increased core strength and stability, improved flexibility, improved athletic performance, and better balance, coordination and circulation.

Q. Is It OK To Do Pilates With A Bad Back?

A. The short answer is, yes, it is safe to participate in Pilates even with a bad back. Pilates exercises are designed to be slow and controlled, so you shouldn’t experience any sudden jarring movements. It is important to let your Pilates instructor know if you have any particular physical ailments, such as bad knees or a bad back, so the instructor can offer modified versions of the movements for you.

While it is always a good idea to discuss a new exercise program with your doctor or chiropractor, most people with weak lower backs see marked improvement after a consistent series of Pilates classes. The strengthening of the abdominals, and other core muscles, helps reduce stress on the lower back, so as a Pilates student, you may actually find yourself needing less frequent chiropractic adjustments.

Q. Is It OK To Do Pilates While Pregnant?

A. Moderate exercise is usually encouraged during a normal healthy pregnancy. Exercise can go a long way toward preventing varicose veins, hemorrhoids and lower back pain that often results during pregnancy. However, only you and your doctor know what’s best for you and your baby, so be sure consult your OB GYN before beginning any exercise programs during pregnancy.

As your body changes during pregnancy, so do the effects of exercise. During the first trimester, you may be fatigued and find it necessary to decrease the amount of exercise that you’ve been used to doing. By the second trimester, abdominal muscles are becoming stretched out, creating an increased risk of injury to the lower back.

As your hormone levels change over the course of your pregnancy, ligaments surrounding the joints become more slack and vulnerable to injury. It is important not to overstretch, but exercise that builds and strengthens muscles around the joints can help alleviate the potential for injuries. By the 16th week of pregnancy, it is advised not to lay flat on your back, as it can restrict the flow of blood to both the mother and the fetus.

There are adjustments that can be made to assist with Pilates workouts during pregnancy. It is a good idea to modify positions by the second trimester, using light equipment such as the Spine Supporter to assist with the poses. Pregnant women also find it helpful to engage the use of Pilates equipment such as the Reformer, Cadillac and Stability Chair.

As always, listen to your body and avoid over-exertion, overheating and dehydration.