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Pilates Equipment Circuit Classes

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Pilates circuit work at J.L. Body Conditioningby Lauren Charlip

We’ve noticed several Pilates group equipment circuit classes pop up lately, so we decided to rustle up the instructors who teach them for a closer look at this new trend. Some teach just one circuit hour a week and some base a large chunk of their business on group circuit work. Each has their own unique way of running things. A few themes did emerge among the instructors we spoke to: They all agree that multiple-apparatus work allows for a deeper, more well-rounded experience for the client, and that a circuit class is an affordable way to reap those benefits. They also stressed the importance of previous experience on the Pilates equipment for clients before they join a circuit class; the more machines involved, the more complicated the skill set. For more details on how different studios and instructors are adopting this format, we’ve provided five takes on Pilates equipment circuit training from around the country.

Chicago Pilates instructor Laurel Silverman teaches out of her home and rents space at One Mind Body & Being to teach group classes. She hit upon the circuit idea when only one client showed up for her Reformer class and she realized she could move her onto other apparatus. Because that client had mostly Reformer experience, the difference in the work was readily apparent. Silverman noted her client was making new connections and that it was much easier to gauge her strengths and weaknesses. “I started thinking clients who are only able to afford Reformer classes are being done a disservice without access to other equipment,” Silverman says. She began to spice up her Reformer classes with a new apparatus exercise here and there. “Clients really took to the idea. I first started incorporating one exercise that we would circuit through, then we would talk about it and compare,” Silverman says. “It was amazing to see changes when they got back on the equipment that they’re used to.”

Planning group circuit hours is hard work, though, according to Silverman. “It takes a lot of preparation and time on my part,” she says. “I definitely have to have a game plan going in and I often write it out ahead of time…it takes a lot of energy with everyone moving around. I’m always spotting and watching.” She also emphasizes the need for good technique. “I’m careful that participants have knowledge of Pilates and equipment. The affordability is great but it still needs to be done in a safe way where the client is getting good, clean, classical knowledge.”

Del Mar, California
Master teacher Julian Littleford, who owns J.L. Body Conditioning, Inc., has taught Pilates for 33 years and owned his own studio for 20. Offering circuit classes, he says, “is the way I’ve always run my studio. When I was starting out I was looking at business models and how I could utilize space and maximize income. The reality is, with today’s overhead, that we have to maximize the amount of hours we work.”

Littleford runs what might be called circuit hours in his studio. He organizes 12-week exercise blocks for different levels: beginner, intermediate, advanced and what he calls “custom.” Clients come into the studio every 20 minutes, and three instructors are there to work with the nine people exercising in the room. Clients work in 20-minute segments on three pieces of equipment at their own pace while instructors float and try to give each individual corrections. “I always do 10 reps of everything and within that 10 we try to give two to three corrections with things to work on with each client. It’s highly intense,” Littleford says. “It makes it very easy when your teachers have the eyes and ability to do that…you can customize really fast.”

His studio can host large numbers of clients in a six hour slot with the circuit format. “Do the numbers. That’s 54 people in the morning,” he says. Littleford has devised a monthly payment system for circuit work where clients pay at a rate of 1, 2 or 3 sessions a week per month. “At beginning of month you know exactly where you stand…My teachers don’t have to worry because people are paying by the month. As a business owner, I can guarantee six hours of work for them because I know at the beginning of the month what that is,” he explains.

New York City
Matt McCulloch, owner of New York City’s Kinected, started a weekly 75-minute equipment circuit class this fall. He limits the class to three clients and takes them through each exercise together. “One of the goals of Pilates is giving a full well-rounded hour and one of the best ways to do that is to use all of the apparatus,” he says. “We spend a lot of time on our backs [on the Reformer]. Being able to use the other equipment means you can move through every plane. A lot of the clientele was not even aware of the depth of the other pieces of equipment, of how different their experiences could be.” McCulloch has found that the circuit class experience has not only elevated clients’ body awareness and strength at an accelerated rate, but that it also helps keep them stimulated mentally. “Your body can adapt to the same regimen very quickly not only on a physical level but on a mental level…[as Pilates teachers] that’s our responsibility too,” he says.

Bishop, California
Margy Verba owns FlowMotion, a Pilates studio in Bishop, Calif., “a rural, cowboy town” where “just the fact that I’m offering Pilates makes me unique.” Verba felt strongly about bringing the full spectrum of Pilates work to residents of Bishop, which required making Pilates ultra-affordable. This led her to reconsider her business model. Somewhere in that process, she says, a lightbulb went off and FlowMotion now runs 16 circuit classes a week, along with the usual private and semiprivate sessions.

Verba’s system allows clients to come in for an hour and work on three pieces of equipment in 20-minute segments, but at their own pace. It comprises 12 stations: four reformers, four trap tables and four mat stations with props. She organizes blocks of exercises that encompass a range of movement work. The blocks correspond to different levels, which she’s termed “tracks,” and include a gentle track, a dynamic track and a power track, because “there are lots of athletes in this mountain town,” she says. With the tracks, “I can have a sweet little old lady and a climber in the same class and it works.”

FlowMotion clients start off with a workshop to learn the exercises initially and then are free to take classes. They keep track with aids that Verba devised for the studio, including “client-oriented” manuals and posters that tell clients how many reps and what springs to use, coded for each track. A teacher walks around to cue and correct clients. Verba, who is PMA gold certified, says her circuit method is what’s allowed her to bring Pilates to a town like Bishop. The circuit classes are priced at $12 for a drop-in and scale down from there.

Washington, D.C.
At MINT Pilates Studio in Washington, D.C., Pilates Program Director Timea Presley teaches two circuit classes a week, which are designed to make the most of the small Pilates space, part of a larger spa complex. This is the second time Presley has implemented the circuit class formula; she first tried out the idea in a studio she owned in Berlin several years ago. She set up stations and rotated students in her class through them. “Reformer class enthusiasts see it as a different type of workout, more social, more exciting….It allows students who don’t want to stay in private sessions forever to do more than just Reformer work and enjoy the whole studio,” she says. Presley says a group equipment circuit class is very challenging to teach. “Right now I’m the only instructor who will do it. It’s as exhausting as teaching three classes,” she tells us. But for Presley, the merits of the class win out. “It is a great success and has brought in a different, more interactive group dynamic,” she says.

Lauren Charlip is Managing Editor of Pilates-Pro.com.
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