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Pilates? Is This What I Ordered?

Imagine being invited to the newest, coolest restaurant in town where the specialty of the house is wonderfully prepared fresh fish.  You order the catch of the day with a side of fresh steamed veggies, and then you wait with great anticipation for your meal to be served.  The waiter arrives - he places the dish on the table and you take a look.  What?  What in heaven’s name is this?  It isn’t fish, it most certainly isn’t fresh and there isn’t a single steamed vegetable anywhere to be seen.  You call the waiter to complain and he insists he brought you exactly what you ordered.

This imaginary scenario isn’t all that different from what is happening in the world of Pilates.  Students and clients are signing up for classes and private sessions, only to discover that what they are being taught isn’t Pilates at all.  The sad thing is, many people really don’t know what real Pilates is so they don’t even know when they are being served the wrong thing.

The Pilates method has been around for a very long time.  It has lasted for many reasons, but not least of which is that it works.  By “works” I mean it helps people develop a sense of grace, an ease of movement, greater core strength and an overall sense of well being.  It works because Joseph Pilates was a genius and he knew what it took to make a body healthy in a way that didn’t involve injury. Mr. Pilates performed near miracles on ballet dancers, actors, acrobats, and regular every day people who came to him wanting to feel better, move better and to ultimately look better.  

Pilates became all the rage.  Everyone was hearing about how all the supermodels and beautiful people were doing Pilates and that was how they managed to look so good. Everyone wanted to jump onto the Pilates bandwagon, and before long there were certification programs - some good some pretty bad - trying to spit out instructors as fast as they could.  Studios opened up on every street corner, gyms put mat classes on their schedules and everyone who was anyone knew something about Pilates.

Things began to cool down a bit and Pilates was no longer the fitness trend du jour.  In order to make it more exciting and perhaps a bit more edgy, instructors took the liberty in changing the look and feel of Pilates.  All sorts of new programs were introduced and before long, the true nature of Pilates got lost in the shuffle.  Classes became more about losing weight, feeling the burn and doing fast uncontrolled movements over and over again.  Pilates quickly became a sort of bootcamp-like class only without the name.

Kathryn Russell owner of Huntington Beach based Viva Pilates says, If people are looking for bootcamp classes, they can go just about anywhere and get that for about $5; however, Pilates is not bootcamp and trying to incorporate this into Pilates misses the point. Bootcamp classes burns calories and may build muscle, but Pilates goes far beyond that - it changes the way you wear your body.”

So many students are being exposed to what they think is Pilates that when they have the chance to take a real class, they are confused.  They think it should be all about side planks, one arm planks and millions of push-ups.  There are lots of classes out there chock full of planks, push-ups and endless repetition, but they should not be passed off as Pilates, just as a hamburger should not be passed off as fish.

Rebecca Leone who is both a Master trainer and Pilates educator who specializes in safe spine mechanics and biomechanical problem solving said, “The reason there is a quality in teaching problem in the industry is because there’s a quality in education problem in the industry. Without regulation or accountability to minimum, acceptable standards within the Pilates education industry, unregulated “schools” continue to produce teachers. In the aggregate the numbers are in the tens of thousands - those who have not been taught how to teach with integrity, who have not been taught how to confidently and consistently solve client problems, who have not been taught how to produce measurable, progressive results and also who have not been taught how to be successful in the business of teaching, regardless of teaching model. Whether you’re an aspiring Pilates teacher or a Pilates client, there is NO mandatory standard of safety, quality or effectiveness - buyer beware.”

I understand that the world of fitness is a Mecca for trends.  I also understand why - people tire easily of exercise and they frequently need something to keep them motivated.  There has to be some integrity, regardless of the method being taught. Yoga should not look like pole dancing and tennis should not be played on a bicycle. Pilates, my friends, should look like Pilates.

Every teacher may have his or her own way of teaching, and I am most certainly not advocating a sort of mechanical sameness in all Pilates classes.  Everyone has his or her own style; however, when the class becomes a frenzy of a high number of repetitions, long holding patterns and exercises that would cause Mr. Pilates to roll over in his grave - the line needs to be drawn. 

I’ll conclude with saying that those of us who are certified in the Pilates method have a responsibility to ourselves, to our students and to our clients to teach Pilates as it was meant to be taught. If you want to teach something else, go ahead and do so – just please don’t call it Pilates. 


 

Devra Swiger is owner of Ab-Solutely Pilates in Huntington Beach, CA. She has been teaching Pilates since 1999 and is trained through Polestar Pilates, Colleen Glen, PhysicalMind and has training in Fletcher Pilates.
Devra Swiger
Pilates Instructor/Group Fitness Instructor
Teaching Pilates since 1999

 

Posted on Monday, April 15, 2013 at 03:53PM by Registered CommenterPilates-Pro in , , | Comments11 Comments | References17 References

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Reader Comments (11)

"There has to be some integrity, regardless of the method being taught." ..."when the class becomes a frenzy of a high number of repetitions, long holding patterns and exercises that would cause Mr. Pilates to roll over in his grave - the line needs to be drawn."

I like it. Thank you for the article. I agree. Don't call it Pilates.

I 'screen' everyone who wishes to come to our studio over the phone. If I get a sense they are of the trendy caliber of that above described frenzy I simply tell them we do not practice that here. I discourage their interest and/or tell them classes are full.

Thank you Devra for your well done article.

April 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Byrne

Thank you for a most intriguing and spot on article, loved it!!!

April 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJulie K.

So true! Thanks for writing this article Devra!

April 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBWG

Great article! :) Devra is an excellent pilates teacher who takes her profession seriously. She wants her clients to get the best results possible from pilates.

April 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSloan G

.."when the class becomes a frenzy of a high number of repetitions, long holding patterns and exercises that would cause Mr. Pilates to roll over in his grave - the line needs to be drawn."

I would take the challenge of a client coming from this scenario and kick his or her butt with very slow and precise fundamentals. Knee folds are seriously difficult for people who are used to relying on momentum and are into making the biggest single leg circles possible. If she or he said "that's not hard" I'd answer "well, it's ok, you're a beginner... it will be hard when you are doing it correctly". I would try to educate rather than just write someone off.

April 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnna Davis

a quick reply to the above comment, Anna---why spend the energy in "kicking someone's butt" in this scenario?
Unless you want to have a prideful boost.

Our studio is all about education- that is the driving priority.

But we only educate those who are willing to step into the space with a beginner's mind.

And you can only write someone off if you had them in the first place. We keep it clean and never invite them, therefore, never needing to write them off.

It stays simple and clear this way and works well for us.

April 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Byrne

Interesting comments. First of all, I am thrilled that my article was well accepted. I find this topic to be very controversial and I was expecting people to disagree with what I said. @Lisa, I was once told by my mentor that there comes a time when you feel like you can turn down people that zap your energy or ones you feel may be just not right for Pilates. I've yet to reach that point, but I do feel that some people just don't get it no matter how much you explain. @Anna, I've tried that before and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I think it depends just how much of the 'gym rat' mentality they have or how willing they are to learn a new way of doing things. It's always a challenge, but one that I love. Thanks!

April 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDevra Swiger

Brava! Thank you for saying so succinctly and generously, what alot of us are thinking and feeling.

April 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpilatesgee

Very well written!! It's a shame that so many well-intentioned people are taken in by novice instructors claiming to be proficient Pilates instructors. All instructors should have to post their credentials and teach what they are trained in. Incorporating "boot camp" into Pilates instruction is ridiculous and insulting, not to mention dangerous!!

April 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterlnbogin

I agree with this article and I LOVE the phrase "Pilates goes far beyond that - it changes the way you wear your body.” As a Pilates student for over 20 years and a teacher for 12, I feel it is my job to help my clients feel better in their body and Pilates is the best tool I know to do that! Thank you!

April 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWhitney Speer

Devra,

Great article. I agree with you. I'm lucky, I began my pilates training with you!

I'm not at a place in my business where I turn people away. I like to invite them in and show them what pilates really is and does. It's hard to argue with change! Many of my clients have grown taller and all see changes in how they feel, move and look. Pilates teaches us how to move efficiently and safely through space and time whatever we do. I feel very fortunate to work in a studio that can cater to both the rehab client and the healthy "Gym rat". Pilates is good for every "body".

May 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Healy

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