An Interview with Ken Endelman, the CEO of Balanced Body

Building Pilates Equipment and Promoting the Industry

Ken Endelman, Marguerite Ogle
Ken Endelman, president of Balanced Body, Inc. with Marguerite Ogle, the Guide to Pilates at photo: Louisa Ferrer

Ken Endelman, the founder and president of Balanced Body, Inc., started making Pilates equipment in the nineteen-seventies when he had a custom waterbed store on the famed Melrose Ave in Los Angeles and a customer insisted that he make a Pilates reformer for her.

Since that pivotal time, Ken has steeped himself in the challenges of Pilates equipment design and manufacture. He has done extensive research on Joseph Pilates and the equipment Joe designed, and brought that together with his own passion for innovation and improvement to make Balanced Body an industry leader in Pilates equipment and instructor training.

On a sweltering afternoon, in between his landing in Denver to present a talk and slide show on the history of Pilates at the Pilates Center of Boulder summer conference, Ken and I talked about how he makes decisions for Balanced Body with regard to Pilates equipment design and sizing, and a few other Pilates industry issues.

As a Pilates equipment manufacturer, designer, and inventor do you feel a special kinship with Joseph Pilates? If so, how does that play out in your mind and actions?

"I do feel a special connection with Joseph Pilates because he was a geek and I'm a geek. He had at least 5 patents and he probably invented a hundred different things. There are still things I'm discovering that he invented. And Joe kept on improving things. That need to improve and fix resonates deeply with me. The thing that came to me later on is getting people to move their bodies and heal themselves.

That has become really important to me as I spend more time in the Pilates world." 

Through Balanced Body, you've brought out many unique pieces of equipment or adaptations of traditional Pilates equipment designs. I'm thinking of the Orbit, CoreAlign, or the rocking reformer as examples. What kind of criteria do you use to decide, is this Pilates?

"That's a huge debate and it always gets down to definitions.

On one side you've got "Pilates is only what Joe did the year he died and anything different is not Pilates". On the other side you've got "Well, if it utilizes Joe's principles then it's Pilates". And you've got everything in between. You could spend billions of years arguing about it. In the end, the reason people are doing what they do is because clients are walking out of their studios in better shape than when they walked in. The big question is: Does it serve the interest of the customers? That's what guides me.

I think Pilates is probably the most efficient form of exercise in the world, but it's not the only thing. If we can get people to move by doing something other than Pilates then that's worth a million bucks. The more people we get to move the better our society becomes. The better our society becomes the more People are doing Pilates. That's the win for everyone." 

So, if you bring out something like the Orbit for example, you're thinking of getting people to move and responding to customer experience rather than trying to express more of a core Pilates idea.

"Actually, I think that with other pieces of Pilates equipment, but not with the Orbit. With the Orbit, Octavio Galindo came to me and said, I'm a Pilates teacher and I've got this really cool idea and I'd like to show it to you.

So he shows it to me and in the back of my mind I'm remembering a conversation I had with Kathy Grant where she said to me that a reformer is nothing more than a carriage on four wheels. And then, when you think of the old machines, they had no side-wheels so if you didn't push evenly with both legs or both arms it would drag, and the drag would kinda say you moron, you're doing this wrong. But people decided the drag is no longer acceptable so everybody has side-wheels on their machines. You don't get that direct feedback. If you work with the Orbit and you do anything unevenly it just goes right or left, there's no way you can hide it.

It's one more way people can understand their bodies.

The CoreAlign is more to your point. The CoreAlign is not a piece of Pilates equipment. I probably wouldn't have talked to the guy who brought the CoreAlign idea to me except that Rael Isacowitz called me up and said you should talk to Jonathan Hoffman. With a recommendation like that I needed to talk to the guy. He shows up and I'm thinking it's kind of like having two carriages on a track side by side. But what was phenomenal is that I was looking at all the exercises they have, which are not Pilates exercises, and I was thinking that in our Pilates world, most of the time, we're not standing, but on the CoreAlign you are spending almost all of your time standing. I thought this was very complimentary to Pilates. That's why we chose to go with the CoreAlign. The question is always: Is there a value to our customers?. And, can it grow the Pilates community?.

Our focus needs to be how we get more people doing Pilates because that was Joe's dream. He wasn't writing letters to President Kennedy trying to get Pilates into the Presidents Council on Fitness because he thought it was going to be taught in studios. You don't do videos and write books if you think people have to come in for private sessions. That is the best way to learn Pilates, but it's not the only way to do it. For Joe to write those letters, he was thinking we're going to have to do it through physical education programs and we're going to have to train people to do it, and they're not going to work in my studio to learn how to teach." 

Some people say the "classical reformer", just as Joseph Pilates designed it, fits every body -- that those are the best proportions for the human body. And it seems there has been a pull back towards the smaller specs lately. What do you think about reformer and equipment design with regard to size?

"It's important to know that there is nobody manufacturing a machine that was designed by Joe. I had a conversation with Donald Gratz and he was talking about the first time he was called to a Pilates studio. It was on 8th Ave., after Joe died. Romana [Kryzanowska] had it and they were moving. He [Gratz] was doing architectural work and they asked him if he could build equipment. Gratz looked at the equipment there and he copied what he saw. He had no blueprints. This is all written, well documented, and sworn by him." 

So there are no reformer patent specs, for example?

"It was the concept that was patented. It was the sliding carriage on tracks. That machine had no shoulder blocks or ropes. It used a weight stack and the foot bar wasn't adjustable. Later, Joe added springs and straps and the adjustable headrest. The original machines were forty inches tall. There have been lots of changes.

Joseph Pilates built equipment in different sizes for different people at different times. That is well documented. Kathy Grant had a small machine that was built by Joe for her to fit in the small studio she was working in. Eve Gentry had a reformer Joe built for her because she was a small person and it would work for her.

It's important to understand that between our time and Joe's time the human species has elongated and the physique and range of pathologies have changed. If you look at the lifestyle of Joe's typical client and look at the typical client now it's completely different. Nobody sat in front of computers all day straining their eyes. Now that's what most people do. I'm confident that if Joe was alive today he would be thinking of things that are really specific and appropriate to help those people -- just as he thought of devices to help you breathe and how it would work for singers, or how he could help boxers to box. It wasn't one size fits all for him. He changed the height of trap tables and he would keep changing the equipment as he saw a need. So to make the argument that there's one piece of equipment or one perfect size doesn't make any sense. It's inconsistent with any facts you see anywhere.

When you look at the mat exercises, it's just you and the floor. You have a starting point and ending point and a range of motion in between. Once you put somebody on a machine they have to push, pull, or lie on something in order to perform the exercise. At that point the size of the body and the range of motion they have become really critical. You need to be able to accommodate someone who is a foot taller or shorter, or is 400lbs., or has a limited range of motion. For those reasons it makes a lot of sense, especially if you are working with special populations, to make equipment that is suitable for those populations.

It all gets back to the customer experience. If your clients are having a good experience and you are improving the quality of their lives, then whether you do it on a reformer that's two inches longer or an inch wider doesn't make a difference." 

As the largest Pilates company Balanced Body has a lot of influence in the industry. Do you feel there is an extra responsibility associated with that?

"Just because of the way I was raised I think I'd feel responsible regardless of the size of the company. I don't know if I feel extra responsible but I do think it's really important for us to raise the bar for the community. We try to work hard with people who have different perceptions of what the "reality" is in the industry because it all gets back to what's best for the customer. We're trying to promote the growth of the industry, period. We want more people doing Pilates. I think any responsible member of the community should be doing the same thing regardless of what their size is." 

What is inspiring you most in your work now?

"Number one is that I have a job that allows me to continuously improve and innovate. The second, and most important, is that there is not a day that goes by that I don't appreciate that I'm in an industry where at least 90 percent of the people love what they do and they can earn a living doing it. Their goal is to help people and improve the quality of their lives. They're incredibly nurturing. I'm excited about that, and I do get to help a lot of people meet their needs. That keeps me going."

Is there anything you would like to add?

"If you look at the growth of our industry and how well we've done --- we've had a lot of press, a lot of celebrities and athletes doing Pilates, and we've got a really good reputation -- it's ours to lose right now. I don't like to be negative, but I want to be negative about people being negative. I think it's a big waste of time. They should spend their time creating a better experience for their customers. To tear down Pilates or say somebody does bad Pilates doesn't do any good from a global perspective. We need to spend our time focusing on how to build our industry." 

Many thanks to Ken Endelman for sharing so much of his creative process with us. More information about Balanced Body products and instructor training can be found at the Balanced Body website.

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