Industry Insider: Will the Real Pilates Please Stand Up?

The Pilates Industry Has a Dark Side

Group of adults sitting on the floor and listening female pilates instructor.
A Pilates instructor demonstrates a move. Vm/E+/Getty Images

Any instructor you speak to can tell you that within the wonderful heath and healing community of Pilates, there is no shortage of preconceptions, misinformation and silent judgments between Pilates instructors, Pilates studios, and even teacher training organizations. These sentiments are often themselves rooted in preconceptions and misinformation and although our community is truly evolving for the better, we aren't out of the woods yet.

At the heart of the matter are three central arguments that come up over and over again. If you want to get your Pilates trainer riled up - just pick one of these topics.

Origins of Training

First up is the lineage, or rather the "who and where" of your education. Pilates teachers often gauge each other by their training or lineage. Obviously, the closer you can get to the source of Pilates, the more "worthy" you are deemed. Our Pilates elders were all trained by Joseph Pilates but the rest of the teaching population is, at minimum, one step removed. Those that trained with the 1st generation elders refer to themselves as 2nd generation teachers, and so on and so forth.

Whether you hail from a Pilates elder or an independent contemporary Pilates organization, may earn you a sidelong glance from a colleague. Or worse yet, you may be unknowingly placed in a "box" along with an entire community of teachers and thinkers, regardless of your personal skill set or philosophy on teaching.

Your certificate speaks volumes to your training and about your training even without anyone seeing you actually teach. In the Pilates world, universal nods of approval are few and far between. Even if you have the privilege of calling yourself a "2nd generation teacher," the specifics of which elder you studied with will not necessarily elevate your status.

Beyond your training camp, there are other criteria upon which you may be assessed by the very community of which you are a member.

Comprehensive VS. Mat

Not far behind the who and the where you trained is the "what". Pilates teachers typically come in two categories. Those who are trained to teach the Pilates Mat and those who are what we called "Comprehensively" trained on all the Pilates apparatus. Mat teacher training is typically shorter and is often undertaken by trainers with additional experience or certifications in other wellness fields. New instructors may begin their Pilates careers with a mat-only training for budget or timing concerns. Other instructors simply choose to enter the Pilates world slowly dipping a toe into the world of "contrology" (the name Mr. Pilates gave to his method) with a modest investment in their education rather than the larger commitment required to learn the complete system.

Comprehensive teacher training requires more time and finances and has the distinction of being the only actual path to become what is known as a  Certified Pilates Teacher. As of this year, the Pilates Method Alliance (PMA), which is the only conduit to accredited certification announced their participation in the Coalition for the Registration of Exercise Professionals.

Only comprehensively trained Pilates teachers who elect to sit for and pass the PMA certification exam will be listed in the United States Registry of Exercise Professionals. Between individual instructors, the status of your training level is sometimes enough to define your "worth" in the workplace.

Anatomy and the Spine

Finally, there is the "how."

It is not at all uncommon for a teacher interviewing for a position to be asked if they teach "a neutral spine". Instructors today are expected to be well versed in anatomy. If you wish to undertake certification beyond your training, the exam will incorporate a fair amount of anatomy and the concept of a neutral spine.

The human body is designed to move in a myriad of directions. The Pilates method in the time of Joseph Pilates himself was taught largely with a flat or lengthened spine when lying on the back. The abdominals were taught to pull in towards the spine in a scooping motion. Since then the idea of neutral spine has become preferred by many practitioners. In this strategy, the spine is encouraged to maintain the natural curves and the abdominals are taught to contract without changing the shape of the lower, or lumbar spine. From school to school and studio to studio ideas around anatomy and the use of the spine can define and label you as a certain type of teacher, even without your knowledge.

WWJD (What Would Joe Do)?

With all of these unspoken criteria used to rate industry professionals, I wondered how it all began? Recently, I had the luxury of viewing some vintage photos of a historical Pilates studio run by Carola Trier, one of Joe Pilates earliest proteges. The equipment was pristine and I queried who had built it? I was shocked to learn that Joe Pilates had built the equipment for Carola, at her new studio which would have been in direct competition with his own studio.​

If Joe Pilates, the man himself, was not afraid to build equipment, or train others to do so, for a studio run by one of his own teachers in his very own backyard, what does that say about his intentions? At Pilates conferences worldwide, the Pilates elders all spoke freely about the fact that they worked at each others' studios, referred clients back and forth, and even subbed for each other. Despite their unique approaches to the work, the community had a sense of solidarity. Carola was known for her work with the medical community and held a Massage Therapy License. Kathy Grant worked with many dancers. And Bob Seed was reported to have pioneered the Pilates work in parallel as opposed to the slight turn out of the hips and legs often used at the time. Working separately, but together Pilates continued to grow.

Is there a real, or best Pilates? There is indeed. It's the one that works with you and for you. It's the one you'll stick with and the one that makes you feel great. The teacher that you respond to as a student and the one that draws the best possible performance out of you is the one to stick with. I'm certain Joe Pilates would agree.

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