Pilates? Is This What I Ordered? by Devra Swiger
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 burnand doing fast uncontrolled movements over and over again. Pilates quickly became a sort of boot camp-like class only without the name.
Kathryn Russell owner of Huntington Beach based Viva Pilates says, ” If people are looking for boot camp classes, they can go just about anywhere and get that for about $5; however, Pilates is not boot camp and trying to incorporate this into Pilates misses the point. Boot camp 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 Pilates Instructor/Group Fitness Instructor Teaching Pilates since 1999