Comprehensively trained teachers
Fully equipped studio
Small classes & individual sessions
Balanced muscle development
Progression of each exercise
Flowing movements for advanced students
Let’s break down each one of these really important identifiers of doing real Pilates.
Comprehensively trained teachers - not sure? ASK! Real Pilates teachers have gone through hundreds and hundreds of hours of training on every part of the Pilates method and all of the apparatus. Because there is no regulating body in our industry, any one can say they are a Pilates teacher (and they do) so it’s a buyer-beware situation. Ask the studio if the teachers are trained, how they are trained and what qualifications they have before risking your physical health in an unqualified studio.
Fully equipped studio means a studio with all of the apparatus in our methodology. Reformer-only studios are becoming more and more prevalent but reformers are only one small part of the Pilates method. If you go into a studio and there are reformers only, you are almost guaranteed to be in a studio that isn’t teaching real Pilates. Ask immediately about their training and unless they are comprehensively trained but have chosen to only have one small part of the equipment available for whatever reason, RUN!
Small classes & individual sessions offered is a tell tale sign of a real studio. That said, some real studios don’t offer classes but do offer private sessions for 2, 3 and 4 people. We call those semi-privates, small groups or duets/trios/quads. It’s likely that if the studio you walked into only offers classes and no opportunity for individual sessions that the studio is not teaching real, method based Pilates. Ask about training and proceed with caution.
Breath work. Breath was very, VERY, important to Joseph Pilates. He spent a lot of time on this subject. He created a few exercises specifically for the development of taking a full breath and exhaling fully. If you’re not being taught about breath, how to breathe fully, how your muscles respond when breathing all the way - then you might not be working with a teacher who is fully trained. Not sure? Ask! Believe it or not, faulty breathing patterns can cause serious injury when you’re in a Pilates studio and attached to weights and springs. It’s helpful to use the breath to support your movements in life and in the studio.
Concentration. Joseph Pilates called his method "Contrology" because the focus was on complete control of the body. Complete control means you need to be concentrating on what you are doing at all times. If you are doing real Pilates, there isn't any time for chit-chat!
Balanced muscular development. The Pilates method is designed to strengthen your entire body from the top of your head, to the bottom of your toes - inside and out. There is no such thing as "leg days" or "ab days" because every workout is designed to engage your entire body in every exercise. This use of your whole body at all times means you develop your muscles in a balanced way, using all planes of movement. We lengthen forward and backward. We lift as we bend from side to side. We even spiral up and around as we twist. In real Pilates we engage our bodies in various directions simultaneously, teaching our muscles to coordinate through all levels of supported movement.
Do you have an injury or a limitation? Are you pregnant or recovering from a recent medical procedure? The Pilates method is easily adapted to all abilities and a qualified teacher knows how important modifications are for certain populations. If your instructor did not check in with you at the start of your class, you might not be in a real Pilates class, and could be setting your body up for more harm than good.
Another way to tell if you are in good hands with a qualified instructor is if they offer modifications to the exercises they are leading you through. Are they paying attention to the alignment of joints and tailoring movement based on your individual skill? Or, do they ask you to move your body in a way that feels above your personal level? Educated instructors keep the Pilates Method safe and beneficial for everyone, and modify the exercises when necessary.
Just like a seasoned instructor can modify the exercise down to a safe yet challenging level, they should also advance the exercises as you get stronger. If you feel like you are repeating the same exercises over and over again, or your teacher isn't guiding you through mastery of the foundational skills in order to progress, you might not be in a real Pilates class. If you are curious about what the next level is, simply ask - your instructor should be able to tell you what you are working towards. Mr. Pilates wrote in his book Return to Life "Remember, too, that 'Rome was not built in a day,' and that patience and persistence are vital qualities in the ultimate successful accomplishment of any worthwhile endeavor." If you perform your Pilates exercises with dedication and patience, you should progress on to the more challenging and advanced work over time, but only if your instructor knows what comes next.
Lastly, advanced students should be ready to flow from one exercise into the next with built in transitions that drive the class (or lesson) at a quick pace, and keeps the heart rate raised and the body warm. Mr. Pilates designed a clear order of his matwork exercises (which all comprehensively certified instructors know) and the transitions become part of the entire workout, helping to execute each exercise with maximum efficiency, and no down time. When you move through all planes of movement with unwavering concentration, and focus on precise muscular engagement without stopping, you are doing REAL Pilates. :)