Let’s talk about Pilates Instructors. My aim here is to cover the most common questions relating to their training, and to have you consider what’s most important to you when choosing an instructor.
How do Pilates Instructors learn their craft?
Traditionally, Pilates Instructors were long time students at a Studio who were selected by the Studio Director as having potential to be great instructors to continue on the Method. It was considered a huge honour to be selected to train as a Pilates Instructor, as when Pilates movement first started gaining popularity, it was literally just Joseph Pilates, the man himself, and a handful of his trusted offsiders who came to be known as ‘the Elders’. The Elders all went on to open their own studios, and train instructors in their version of the Pilates Method. Over the years when Joseph had his New York studio, and trained his protégés, he gradually changed and refined his teaching methods, with each of the Elders being schooled in a slightly different version of his original teachings. Nowadays, anyone can train to become an instructor, and the challenge for those who aren’t in the know, is to figure out how you can tell the good instructors, from the not so good.
Fully Certified Studio Instructor - this means that they have completed over 500 hours of workshops, lectures, training, supervised teaching, written and practical examinations, as well as their own study, practise, and attending classes as a student. This is no mean feat, and generally takes 12 months to complete, at an average cost of $10,000. There are even different levels of full certification, with some instructors studying diplomas in advanced repertoire, extra study to specialise in rehabilitation, or to become teacher trainers.
Generally, instructors would hold certificates for both Beginner and Intermediate repertoire in all of Mat, Reformer, Cadillac, Wunda Chair, and small apparatus, to be recognised as a fully certified instructor.
There are a number of recognised training schools all around the world, and the coursework and requirements are similar. Some schools teach very classical or ‘old school’ Pilates, similar to what Joseph Pilates was originally teaching in his New York Studio, and some are a little more progressive, whilst still adhering to the fundamentals set out by Joe. In the industry it is commonly accepted that as long as you have done full training through a recognised school, or affiliate training course, you can call yourself a fully certified instructor.
Many instructors will have done continuing education and training with other instructors from various schools and teaching backgrounds, this makes for a wonderful variety of teaching styles, spins on exercises, descriptive language, and class types, so that each instructor’s individuality shines through. This is what makes it important to find an instructor you gel with, rather than getting too caught up on aspects such as their pedigree, or package prices.
Apparatus Certification – can be achieved individually on any of the Pilates equipment, but most commonly applies to Floor (beginner and Intermediate), and Reformer (beginner, intermediate, and advanced). This is the minimum requirement that your instructor should have to be qualified to teach your Pilates class, and there are varying degrees of quality when it comes to training.
Some certifications are more comprehensive than others, for example you can do a weekend training course with no formal examinations or apprentice hours requirements, or a course run over 4 weekends that requires you to work with a teacher trainer, and take an examination at the completion of your course. Some businesses provide in house certification, and only the Studio Director may be comprehensively trained, whereas other businesses may employ teachers who’ve all done external training courses, and then provide in house training to unify their instructors to ‘speak a common language’, ensuring that clients receive continuity from one instructor to the next.
None of these methods are right or wrong, it purely depends on what you are after from your classes. The most important things to consider are your enjoyment, and safety as a client.
Your safety is not just your instructor’s responsibility, it’s up to you as well. Make sure you;
1. Disclose your injuries and medical history to your instructor/studio, even if you attend for a session with a sore neck or back, you should inform your instructor before your class.
2. Seek clarification if you are confused about an exercise.
3. Only practise exercises at home which your instructor has advised are safe for you to do.
4. Pay attention to the number of reps you’ve been asked to do. Remember Quality, not Quantity is the key to good Pilates practise.
Why does Pilates Cost so Much?
Think back to when we talked about how long it takes to train as a Pilates Instructor, the lengthy time and financial commitment that your instructor has undertaken to gain their title. Combine this with having a space big enough to fit in several Pilates machines, which by the way cost several thousand dollars each, and on top of that the cost of utilities, paying studio staff a fair wage, computers/internet/software/hardware, and replacing worn equipment.
Running a studio is not a cheap exercise, but the cost of what you are paying should reflect what you are getting. Instructors should be provided access to workshops or external training to keep abreast of the latest research and keep their skills sharp. Broken, or worn out equipment should be replaced for the safety of anyone using it, the studio should be clean, tidy, and well presented.
There are often pieces of small equipment such as socks, massage balls, or bands for sale at the studio. These are not a money spinning gimmick. Buying these products in, in small amounts is costly. These products are pretty much there as a convenience for the clients, to make it easier for you to purchase items that will help your own practise.
The last 10 years have seen a trend where Physiotherapists have realised the many benefits of the Method and started teaching Pilates for rehab. There have even been research projects aimed at establishing the benefits of Pilates rehabilitation for conditions such as chronic back pain, over other types of exercise.
It is generally accepted that you will pay slightly more for Physiotherapy Pilates classes as you are gaining from the expertise afforded by being taught by an instructor who is degree qualified in diagnosing and rehabilitating injuries, neurological conditions, post surgical clients, and other movement disorders. Physio Pilates is no better or worse than any other type of Pilates, again, what matters is the level of training of the instructor, and matching the client to the correct type of class. Your Physio Pilates Instructor could just have easily done a weekend course, or a fully certified, year long apprenticeship.
My advice in this situation is to compare what they are offering to what you would find in an established Pilates Studio ie. The ratio of students to teacher (no more than 4:1), fully supervised classes (the instructor is there for the entirety of the class to direct individual exercises, or give corrections and guidance in a program situation). In a reputable Pilates Studio, you will never be left on your own to do exercises with the Pilates machines.
So how do you know if your Instructor is any good?
Firstly, understand that Pilates is not a miracle cure. Like with any new regime, you will only notice lasting results with commitment to regular training, and after a minimum of 12 weeks. That’s not to say you won’t experience benefits straight away. Joseph Pilates’ famous quote reads “In 10 sessions you’ll feel the difference, in 20 you’ll see the difference, in 30 you’ll have a new body.”
After your first session, you should feel good, like you’ve found a few new muscles, and moved different parts of your body. You definitely shouldn’t feel worse, or in pain. A good instructor will be able to help you work out what what wrong, and tweak your session to avoid pain with future classes.
In my experience, it usually takes a few weeks to get the hang of it all, and to know whether Pilates is for you. Many Studios offer an ‘intro pack’ of about 6 sessions. The first 6 classes are usually the toughest, especially as your multi tasking skills get put to work. Move this, suck this in, breathe like this, contract that…Phew. Once you get past this, Pilates should start to feel more natural, you’ll know whether or not you gel with your instructor, and you’re probably feeling better than you did ‘pre-Pilates’.
A good instructor will find different ways to explain a concept if you’re getting stuck. This comes from them having practised on themselves, and learning from others. A good instructor will continue to do their own workouts long after their teacher training has finished.
A good instructor will be hard to get into! There is a reason they are popular, and its not just because they are a nice person. Good instructors get results, motivate and inspire their clients, and keep it interesting so you don’t get bored!
A good instructor will notice when something is not right, and work with you to correct it.
A good instructor will tailor your session to how you feel, and what you need/want to work on, you shouldn’t be doing exactly the same thing every session (unless there is a very specific rehab reason for this).