A Career Path for the Pilates Instructor

by PJ O'Clair on Apr 19, 2011

What you need to know to get started.

With 8.6 million participants, Pilates is the fastest-growing exercise activity in the United States, according to a recent report from the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (Rovell 2010). The 2010 IDEA Fitness Programs & Equipment Trends report found that 90% of facilities represented in the survey offer Pilates, up from 63% in 2002 (Schroeder 2010). What’s more, many facilities provide both group and private training, as well as fusion formats (e.g., Pilates-yoga). So it’s not surprising that Pilates instructors today have many career options. Popular settings that offer Pilates include fitness clubs, privately owned Pilates and yoga studios, wellness centers, spas, schools, community centers, medical/rehab/physical therapy facilities and more.

How Do I Know Which Avenue Is Best for Me?

If you are eager to pursue a career teaching Pilates, first consider these questions:

  1. Are you more interested in leading group classes or conducting one-on-one private Pilates training sessions? Or do you hope to do both?
  2. Do you want to teach Pilates mat work or the equipment-based repertoire of exercises (major pieces of equipment include the reformer, the chair, the cadillac and various barrels)? Or will you teach a combination of the two?

In group classes, Pilates instructors typically adhere to a predetermined sequence of exercises to ensure that participants receive a balanced, whole-body workout. In private sessions, the workouts must be customized to meet the clients’ individual goals and needs. It is common for Pilates teachers to offer a combination of group classes and private sessions. This allows you more work opportunities. It is also a good career move, as many facilities require Pilates staff to be trained in both options, to accommodate demand.

Teaching Skills

While both group and private training require a clear understanding of Pilates principles plus a strong personal Pilates practice, the teaching skills needed in each case are a bit different:

Basic Skills of a Successful Group Pilates Instructor

  • extremely motivating and energetic
  • understands pace and rhythm
  • keeps the workout balanced and safe
  • able to provide modifications for all levels
  • includes all participants in the class environment
  • demonstrates a contagious passion for Pilates
  • knows how to feed off the group vigor

Basic Skills of a Successful Private Pilates Instructor

  • helps clients establish, achieve and manage their individual goals
  • assesses clients’ needs and designs appropriate programs to meet them
  • listens well and is patient
  • shows compassion
  • encourages persistence in clients and holds them accountable
  • stays self-motivated and is good at setting personal training goals
Can I Make a Living Teaching Pilates?

How much you can expect to make from teaching Pilates depends on your qualifications, your ability to retain clients, your arrangement with your employer (unless you work on your own) and the area where you live (Schroeder 2009). Keep in mind the following:

  • The higher the level of your training, the higher your hourly rate of pay will be.
  • The more specialization you offer, the more money you can charge per hour.
  • The more you retain your clients, the higher your value is as an employee.
  • The more benefits an employer offers, the lower your hourly pay is likely to be.

The 2008 IDEA Fitness Industry Compensation Survey found that the mean hourly rate for Pilates instructors in the United States was $32.25, with professionals in the Northeast and West averaging more than that ($40.38 and $36.02, respectively) and those in the South and North Central region averaging less ($28.58 and $24.61, respectively). For-profit facilities paid more than nonprofits.

Fewer than half of the facilities included in the survey hired Pilates instructors as employees; however, in 33% of cases, they were eligible for educational funds. If the club or facility where you work includes educational opportunities as part of your compensation package, these are added value; likewise with management or career-enhancement options within the company.

In the sections that follow, you’ll learn more about training and certification requirements, specialty tracks, prospects for instructors and opportunities beyond teaching.

What Certification or Training Do I Need?

In the early days of Pilates, a student of the method would work as an apprentice with a mentor for many months, even years, before teaching clients. That was the usual path to becoming an instructor, just as it often was in other mind-body disciplines such as martial arts and yoga. Nowadays, it is common and in most cases required to obtain formal training and certification before teaching Pilates, and there are now many Pilates training organizations and certification courses. However, in deference to the history of Pilates and to its tradition of mentorship and internship, many reputable certifying bodies still require students to accrue practice-teaching and observation hours before receiving a teaching certificate. In addition, there are often written and practical components to the testing process.

Whether it’s your goal to make Pilates a new career or simply a part-time job to bring in additional revenue, take the time to research the reputable training organizations, do your homework and find the right fit for you. Ask lots of questions. What are the course objectives, and do they meet yours? What is the time commitment for the course work? How much homework will there be? What about practice-teaching and observation hours? Where are the courses held? (Will travel be involved?) Once the course work is finished, how long will you have to pass the test? Will the organization require annual continuing education credits (CECs) to maintain the certification, and if so, where are these CECs offered?

If you are hoping to work at a particular club or studio once you are trained, ask what training and certification it requires for Pilates instructors. Try to project how much your certification and subsequent continuing education will cost you in time and dollars. Approximate costs are discussed later in this article.

Training Prerequisites and Specialty Tracks

Prerequisites. Before signing up for teacher training, be sure your personal Pilates practice and your foundational knowledge of the work are both solid. Knowing Pilates in your own body will not only give you an appreciation of the method, it will also help you teach it to your clients. Take Pilates classes at your gym or find a studio. If you teach or train in the fitness industry, attend Pilates-based workshops for your CECs. Also watch Pilates DVDs. In other words, do whatever you can to familiarize yourself more fully with the work.

Most of the intensive Pilates teacher-training courses offered by reputable organizations require a degree in exercise science or a nationally recognized fitness instructor or personal training certification. If you lack these prerequisites, an alternate route may be available, as many of the certifying organizations or their affiliates offer comprehensive programs that provide in-depth course study of basic musculoskeletal anatomy and biomechanics.

Specialty Tracks. Pilates is a diverse field, and as such, specialty tracks have become increasingly popular. Once you have completed your basic training and accrued some teaching experience, you may want to pursue education in one or more of these tracks, not only to stay competitive in the field, but also to increase your rate of pay. Some specialty tracks (e.g., Pilates for athletes) are designed for fitness professionals, whereas others (e.g., full Pilates rehabilitation courses) are designed primarily for physical therapists and other healthcare providers.

At Northeast Pilates Education Centers (NEPEC) in Massachusetts, a licensed teacher-training center for STOTT PILATES®, we conducted a survey of 1,120 Pilates instructors who had studied with us in some form, either through courses or workshops. In the survey, 100% of respondents expressed an interest in at least one of the following specialty tracks:

  • pre/postnatal
  • orthopedic concerns—hip and knee replacements, rotator cuff injuries
  • osteoporosis
  • scoliosis
  • cancer survivorship
  • spine care
  • athletic performance

Fitness industry certifying agencies, such as the American Council on Exercise and the American College of Sports Medicine, offer many specialty certifications, including Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist® and Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer. These can all be combined nicely with Pilates training and specialty tracks.

Go here for a list of suggested Pilates Certification/Training Organizations.

Duration and Cost of Training

How Long Does it Take? You can obtain a basic Pilates mat certification after about 40–50 hours of training. However, to be fully trained and certified in a combination of Pilates mat and equipment exercises, expect to complete between 200 and 500 hours of course work, observation and practice teaching. These hours are approximate. A 500-hour program would include the advanced repertoire. (Requirements for teaching yoga are very similar.)

How Much Does It Cost? Costs for a course of intensive study covering mat work and equipment training can run from $2,500 to $10,000, with the higher numbers including the full repertoire. At NEPEC, a STOTT PILATES 40-hour mat course, which includes the essential and intermediate repertoires, currently costs approximately $1,400 for instruction plus course materials. Students must complete an additional 65 hours of work on their own to fulfill requirements for practice teaching, observation and physical review. Adding the reformer course, which consists of 90 hours of course work plus 75 hours of practice teaching, etc., brings the total cost to approximately $3,000. Certification testing fees are $250–$350.

Basic-training and specialty-track workshops cost from $120 to $250, depending on length and material content. The time investment for specialty training is typically about 20 hours per track. Specialty instructors can expect to make 15%–20% more per hour for their expertise.

How Do I Find a Job as a Pilates Instructor

Most fitness clubs and private studios require Pilates teachers to be certified. Some facilities are still willing to hire untrained and/or noncertified instructors, typically when demand for classes outnumbers available teachers. However, any facility that has strict hiring policies and is concerned about client retention and liability will hire only trained and/or certified staff.

With a 25% response rate to our NEPEC survey, this is what we learned our alumni are doing now:

  • 75% have finished their Pilates training and are certified in either mat or both mat and equipment
  • 25% are currently doing their course study and have intentions to test out for certification
  • 61% work part-time (under 20 hours per week)
  • 39% work full-time (20 hours or more per week)
  • 88.5% say it was very easy to find a job as a Pilates instructor, and they feel secure in their position

It’s clear that Pilates is in high demand. In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine ranked Pilates among its top 10 trends for 2010. Most likely, the appeal is so strong because Pilates is applicable to all ages and all levels of participant, from the deconditioned to the professional athlete. It is often used in both rehabilitation and postrehabilitation settings. Doctors and physical therapists are now referring patients to Pilates programs because of their focus on core strength and flexibility and their gentle approach. And Pilates is still highly popular with healthy populations.

Given the current market, teaching opportunities are plentiful. However, with the variety of age groups and physical challenges among Pilates participants, it is critical that you have the proper education and teach only what you have been trained to teach, staying scrupulously within your scope of practice. In such a time of growth, keeping Pilates safe and true to its principles is key to its future development—as leading Pilates experts discuss in “The Pilates Phenomenon: Where Do We Go From Here?” by Mary Monroe, first published in the July-August 2010 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.

Catherine Brumley, a fully certified STOTT PILATES instructor and full-time employee in the health and healing department at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts, says that for her, “Teaching Pilates has provided the opportunity to truly help clients learn about their bodies, improve their levels of fitness, reduce/alleviate pain and feel better both mentally and physically. The integrity of teaching the work is very rewarding to me.”

Beyond Teaching: Other Pilates Career Opportunities

For the experienced Pilates professional, career opportunities can go beyond teaching clients. Depending on your skills and interests, you may want to expand your career by owning a business, writing articles or books, mentoring new instructors or exploring other avenues.

Opening Your Own Facility: What to Consider. After you’ve taught for a while, you may feel an entrepreneurial spark igniting inside you, and the prospect of owning your own facility may seem very attractive. Before committing to this path, be sure to complete the following steps:

  • Develop a business plan with help from a professional.
  • Make sure you have enough working capital to open with until you can start meeting the base numbers of your day-to-day plan.
  • Decide whether you will be the only Pilates instructor or whether you will hire others.
  • Reflect on what will happen when you are sick or cannot work, if you are the only instructor. Plan accordingly.
  • Think about where your real interests lie. Do you want to manage a business, or do you want to teach and train clients? A small-business owner often does all jobs, wears many hats and gets paid last.
  • Decide if you will work in your home or travel to clients’ homes. Be sure you are appropriately insured (see the sidebar “Tax and Insurance Considerations for Pilates Instructors”).
  • Talk at length to mentors who own and operate facilities, and use their hard-earned lessons to save you time, money and grief.

There are far more factors involved in opening your own studio than can be covered here. It can be extremely rewarding, both financially and professionally, as long as you are prepared and know what you want to achieve. Work closely with a business planner or Pilates studio consultant to ensure success.

Branching Out in Other Ways. As you progress in your career, you may want to move into training student instructors or mentoring teachers new to the field. If you enjoy being an educator, consider applying to present at industry conventions, such as the IDEA World Fitness Convention™ or the Inner IDEA® Conference. You may also want to look into writing for local newspapers and/or fitness columns or journals. Sharing your experiences with other instructors and potential clients brings the work into the spotlight and keeps the message alive. This is important; documenting what has worked in individual cases with clients can be extremely beneficial and educational for professional peers as well as Pilates enthusiasts. If you are comfortable in front of an audience, public speaking is another way to share your experience and knowledge. Eventually, you might even look into being a consultant with one of the major Pilates companies.

The Pilates field is thriving: there are many fine training opportunities available, and there is lots of diversity in the job market. Now is a great time to consider a career as a Pilates instructor.

Looking for a job in the fitness industry? Use the IDEA Job Board to find the perfect job for you. Want to post a job? Click here.

References Rovell, D. 2010. Survey: Pilates exploding, darts & billiards plummeting. CNBC Sports Business Section (Mar. 30).
Schroeder, J. 2009. 2008 IDEA Fitness Industry Compensation Survey. IDEA Fitness Journal, 6 (1), 31–42.
Schroeder, J. 2010. 2010 IDEA Fitness Programs & Equipment Trends. IDEA Fitness Journal, 8 (7), 22–31.



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About the Author

PJ O'Clair

PJ O'Clair IDEA Author/Presenter

PJ OClair has been a leader and consultant in the fitness industry for more than 25 years. She is a STOTT PILATES® Master Instructor Trainer and has been featured in numerous fitness videos, includin...