Joseph Pilates Business Booms

by: Shirley Archer, JD, MA

profit CENTER B y S h i r l e y J . A r c h e r, J D , M A Joseph Pilates Business Booms How can personal trainers offer Joseph Pilates' popular workout methods to meet their clients' needs? E xercise programs based on the work of Joseph Pilates are experiencing an explosive growth worldwide. Along with fitness facilities offering group exercise formats, personal trainers are boosting their profit centers by meeting the increasing demand for individual Pilates-based training. Just how fast is business booming? "In the past 10 years, my business as an equipment manufacturer has been doubling every two years," says Ken Endelman, president of Balanced Body in Sacramento, California. "And I'm not even serving the entire market." As more and more consumers seek Pilates-inspired training, how will you respond as a personal trainer? Should you incorporate the popular workout regimen into your existing training business? What about investing in new equipment? Can you add specialty trainers to your staff? Should you train existing staff in how to teach Pilates-evolved exercises? There are many questions to answer, yet one thing is clear: Even if you decide not to offer this service to your clients, you should at least know about this very strong and growing trend as an informed trainer in your community. This article offers readers information on how to evaluate Pilates-based training methods, as well as practical suggestions on how to incorporate them into a personal training business. The material presented here is based on the experience of personal trainers, studio owners, program directors, equipment designers and expert practitioners. Conduct Hands-On Research Whether you want to incorporate Pilates-based training into your current practice or develop an entire business based on it, experts agree that good research is imperative to success. Becoming a certified Pilates trainer represents a sizable investment of both time and money. Before you or one of your staff members signs up for an instructional program or you seek out a Pilates trainer to hire for your facility, familiarize yourself with the work. Learn what Pilates-style training is and understand how different training and certifying organizations approach the practice. "Attend a workshop or a presentation at a fitness conference," suggests Moira Stott, program director of Stott Pilates Studios and International Certification Center in Toronto. "It can be a great way to learn about and compare different approaches to the work of Joseph Pilates. Attending a short session, however, only gives a taste of the entire system of exercise." Other strategies include actually taking a personal training session from a reputable Pilates trainer or attending Pilates-inspired mat classes. A mat class typically consists of one hour, instructor-led floor exercises performed without equipment or props. You can also ask established trainers about their work. Take time to experience the exercises on different types of equipment invented by Joseph Pilates, including the Reformer, Cadillac, Wunda Chair and Barrel. A personal training session can cost anywhere from $20 to $125 per hour, depending on the number of sessions purchased and your location. IDEA PERSONAL TRAINER OCTOBER 2 0 0 0 profit CENTER Cathie Murakami, an instructor trainer who owns Synergy Systems in Encinitas, California, recommends observing as many Pilates trainers as possible. "Go and hang out at studios," she advises. "It's important to see that many people do the work differently. Some practitioners believe it is not Pilates unless it's done exactly the same way Joseph Pilates did it years ago." Other ways to research Pilates include surfing the Internet, viewing videos of different practitioners, reading articles and books on the subject and contacting different training and certification organizations for materials. (See "Resources" box for contact information.) Become the Specialist Once you have researched and experienced the Pilates style of training yourself, consider whether you want to add it to the mix of services you currently offer. If you do want to make it a part of your business, the next step is deciding whether to take on the training yourself and become a Pilates specialist or hire a trainer already trained and experienced in Pilates-based work. Learning how to teach Pilates is a commitment that can be undertaken on a variety of levels. Leading instructors, however, stress the importance of considering all angles before signing on. "Lots of trainers want to get on the Pilates bandwagon," Murakami notes, "but it's not simply about memorizing specific exercises. It's about understanding the methodology and approach to the training. When I train instructors, I remind them that they are going to need some type of training beyond a weekend course. We're not simply teaching an exercise; we're teaching people how to do the exercise. It's about feeling things differently in their bodies, neuromuscular repatterning, developing kinesthetic awareness and coordinating breath with movement." Stott agrees with Murakami. "Everybody is scrambling to be trained, and training centers are trying to accommodate the demand," she notes. "On one hand, this is very positive; on the other hand, it can have a negative effect on the quality and standards of training. The pressure to be certified has people wanting to do it overnight, not realizing how much there is to learn. It's important that trainers not lose focus: the training makes them better trainers, not the certification. A crash course may not be as beneficial as it seems." Pilates exercises fall within a conceptual framework, and practitioners need to fully grasp this framework before putting it into action, says Joan Breibart, president of Physicalmind Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico. "People need to go in with a big picture approach or the bites of information don't mean anything," she explains. Still, Breibart sees merit in taking the abridged courses. "A weekend course can provide a solid introduction to the fundamentals," she acknowledges. "In and of themselves, the fundamentals can have value for understanding an approach to the work. Trainers do not necessarily need to teach mat classes, but they can incorporate concepts from this work into other aspects of fitness training." As with the initial research into the Pilates field of exercise, deciding whether to invest in instructor training and a certification program means additional inquiries must be conducted. Each organization has its own philosophy, approach and training structure. Most offer intensive courses as well as those you can take over a longer period of time of up to one year. Instruction programs for Pilates are typically organized in a progressive format, which means individual trainers can pursue the work as far as their own level of interest. Most introductory training programs begin with mat exercises. Mat programs provide an overview of the principles of Pilatesinspired exercises and require minimal investment in equipment. Then, once students understand the mat techniques, they can learn about the various pieces of equipment invented by Joseph Pilates. Training programs to serve specialty populations, such as postrehabilitation clients, also are available. These advanced training programs typically cost anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars and can be taken in intensive weekend courses or over lengthier periods of time. "I prefer not to offer Pilates instruction as an `all or nothing' proposition," explains Elizabeth Larkam, director of Pilates and Beyond programs for the San Francisco-based Western Athletic Clubs. Her main focus is the type of instruction being offered. "I recommend that fitness professionals seek Pilates-inspired training that is scientifically sound in accordance with current research in biomechanics, as well as in motor control." KEY QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER Before adding Pilates-based personal training to your business, ask these questions: 1. Do I understand the concepts behind the training method by Joseph Pilates? 2. Am I willing to invest time and money for training and/or certification for myself? 3. Am I willing to hire a specialty trainer to join my staff? 4. Am I willing to train staff to create in-house specialty trainers? 5. How can I integrate Pilates-based training into my existing training structure? 7. What equipment investment am I willing and able to make? 8. What marketing effort am I willing and able to make to attract clientele? 9. Will this investment of time, money and effort result in increased client satisfaction and/or retention? Once you have the answers, consult with other personal trainers who have successfully incorporated Pilates-inspired training into their businesses. In addition, seek the advice of other professionals (for example, consultants, accountants, bank loan officers). I D E A P E R S O N A L T R A I N E R OCT OBER 2 0 0 0 profit CENTER Hire a Specialist or Train From Within? For many trainers, it may not make sense--financially or timewise--to become a Pilates specialist. If your clients want to experience Pilates-inspired training, there are two other possible solutions: (1) add experienced Pilates trainers to the mix of your staff or (2) train staff from within your facility to become Pilates specialists. Larkam prefers the second option. "Personal training managers in club or studio settings should consider offering Pilates-inspired training to their existing staff, so they can develop their own staff specialists from within," she advises. "I find that it's much more harmonious if the specialty trainer is already familiar with the existing club culture. It's more difficult to integrate an expert from the outside." Whatever the approach, the importance of adding Pilates trainers cannot be understated. "Having someone on staff who is qualified to instruct Pilates is a huge asset to the team," says Krista Popowych, who manages both personal training and group exercise programs at The Fitness Group in Vancouver, British Columbia. Stott adds some cautionary notes for business owners. "Because there are BECOMING CERTIFIED different approaches and types of training," she says, "it's important to have staff who are consistently trained. Otherwise clients can get confused when working with different trainers." To effectively evaluate a specialist before making a hiring decision, business owners and facility managers must educate themselves on how to evaluate a Pilates trainer. They do not personally need to be proficient in every movement or training discipline, but they do need to know how to interview and review credentials, training ability and interpersonal skills. (For more information on "How to Hire Specialty Instructors," see the January 2000 issue of IDEA Fitness Manager.) Integrating Pilates With Existing Programs Once you have decided to take the Pilates plunge, how do you go about integrating it with your existing programs? Moreover, how will clients react? If you have multiple trainers, how will they react? Pilates professionals agree that a blended approach is most advantageous for personal trainers and their clients. "Modern Pilates-based exercise is very complementary to other forms of training," Stott says. "I would suggest at least two such sessions a week Location: Many certifying organizations for Pilates-based instructor training offer their classes, courses and programs at convenient locations. Some organizations use space in established fitness facilities, while others have permanent studios in place. Organizations that have limited locations typically provide information on accommodations. Duration: Depending on the type of Pilates education you desire, certification programs range from short weekend courses that cover the basics to several months of intense, onsite class work. Most organizations allow students to take successive courses based on their own individual schedules. Certification: Various levels of certification accompany the Pilates-inspired trend. A weekend certification, for example, might cover just the fundamentals. An intensive program geared toward special populations may take six weeks to three months. Consider the types of clients you are, or will be, serving. The more in-depth the program, the more training you will receive. Some programs include the areas of instruction, supervised teaching, observation, apprenticeship and practice teaching. Cost: Pilates-based classes range in price from less than $300 to more than $5,000. Again, it depends on the type of program and certification you desire. Most organizations break down their costs by courses. For example, you might pay $800 for a class that will teach you how to implement a basic program for clients, or you may choose a Pilates-based program on postrehabilitation, which will cost more. [for clients]. Plus, it's important that clients get the cardio training that Pilates-style exercise does not cover." Popowych agrees: "I often recommend to my clients who train twice a week to incorporate one Pilates session and one regular training session. If cost is an issue, mat classes are an excellent alternative and have tremendous value and results for clients." The challenge is how to blend different training modalities smoothly. Popowych believes the key is providing staff and clients with information regarding the benefits of the combination. "Our trainers feel like what they're doing is quite different from the Pilates trainers, and vice versa. The trainers actually refer a ton [of clients] to Pilates trainers." Some owners of personal training businesses might be concerned that adding full-time Pilates trainers to their staffs may detract from their primary business. If so, these owners might consider adding Pilates trainers in the same manner as adding specialty trainers: to come in and focus on a particular market, such as postrehabilitation and special populations. This approach can attract new customers, broaden the range of services, increase overall business and keep the primary programs intact. For larger facilities, management can facilitate the introduction of Pilates by providing plenty of staff education. Some trainers might be reluctant to refer current clients to a new Pilates program. If staff members are "sold" on the benefits of a new approach to training and understand management's reasons for encouraging it, then the new method will be more likely presented in a positive manner to clients. "The key is to have an understanding of the benefits of all training services and programs by all your staff," Popowych says. "Discuss the value of cross-promoting each other as well as the programs. In the end, everybody wins: The clients get to experience various movement forms, the [regular] trainers and Pilates trainers get refer- I D E A P E R S O N A L T R A I N E R OCTOBER 2 0 0 0 rals from each other, trainers get to teach in a club that's prospering, and revenues grow because now members are doing various activities, not just one thing." Investing in Equipment When it comes to providing equipment for Pilates-based classes, business owners and managers should purchase with an eye toward the client, according to experts. "For optimal safety and effectiveness, a selection of equipment in a closely monitored environment provides clients with ultimate exercise variety and personalized programming," explains Lindsay Merrithew, president of Toronto's Stott Equipment Sales. "It's important that clients' workouts be individualized so they work using the setting, tension, exercise variation and intensity level best suited to them. This personalized approach is also popular, as it can be done by a broad range of clients: young, old, fit or deconditioned." Breibart recommends a holistic approach to purchasing Pilates-styled equipment. "Consider the overall atmosphere of the studio," she advises. "How does the equipment blend with existing pieces? What type of music is played in the background? If a trainer switches a studio completely to Pilates training, the combination of equipment is not an issue." If a blended strategy is chosen, however, the equipment and training needs of different clientele should be harmonized. This may require separate rooms for different activities. Ultimately, cost plays a major role in outfitting a studio or larger facility with equipment. "The decision of when and what equipment to purchase is driven by economics," Endelman says. "Space and staff training on how to use equipment properly are also considerations. In addition, a business owner needs to decide whether to only train one-toone or to teach small groups. If you can train two to three people at a time, you need more equipment--but you also increase your revenue stream. "In addition to equipment variety, studio owners need to evaluate whether they want metal or wooden equipment. The look and feel of the two mediums are very different. Metal equipment is all about function; wooden equipment is much warmer but requires a lot more craftsmanship. I recommend commercial, not personal, equipment. Commercial models are designed to withstand more use, quiet and smooth, and adjustable to accommodate different body types." Other points to remember about evaluating equipment include adjustability, storage, maintenance and whether to buy or lease. "If cash up front is an issue, people can lease equipment," Endelman notes. "Generally, it's more economical to buy equipment if you have funds. Leased equipment, however, can pay for itself by earning back its lease payment over time. On the plus side, equipment used for Pilates training requires very little maintenance compared to other types of fitness equipment." option is to offer small group mat classes to expose existing clients to Pilates-style training. Then, after clients become familiar with the program, see how many of them want more individualized training and adjust your program accordingly. This strategy is particularly effective for businesses that offer both group exercise and personal training programs. As more consumers realize the benefits of individual and small group training styles, the market for all fitness and RESOURCES Balanced Body (800) PILATES; (916) 454-2838 Glenn Studio (877) 528-3335; (214) 528-3335 Lonna Mosow's Center for Mind Body Fitness (612) 941-9448 Momentum (505) 992-8000 On Center Conditioning (949) 642-6970 The Physicalmind Institute (800) 505-1990; (505) 988-1990 Pilates Center of Austin (512) 467-8009 Pilates Studio and Performing Arts Center (310) 659-1077 Pilates Studio of Seattle (206) 405-3560 Polestar Education (800) 387-3651; (305) 666-0037 Stott Conditioning Studio Stott Equipment Sales (800) 910-0001; (416) 482-4050 Yoga Lady Ink! (800) 742- 1114; (760) 942-4244 How to Market Pilates Once a commitment has been made, how can business owners and managers market the addition of Pilates-inspired training services to existing and new clientele? For the most part, traditional marketing strategies work best. Consider how you marketed your initial personal training services. "A studio owner will need to create a brochure to explain the services offered and their benefits to clients," Breibart advises. "The marketing approach needs to be defined. Does the trainer want to encourage clients to blend Pilates training with other types of training? Does the trainer want to bring in new clients with Pilates-based training?" An owner or manager may use Pilates-based training to bring in new clients and then see whether they are attracted to other services, such as oneto-one cardiovascular training. Another I D E A P E R S O N A L T R A I N E R OCT OBER 2 0 0 0 movement professionals grows. As personal trainers expand into specialties such as Pilates-inspired training, they broaden the markets that they serve. Remember, even with Pilates training, keep your eye on the prize: responsibly serving the needs of an everexpanding and diverse clientele. It was Joseph Pilates himself who acknowledged a goal every personal trainer can embrace: "The attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind." Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is a senior writer for, a health management site of the Hayward, Californiabased Cholestech Corporation. This past August she was named author of the year by the Australian Fitness Network. Contact Archer at or at

IDEA Personal Trainer , Volume 2001, Issue 6

© 2000 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA IDEA Author/Presenter

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, was the 2008 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and is IDEA's mind-body-spirit spokesperson. She is a certified yoga and Pilates teacher and an award-winning author based in L...