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Can Pilates Thrive in a Fitness Setting?

Pilates instructors share their thoughts on teaching traditional repertoire in “the gym.”

How can Pilates teachers be creative and still stay true to their roots? And what are the essential tenets that define “true” Pilates anyway? We asked several prominent Pilates instructors, who told us that keeping it real is about a lot more than just the exercises you choose.

Question: In the fitness setting, how can Pilates programs stay “true” to Pilates principles?

Cuing Counts

“Joseph Pilates has an incredible routine for the entire body, inclusive of breath and core control. I believe instructors need to have a good understanding of his philosophy. His execution of movement and breath is critically important to performing the exercises properly. Instructors need to use this as a base and then use their creative choreography to complement his work. Integrating breath and movement is key, but I think lots of instructors may not cue [this] because they either don’t understand the concept or don’t know proper cuing for the integration of breath and movement. Instructors have to not only understand the principles but also know how to cue them before they can teach a true Pilates program.”

— Norma Shechtman, MEd, MA, Pilates and fitness instructor for The Sports Club in Los Angeles and Orange County and for Equinox Newport Beach

Communicating the Pilates Approach

“To ensure Pilates programs stay true to Pilates principles is certainly difficult in the fitness setting. Even within the Pilates industry itself there remains, at times, debate on how exactly exercises are explained and taught! Pilates for me, is an approach, a methodology of exercise, not simply a series of particular exercises practiced in a particular manner or way. We need to educate the traditional fitness community by communicating both the goals of the Pilates movements we teach and how the movements work to achieve those goals. Informing fitness professionals about the specific goals of a Pilates movement (exercise) and then describing how [the move is] accomplished in traditional fitness terms—with anatomical and biomechanical explanations—is the approach I take with clients and convention participants, as well as in my instructor certification programs.”

— Cathleen Murakami, director of SynergySystems® Fitness Studio, Encinitas, California

Not Just What We Teach, But How

“In Pilates, the overriding principles are whole-body health, whole-body commitment and breath. A comprehensively trained Pilates professional should have a clear working understanding of the principles that make the Pilates method unique and be able to explain that information in a fitness setting. Even fitness professionals who have taken a shorter Pilates education program should have been taught these principles and their importance in the safe, effective and systematic delivery of the Pilates method. Pilates is not only a system of exercises; it is also a ‘healthy’ lifestyle commitment. Any professional delivering a Pilates group class, small-group class or private lesson needs to also communicate this to students.

“Pilates teachers should be taught not only what to teach (think choreography of the exercises), but how to teach. Pilates professionals, and for that matter all fitness professionals, should have a deeper understanding of the stages of learning so that they can be sensitive to their clients and their unique needs, even in a group setting. Pilates is truly a movement system that is linked intelligently and with purpose. Pilates teachers who have this type of comprehensive understanding are able to work intelligently and effectively with everyone, from the deconditioned to the athlete.”

Kevin A. Bowen, director of education for Peak Pilates®, a division of Mad Dogg Athletics, Boulder, Colorado

What do you think? What constitutes “true” Pilates, and do fitness programs today respect those core values or stray too far from tradition? We look forward to hearing from you!


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