The success of Pilates has sparked an explosion of innovative programs and props, but does all that creativity dilute the essence of Pilates or enhance its appeal and accessibility for a broader audience? Here’s what several industry leaders have to say.

Question: What types of creative Pilates programs, such as those that include a fusion of fitness modalities or use props, are most helpful for the Pilates industry—and what program pitfalls do you think should be avoided?

True Pilates or Marketing Ploy?

“The versatility and adaptability of the Pilates method are what make it a perfect fit with other fitness modalities. However, the greatest pitfall is to create fusion classes that are not really fusion classes. Are fusion classes that use the word powerhouse instead of core, and C curve instead of round back, really incorporating the Pilates method?

“In order to fuse [formats], you need to truly understand each [one] as a separate training method and to keep the integrity of each. The term Pilates or -lates seems to often be used primarily for marketing purposes. The Pilates principles, concepts and philosophy are not truly fused with the other modality. The Pilates and fitness worlds have each worked very hard to create well-recognized industries, and both have a responsibility to maintain the integrity of their modalities.”

—Ton Voogt, co-owner of Zenirgy LLC

Props Can Make Classes Safer

“The biggest pitfall is not paying enough attention to safety and potential injuries. For example, I don’t think you can have a safe mat class with more than eight people or a reformer class with more than four to six students. Private sessions should be mandatory before students take any class that could injure them. As an industry, we need to make sure that teachers know how to do assessments before they teach. An example of good creative programming would be to offer a fee-based Pilates class to help beginners understand how to use their bodies correctly and how to modify exercises for safety.

“I think props such as balls can be very helpful in protecting the back during roll-ups or straight-legged sit-ups, movements that can distribute a lot of pressure on the lumbar spine. Gliding™ discs can also be very useful to facilitate standing exercises, which activate the core more efficiently than exercises done while lying on the back. Tubing is another prop that is great for utilizing the entire body during standing exercises.”

—Leslee Bender, creator of the Bender Ball™ and Bender Method™

Props Need a Specific Function

“Props can be very effective as the silent teacher. They can intensify, assist or give direct feedback to the client. The biggest pitfall is the use of props without a functional purpose. In these cases, the prop becomes a distraction and can hinder the movement pattern rather than add something to the exercise or experience. In order to incorporate a prop into your sessions successfully, you need to know the function of the prop as well as you know your fitness modality.”

—Michael Fritzke, co-owner of Zenirgy LLC

Props Need to Deepen the Work, Not Fill Time

“Fusion programs, such as yoga-Pilates, cycle-Pilates, Pool-Pilates, etc., are fun and creative ways for a seasoned instructor to continue teaching and avoid burnout. They give participants a way to take part in two [formats] they enjoy but perhaps don’t always have the time to participate in. What is challenging is finding teachers who truly understand and are experienced in both systems, so that the class is as authentic and true to each modality as possible. Props are always fun, and they add both variety and modification options for less fit participants. What I find annoying is the use of props without any thought process as to why they are being used! When a prop deepens the work, it is useful. If a prop is simply used as a distraction or time filler, I think it does the Pilates community a disservice.”

—Cathleen Murakami, Director, SynergySystems® Fitness Studio