A Beginners Guide: So, what is pilates?

You’ve heard about the benefits of practicing pilates and maybe your friends/family have inspired you to give it a go.  It can be a bit of a daunting task to get started - just a basic Google search of “pilates studio near me” throws out limitless pages of “pilates” teachers and studios all offering something that looks similar but yet seems a bit different from one another.

It’s is no surprise to anyone who has practiced pilates before in more than one studio or even just at one studio with more than one teacher, that interpretation and therefore the teaching of this method can vary considerably.

In fact, there was even a “pilates” trademark court decision in 2001, which allowed multiple variations on the pilates theme.  While it was a win for teachers who wanted to use the trademarked term to describe what they taught and for companies who wanted the rights to use the term so they could market to pilates teachers/enthusiasts, the generalisation of the term didn’t exactly help to clarify just what is pilates for the average consumer and as more and more teachers become qualified in “pilates” and further add their own special flavour to the method, it continues to evolve in a non-linear way.

So if you are new to pilates or just new to pilates with us, we wanted to use this post to explore three styles of pilates that we’ve identified to help you narrow down your search and find a studio/teacher that is right fit for you.

Classical Pilates describes the pilates method as taught by Joseph Pilates to first generation teacher, Romana Kryzanowska and those that learned directly from her (second generation teachers) and their students.

*As a side note:  Joseph Pilates never called what he taught “Classical Pilates”, he taught “Contrology”.

Classical teachers can trace their training directly to Romana and try to adhere closely to what she learned from Joseph Pilates.  You will follow a specific order designed to appropriately warm up, challenge and cool down your body.  Each exercise has its own specific purpose in the classical system. There are no (or not many) variations, except for omitting exercises to make the workout suitable for the level of the student).

Expect:

  • only slight variation between teachers who are classically trained;
  • to follow a strict repertoire on specific apparatus as appropriate for the student; and
  • to workout on multiple pieces of apparatus.  Classical Pilates is a system of exercises that incorporate all of the pieces of apparatus that Joe Pilates invented.  You won’t really see Classical Pilates being taught, for example, as a mat or reformer only class.

Traditional Pilates may or may not follow all of the exercises/variations/modifications in the classical pilates system but can be expanded to the work of all of the first generation teachers or the "Pilates Elders,” (you can find out more about this first generation of pilates teacher in our previous post) and may also include additional elements that were further developed by their own interpretations by what Joe Pilates taught them or what they had learned from their body of work as professional athletes and dancers.

Traditional Pilates is very often interchanged with Classical Pilates.  But we feel that it can and should stand alone, as traditional styles can be quite different, depending on what “lineage” the teacher has studied.  Since Romana was a first generation teacher, her work can be considered “Traditional” but not all traditional teachers can be considered “Classical”.

Expect:

  • slight to considerable differences between each lineage but that teachers who identify themselves with a specific lineage to be similar;
  • repertoire that may include additional/variations to props or apparatus from what was invented by Joseph Pilates; and may
  • include different breathing techniques/patterns to the classical system.

Contemporary Pilates further expands the work of Joseph Pilates and emphasises “Pilates Principles” as the base of most of their exercises.   Many contemporary exercises can be traced back to traditional or classical roots but this style may also incorporate exercises from other modalities including fitness training, yoga or physiotherapy (depending on the teacher's prior training, experience and creativity).

Contemporary Pilates may also be used to describe workouts that are done on one or no apparatus, for example reformer or mat only classes and sometimes include additional props like foam rollers, balls and bands and choreography is generally up to the teacher or studio and can vary in style moderately from teacher to teacher.

Expect:

  • considerable differences between contemporary studios/teachers;
  • use of props/apparatus not invented by Joseph Pilates;
  • apparatus dependent classes, for example, reformer classes, mat classes or tower classes; and
  • choreography that changes from lesson to lesson.

We’ve identified a further two sub-sets of pilates that could easily fall under the contemporary category, these would be “dynamic pilates” (often influenced by group fitness or personal training protocols) or "pilates hybrids" like “Piloxing”, “Yogalates” or “Surfalates”(just to name a few that we discovered though our internet search for this post!)

What can you expect from training at our studio?

bePilates is a classical pilates studio.  Our teachers can trace their training back to Romana and are third and fourth generation classical teachers.  Our studio is fully equipped with Gratz, a classical equipment brand that was built to the specifications and dimensions of the equipment created by Pilates himself and used by Romana in her studio.

We find that the best results from our students are experienced when following the classical system.  We teach our students how to use the classical pilates method to: strengthen their bodies, develop flexibility, improve their posture, and to find that mind-body connection, which can be applied to how they move outside of the studio.

We believe that our role as teachers is to facilitate this understanding of the pilates method, which can only be done when systematically taught and applied.  A student’s practice is ever only dependent on the individual.  Our goal as a studio for all of our students is to create strong, embodied movers who progress in their practice to see lasting improvement in how they feel and move.

Our studio offers lessons in 1-to-1 and 2-to-1 formats.  We do not teach “group classes” because for us, that crosses over into a group fitness modality and from our experience, while may provide a great workout, doesn’t have the same results as when the method is applied to the individual.

We do recognise that 1-to-1 and 2-to-1 lessons can be too expensive for some students and offer 4-to-1 training in a course format that runs over the Autumn Term (from September - December 2018), which is designed to prepare the student to practice with us in an “Open Studio” format.

We also offer an apprenticeship programme and teacher training workshops and classes to help share our approach to classical pilates because we agree with Joe Pilates “The whole country, the whole world, should be doing (his) exercises. They'd be happier.”

Please feel free to send us an email if you want to find out more or book a lesson at our studio.

We hope this post has been helpful!  As you can see pilates is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach - it’s not even a “one-definition-fits-all” term for that matter!  But with this flexibility is a great opportunity for you to find the style that you like and that works for you!

 

References:

1. Trademark Lawsuit Court overturns Pilates Trademarks. Available online: https://www.pilates.com/BBAPP/V/pilates/origins/trademark-lawsuit.html

2. Reformer, Mat, Tower: How to Find Your Perfect Pilates Class. Available online: https://www.byrdie.co.uk/pilates-for-beginners