When we Think Pilates, Why do we Think... Mat ?

13 Jan

Recently I have had a few conversations about Pilates, more specifically questions like: what kind of Pilates do you teach? I always find this an interesting question, because there’s only one kind of Pilates, right?

This can be a minefield of conflicting opinions, all relevant in substance, yet more often than not differing in the final explanation and rarely completely agreeing.

No, I am not going to try and bring many strands together in one blog post, but I am going to attempt to point out a couple of differences that could dictate the kind of class you attend, specifically in the UK.

In the UK it is fair to say we are in our ‘Infancy’ in terms of how the general public understands the methodology, principles and practice of Pilates. We too have a way to go in understanding Pilates as a Whole System of Apparatus and not just the Mat.

Now as a studio owner that largely runs Group Mat Classes I feel I should stand up and say: Yes, I am currently operating my studio to match the expectations of the people in my local area. We do offer Apparatus Sessions on a 1:1 or Semi-Private basis, but Pilates Apparatus based sessions are not currently what my clients expect from their “Group Pilates Class”.

The vast majority of us in the UK consider Pilates to be a “Mat based class, similar to yoga but with more Abs” – not my words - this is, from my experience, mostly due to supply and demand.
Group Health and Fitness in the UK is largely still based within Corporate Chain Gyms and with Community Instructors in Village Halls etc. In striving to provide the most varied timetables and the maximum participant availability, Mat Based Classes lend themselves to these environments and so these become the accepted ‘norm’.

As a direct effect from the accepted direction of Mind Body Classes and demand of Mat Based Programming, many UK Training Providers have chosen to offer a more varied spectrum of Mat Based Pilates rather then encouraging instructors to continue their education into Comprehensive Apparatus Training or Studio Apprenticeships in stark comparison to the U.S.
In the U.S. it is the accepted ‘norm’ that a Pilates Class is a Group Apparatus class on the Reformer, Tower, Wunda Chair or a varying multitude of the Pilates Apparatus to include the Mat repertoire.
(Maybe I’ll attempt to talk more about the Whys and How’s of how the UK & US are in such different places in another Blog).

The UK ‘Fitness Industry’ has largely headed down a very much more contemporary route. Usually breaking down original exercises or creating exercises that work with the Principles of Pilates (such as Control, Precision, Breath, Balance) or broadening into how Pilates based movement can be utilised alongside varying modalities such a Barre, Fascial Release and Pelvic Floor health to name a few.

Now, by very nature, this does mean a more free and experimental approach to the Pilates method, in most cases moving further away from the original mat repertoire of 34 exercises created by Joseph Pilates.
This does however allow for shorter training courses of usually 1 or 2 days, online training and fundamentally a much lower cost to the individual instructors, which makes these types of training very accessible.

Now, I have heard many times that ‘times have changed’ and ‘we have to move on’ however I personally feel we have a duty to respect the method Joseph created whilst modifying the exercises in respect of new research and our further knowledge of biomechanics, creating variations of a movement or adaptions when necessary for the bodies we are teaching.

Instructors could choose a different training route, opting to do their Mat training with a specialist Pilates Education Provider (such as those recognised by the Pilates Method Alliance) as opposed to a broad-spectrum provider offering anything from Aqua Aerobics to Gym Instruction.

Most specialist Pilates Educators would deliver a Mat course in the order of 120+ Hours requiring: Observation of Teaching, Self-Practice, Student Teaching, and of course attending practical education days.
This is an all together more rigorous and in depth approach to the method, creating deeper understanding and knowledge of the Pilates repertoire in both Teaching and Personal Practice.
It will be no surprise that this option is a considerable investment in both time and money in comparison to the alternatives and does require personal consistency and commitment to the Pilates method.

How can you tell the difference?

  • Ask – What qualification does your teacher have and who with?
  • Is it a 1-2 Day ‘Certification’ OR 120+ Hour ‘Qualification’
  • Google the 34 Pilates Mat Exercises, how many of these are familiar to you?
  • Listen out for the specific name of an exercise; these names never change
  • Does your class feel structured or more organic?
  • Is your teacher walking around making adjustments and corrections?
  • Does your teacher deliver content demonstrating largely from the mat OR instruct you through movement with verbal & physical cueing.
  • Are you given suitable modifications or adaptions for any Injuries or Conditions that you may have?

    I want to wrap-up by saying I do advocate Comprehensive Training through personal experience of both processes.
    However there are some incredible Teachers that have attended a 1-2 Day Course and we have to recognise as Professionals they may have 10, 20, 30 years of industry Experience, Knowledge and Qualifications, their classes will be Safe and Effective, and they will be using Pilates principles, whilst not necessarily the familiar or ‘expected’ repertoire.
    After all, a Marketing ‘Exec’ from the city could sign up for a Comprehensive Training, but have comparatively very little experience when it comes to delivering safely and effectively once qualified.

    As clients, please ensure your instructor is being safe and effective. If something isn’t right, its time to move on.

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