How to find a GOOD Pilates teacher!

Cynthia Young

So, your physio, GP, friend, relative a celebrity has recommended that you do Pilates to help with your back, your knee, your flexibility or your core. Pilates is everywhere right now!

How do you go about finding a good Pilates class or instructor?

It's way harder than you would expect, because calling a movement/exercise class Pilates, doesn't make it so.

I own a Pilates studio in Twickenham and usually am busy teaching, practising and being a mum.

With more time on my hands over the holidays I have tried different Pilates Mat classes at studios, church halls and gyms.

What did I find?

I experienced classes where the only exercise name we were given was “Downward Dog”, WAIT, ISN’T THAT YOGA?

Yoga's Downward Dog



Where every exercise in the class was a modification of an actual Pilates exercise, WHY?

A class where the teacher just sat on her mat at the front of the class directing us, giving no one any hands on or verbal assistance at all.  Could she even see us all from her mat the front?


Moving around the class to observe clients as they move


This is not Pilates. There is nothing wrong with these classes if you enjoy them and they get you moving. But they shouldn’t be called Pilates and you shouldn’t be left thinking your experiencing Pilates.

A little Pilates history

In 2000 a US District Court made a ruling that enabled Pilates to become widespread, which Joseph Pilates had wanted. The name Pilates was found to be a generic term, and as the name of an exercise method (a method is a particular way of doing something) could not be trademarked.

For anyone interested you can read the full judgement here which is actually interesting.

This created a spike in teacher training schools as Pilates was hailed for curing bad backs and was adopted by many physios.

Pilates was dissected by some of these schools as they relied on the rehabilitation, so called safe side of movement.   Assuming the average body couldn’t or shouldn’t do exercises because of more modern up to date research.  Some opted to only teach their students the mat work, and never mention or train their teachers about the apparatus invented by Joseph Pilates or his 34 exercises.  This is a travesty!

Where is Pilates at?

The Pilates teacher training market is crowded and confused, with an abundance of Pilates teacher training schools.

All these training schools market themselves as the best. If as a student you have invested your money and time into a certain school, you hang on their every word and you believe every word. You tell your clients that you are teaching Pilates and your brand of Pilates is better than the others. Unfortunately, I know from personal experience, trying to recruit teachers for my studio and meeting teachers at workshops that Pilates has been diluted, stripped back, modified and babied to in some cases unrecognisable as Pilates, yet bearing its name.

Who is losing out?

Everyone but the teacher training schools. Pilates can transform your body and change your life. It can make you stronger, more flexible, more playful and more confident in your body as you begin to be able to achieve things you honestly didn’t think your body was capable of or would have even tried.

Pilates gives you the tools to improve your relationship with your body and mind as it challenges you. Teaching only modified exercises, not knowing there is an order to the method, or more than the Mat work will not give you all the benefits possible from Pilates.


The Cadillac

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a method, a full body workout that will stretch and strengthen your body and mind through movement.  There are no held poses and it should challenge you.  You can come to it with an injury.  But, as teachers we are not trying to fix that injury by focusing on it.  We will get you moving and working around the injury and within ranges of movement that work for you.  That overall movement will help to heal and recover any injuries you come with.

What we are working on is making you stronger, more connected to your body and more flexible.  An exercise method where the introductory exercise is the hundreds is not supposed to be easy on you.

Back Pilates Stretch

The Hundred - an introductory exercise!

Joseph Pilates called his method Contrology and said "it was conceived to limber and stretch muscles and ligaments so that the body will be as supple as that of a cat and not muscular like that of the body of the brewery-truck horse...."


Front Splits on the Reformer

What to look for in a Pilates instructor

Joe Public needs to be able to find the work of Joseph Pilates.  It was his dream that there was a Pilates studio on every street corner and that children were practising his method in school.

So, don’t be afraid to ask the teacher where they trained?  As a result of all of these various training schools there are is some variety in what is deemed Pilates.  So it would be worthwhile knowing what style, brand or school of Pilates you are training with.

How long their training took? An online or few weekends course whether you are a physio, PT, or whatever is not enough.  Regardless of how long you have practised Pilates as a client, any decent teacher training course should take around a year for you to be fully qualified, even if it's just Mat training.

Are they able to teach on all of Joseph Pilates apparatus or just the mat?  There is nothing wrong with them being a Mat only teacher but it is good for you to know what their experience is to help you gain a better understanding of the method over time.  Joseph Pilates was perfectly happy that you only practise the mat "Neither does it demand your joining an expensive gymnasium nor the purchasing of expensive apparatus.  You may derive all the benefits of Contrology in your own home." Joseph Pilates

How long were they practising Pilates before they trained as a teacher?  I've heard of people being on Pilates teacher training courses who had not ever done Pilates themselves before.  What can they have to offer or inspire you with if the method doesn't inspire them.  How invested as a teacher can they be?

Pilates teachers impassioned by their work will have to stop themselves from telling you about their love of the method, their training and what they have planned next up their sleeve.

What to expect in a Pilates Class 

What should you expect to see in a class? I’m gonna say there won’t be any music in a Pilates class, you should be present, connected to your body, breathe and mind finding your internal rhythm.

From your first class even as a beginner you should expect to hear about and do the Hundreds in a form, leg circles, a roll back or a roll up and you should hear talk of your powerhouse or centre and about placement of your pelvis, ribs, shoulder blades and head.

You should expect a workout and that means more than just doing lots and lots of curl ups. You should feel you have worked and lengthened all of your body in as many planes of movement.  Pilates should be fun and challenging at whatever your start level is.

Open Leg Rocker

What should I wear to my first Pilates Class?

Something that you are comfortable in, that allows you to move freely and for your Pilates instructor to be able to observe your body moving.  So nothing too baggy; leggings and a vest or t-shirt, and guys please be mindful of your shorts, just remember you are going to be moving your legs around!

How many times should I practice?

In his book "Return to Life through Contrology" Joseph Pilates asked that we faithfully perform his exercises four times a week, but he only asked for 10 minutes without fail. He knew that if he could get us committed, we’d be hooked and then spend longer in our practice as we got stronger.

I would love to hear your experiences of Pilates, and if this encourages you to try a class, please let me know how you get on.