Because the title “Pilates” can be used to describe any type of exercise that incorporates some aspect of the original Pilates method, finding a legitimate, effective, and safe studio with reputable instructors can be a consuming process.
The original method designed and taught by Joseph Pilates is practiced today at studios that trained under the Romana’s Pilates Method or Authentic Pilates Method. Romana Kryzanowska was Joe Pilates’ protégé and the one he chose to carry on his legacy before he died in 1967. Today Romana is in her 80’s, is still teaching through out the country, and continues to be the foundation of his method. Many branches of Pilates beyond these methods have altered or diffused the original system and have implemented new exercises and techniques that are not technically Pilates. The original method and its followers subscribe to a very high standard of practice.
The Original Pilates Method:
Is taught by instructors that either trained directly under Romana or by one of her direct Pilates descendants.
Teaches quality over quantity. The exercises are done with careful precision and only a few repetitions, maximizing the effects of the work by how the exercises are executed, not by the number of repetitions.
Follows a carefully designed sequence. On the Reformer and the Mat, the apparatuses that are the basis of the system, there is a sequence of exercises meant to be followed in a certain order, so as to maximize the benefits of Pilates. Of course there are different levels of difficulty within the system, so the routine varies slightly for individuals. Plus each person has their own needs, so the system is used to support that, using other equipment like the Wunda Chair, Cadillac, Ladder Barrel, and several peripheral apparatuses. Also, look for a studio that uses Gratz equipment.
Follows strict safety guidelines. The Pilates system should always be taught by an instructor that adheres to the “safety first” policy. If the equipment is misused or a client is worked beyond their strength level, injuries can occur.
On a more personal level, you want to find an atmosphere you feel comfortable in and an instructor whose personality and approach works best with you. Do you prefer a private setting where no other clients are present? Or are you more comfortable when others are exercising around you? Some studios are larger and can accommodate many private sessions at once, where as some offer more of an intimate spa-like environment. In terms of instructor types, do you prefer a man or a woman? A softer, gentler encouraging voice? Or someone with a tougher “coach” quality ready to push you when you need it? Finding the “right” instructor at a studio might be a trial-and-error process. I recommend trying a few different people at first. Also, it may be beneficial to work with more than one person on an ongoing basis to gain different perspectives. Everyone has a different eye, even though they should be teaching the same technique. You’ll know when you’re with the right person. Trust your instincts!
Another point I’ll make about choosing a studio and instructor, is that you want to look beyond just Mat Classes. Don’t get me wrong, the Mat is great. Like I said before, the Mat (along with the Reformer) is the foundation of Pilates. But, it is important to have some experience with the whole system before diving into a large class setting – both for safety reasons and for the effectiveness of the workout. Without the initial one-on-one attention, it is difficult to understand how to use your core muscles in the most effective way. Having previously taught large classes myself at Equinox gyms, it was often challenging to give the individual attention needed, considering the different levels of strength, various body types and limitations, and simply the number of students in the class.
If you are not in a financial position to take private lessons (I understand this is a luxury), then consider one of two options. Either invest in a series of 5-10 private sessions and then proceed into classes (and brush up on a private about once a month), or look into duets or trios, which still offer individual attention for considerably less money. Understand that to fully benefit from Pilates you should practice the entire system, which involves the equipment previously mentioned (Reformer, Cadillac, Wunda Chair, etc.) as well as the Mat. But you will still feel great from practicing Mat work only if the is all you can afford.
Finally, be wary of studios that offer group classes on the equipment, especially the Reformer. Pilates cannot be taught safely on the Reformer in groups of more than 3 people, which means the system has been greatly modified from its original form in order to be taught in groups. This is not to say that it wouldn’t be a good workout, but it would probably not be true Pilates!
If you have concerns about whether or not a studio or instructor is appropriate, you can always contact the two studios in New York that train instructors under the original Pilates method: True Pilates or The New York Pilates Studio 212-245-8367 to see what affiliations they have in your city.