By Eme Cole, MS
Have you taken the time lately to think about how far Pilates has come in the past century? In 1926 Joseph Pilates introduced his method to New York City and spent the next four decades relatively under the fitness radar. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s that it really started to gain momentum in the press. At this time, there were only a select number of Pilates studios and the clientele was quite exclusive. Next we leap into the 21st century and suddenly the buzz is growing. Urban areas now have studios in every neighborhood and various certifying institutions have emerged.
Amongst the seasoned Pilates instructors, there are still questions as to who is best emanating the true vision of Joseph Pilates. There are the classical instructors who keep us grounded and continue to instill the original foundation, the contemporary instructors who press on to deliver additional protocol based on current trends, and the progressively innovative instructors who fuse and cultivate new ways to customize routine design and offerings.
Overall, I see no harm or disrespect in developing the practice of Pilates beyond that of Joe’s original teachings. If you apply the general Pilates fundamental of stabilizing the core while mobilizing the arms and legs through a full range of motion, it shouldn’t make a difference whether you are on the reformer (invented by Joe) or on the foam roller (invented well after Joe’s death). The foundation is simply adapted to accommodate an alternative base of support. Therefore, my personal Pilates philosophy is this:
Joseph Pilates is said to have drawn inspiration from boxing, gymnastics, skiing, diving, body building, wrestling, self defense & rehabilitation. All of which were prevalent during his lifespan of 1883-1967. Today’s generation of Pilates-inspired instructors have the benefit of further influence from balance training, sport specific training, functional fitness, physical therapy, dance, martial arts, etc. To consummately preserve Joe’s work from the middle of last century solely honors his death. To expand your practice by drawing additional inspiration from the growing advances in the health and fitness field pays homage to his life.
I’ve also been thinking about how the Yoga community celebrates, defines and educates within their different styles (ie. hatha, vinyasa, ashtanga, lyengar, bikram, etc.). This encourages enthusiasts to learn about and choose the method most appropriate for them. Many people who recognize the practice of Pilates probably only acknowledge the difference between mat based group classes and individual instruction on the custom equipment. So far there hasn’t been much definition given to the different methods of learning, practicing, and teaching Pilates. And yet there are, in fact, a variety of methods and distinctions amongst the certifications, much in the way that Yoga has developed and branched out over the past 5,000 years. I believe it would help the Pilates community to grow in a positive direction by designating specialties and raising awareness about the different practices, such as:
Classical Pilates or Contrology: traditional format based on Joe’s regime
Contemporary Pilates: progressive approach to developing new movements to complement the original exercises
Fusion Pilates: incorporating props (ie. fitballs, foam rollers, and BOSU’s) and other techniques (ie. Yoga and Ballet) from the broader fitness industry
Sport-Specific Pilates: movements structured specifically for the development of certain athletic activities
Preventative Pilates: workouts structured around disease prevention (ie, osteoporosis)
Rehabilitative Pilates: exercises to assist in healing after an injury or surgery
I have been teaching in small Pilates studios for 13 years. Most days I think “This is everything I ever hoped my career would be.” But that’s not to say it doesn’t sometimes feel small to me. I read about new fitness trends and wonder if they would offer an appropriate complement to my Pilates training. For example, many Pilates exercises challenge balance and core stability, so why not incorporate balance boards, fitballs, BOSU’s, rotator discs and suspension training? It doesn’t diminish the Pilates method. It simply adds variation. I want my clients to feel that there is no reason to seek out exercise opportunities outside of my studio. They can get the ambiance of a private space along with the diversification of a larger gym. And the best part is that having the individual attention will ensure their safety and accuracy of movements.
However, I additionally want to be a part of something bigger. I want to learn, develop and share my skills with other instructors as well so that they too can benefit and the field can flourish. I believe my books and videos emanate my passion and enthusiasm for this mission. Through variety and innovation I strive to keep workouts interesting and stimulating for myself and my clients in order to avoid a fitness plateau.
So, as my title states, I am a Pilates realist. I know that the leading practitioners in this field will never completely agree on the interpretation and delivery of Joe’s method. And we will never know for sure how Joe would have adapted to the ongoing developments in the fitness industry. But I do believe that without evolution we risk extinction. In putting aside our differences we can learn from each others strengths. By melding our diverse backgrounds of dance, gymnastics, fitness, exercise science, and physical therapy we can continue to grow Pilates into the premier mind body technique for centuries to come.
Pilates Instructor Reformer Workout on 1 Spring Setting
A video example of Eme’s passion towards variety as well as smooth, efficient transitions in routine design:
Eme Cole grew up a competitive gymnast within a family of entrepreneurs. She earned a BS in Kinesiology, an MS in Exercise Physiology and certifications through The American College of Sports Medicine & The PhysicalMind Institute. Eme is the author of the ‘Pilates Expanded’ book series which includes 7 books, 3 of which are top sellers on Amazon. In 2014 she successfully sold her Chicago Pilates studio of 12 years. Her social media network reaches over 5,000 Pilates & fitness enthusiasts and she has filmed over 80 instructional Pilates videos for her YouTube channel. Currently residing in Aspen CO, Eme is available for on-site private training as well as workshops. You can visit her at www.PilatesExpanded.com.