Does Pilates Have a Future?

Are reports of the method’s demise premature, or is Pilates really facing a crisis? We tapped our Advisory Board for answers.

by Tess Ghilaga

Is Pilates going bust? A September 15 post on New York Magazine’s website made it sound like the method was going the way of dinosaurs and Jazzercise. The writer, Annie Lowrey, even coined a name for it: the Pilatespocalypse. She cited statistics from market research firm IBISWorld that found that the number of people doing Pilates declined about 2 percent a year every year between 2007 and 2011, to 8.5 million. Though Pilates practically invented the boutique fitness industry, the piece claimed it was now losing clients to other specialized workout venues like Soul Cycle, Pure Barre and Barry’s Bootcamp.

Does Pilates Have a Future? Photo Gallery

But don’t write the obituary for Pilates just yet, say the industry (and fitness) veterans on the Pilates Style Advisory Board. While they concede that the Pilates industry is changing, they’re unanimous in believing that Pilates is here to stay, thanks to its loyal client base and unparalleled ability to transform bodies. Here’s their take on the state of the method.

other mind/body movement forms that have been around for millennia. Pilates is a standard modality now in health care, and as long as it stays there, it will always have a trickledown effect on the rest of the community.

Does Pilates Have a Future?

Joan BreIbart, Founder And PresIdent of PhysıcalmInd InstItute: Pilates was a huge trend beginning in the late ’90s through 2007 when it peaked—a gigantic 10-year run of unprecedented growth of 33 percent. So it’s a trend, but not a fad, and it will become “trendy” again with the right actions from the Pilates community. Teachers need to focus on finding new customers, not taking workshops about fascia. Exercise is a fickle business; you need to keep finding new bodies.

What do you say when people ask if Pilates is a trend whose time has passed?

Brrnt Anderson, PresIdent And Owner,

Polestar PIlates: Pilates has had staying power for over a century, and shares principles of movement with yoga, tai chi and

lIndsay merrIthew, PresIdent, Ceo And Co¬Founder, merrIthew™ PIlates: According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, Pilates participation has quadrupled over the last decade. So the amount of revenue generated and the number of people practicing Pilates are consistently growing. There is also considerable growth, both domestically and internationally, in our specialty training programs, especially within the areas of rehabilitative conditioning practitioners, sport-specific trainers, senior population specialists, and instructors seeking skills to assist professional athletes and special populations.

Who is today’s Pilates client? Does this affect your teaching methods?

Kathy Corey, Dırector And owner, kathy Corey PIlates: The master teachers told me that Mr. Pilates always taught the person in front of him, and this is how I was taught to teach as well. It is important to meet the person where they are and develop them further. This takes commitment from both the teacher and the student.

lIndsay merrIthew: For nearly three decades, we’ve seen tremendous growth in the populations that Pilates serves—from kids, to senior populations, to elite athletes. Our STOTT PILATES® education offerings have grown to ensure we’re offering programming that caters to these populations, supporting fitness professionals in beginning or expanding their Pilates practice, and staying current and relevant with exercise science and newer fitness practices.

KyrIay sabIn waugaman, DIrector, Fıetcher Pılates® InternatIonal: Though the average Pilates client is female, in her 40’s, 50’s or 60’s, recently we’ve had many more men attend sessions and classes. We’ve also been working

with teens in an after-school program. The teens are actually requesting Pilates to help with physique, posture and sports performance and it’s catching on with their friends!

Do you still believe commonly used Pilates cues e.g., navel to spine are still effective?

Kathy Corey: I think in general there is too much cueing, which can become confusing and frustrating for our clients. I use props rather than words to cue, so the individual sees and feels the correct movement and self-corrects. For example, I can tell someone they are lifting one shoulder higher than the other when they raise their arms, or I can use the springs on the Pedi Pole or a pole, and have them raise their arms and see that they are uneven. Once they register their own misalignment, they can change the pattern both mentally and physically.

“Though the average Pilates client is female, in her 40’s, 50’s or 60’s, recently we’ve had many more men attend sessions and classes.”

Kyria Sabin Waugaman

Suzanne Gutterson, owner, Dırector And Teacher, Suzanne Gutterson PIlates: If cuing is always the same for each exercise, it’s likely to fall on deaf ears. If the client doesn’t respond to fresh verbal cues, there are a variety of other ways to guide him/her into better understanding.

JIllIan Hessel, Second- GeneratIon Teacher And owner of JIllIan Hessel PIlates: I have never liked the term “navel to spine!” Today, everyone is using “core strength” as the new sound bite, but I find “use your core” to be too general. I prefer to present the “girdle of strength” as a concept in the client’s introductory session, because it encompasses the three dimensions of “working from your center.” To replace navel to spine, I often use Ron Fletcher’s percussive breath cue, instructing the client to exhale forcefully, pressing “two praying hands” together in the lower abdominal area.


Rael IsacowItz, ma, Pma®-Cpt, Founder And DIrector of BasI PIlates: I would say the cues that have changed the most are those that relate to the shoulders and shoulder girdle. This is an area that is probably cued the most in any Pilates studio because of the epidemic of shoulder and neck problems related to our modern-day lifestyle. I have found cues like “pull the shoulders down” to be counter-productive and have negative implications on good shoulder function. I prefer to use cues such as “relax the shoulders”; “place the scapulae in a neutral position”; or “allow the scapulae to float between up and down, in and out.” Any of these cues will result in a more relaxed mode of working the shoulders and correct placement of the scapulae.

“I believe the principles of Pilates—control, concentration, centering, precision, flow of motion and breath—should be incorporated into every class.”

Kathy Corey


FrAn mICHElmAn, DIrECtor AnD ownEr, PIlAtEs For onE, two or tHrEE, AnD FounDInG mEmBEr, tHE PIlAtEs ProFEssIonAls GrouP: This is where the teacher must intuit how a client can hear, and then find the right words and images. challenging aspects of our work.

It is one of the most

KyrIa SabIn Waugaman: One of the best cues for more established clients is to lead from and to follow their breath. I generally use the first two to three repetitions of any movement or exercise to remind students of the choreography, then I often switch to cuing from the breath so that the movement becomes more internally self¬directed, rather than externally led. We encourage our students to breathe audibly. which not only gives them permission to breathe, but also helps synchronize the class through the breath.

Do you think some Pilates principles, or any of Joe’s teachings and exercises from Return to Life, are no longer valid?

Kathy Corey: I believe the principles of Pilates— control, concentration, centering, precision, flow of motion and breath—should be incorporated into every class. And I believe every Pilates teacher should read Return to Life and know the 34 mat exercises. But we also need to remember that we have evolved from the attitudes of the 1940s, and the Pilates work should evolve as well.

Rael IsacowItz: Remember that this is a very different society than the one Mr. Pilates lived in almost 100 years ago. Our modern lifestyle has resulted in issues like round shoulder syndrome and lower-back pain, which were not as prevalent at that time. Today they appear in epidemic proportions, so naturally, we must adapt to the needs of our clients. Yet this does not mean that we are throwing out all that Joe taught.

There seems to be a trend toward group classes, as opposed to private sessions. How is this affecting Pilates?

Brent Anderson: I think that group classes make Pilates available to the masses, just like Joe wanted. How else could we get Pilates into the community, to the children, in the prisons, etc.?

RIsa Sheppard, owner And Ceo, The Sheppard Method: I believe in privates. For the instructor, it is more rewarding and creative to work one-on-one. For the client, it is much more beneficial and important for consistent development to work

one-on-one. Most “contemporary” group classes have just become the aerobics of the ’80s. I call it Pilates on crack. It was never intended to be done to loud music, hard springs and at a super-fast pace.

“If Joe were alive today, there is no doubt in my mind that he would not only be evolving the method, but the apparatus as well.”

Fran Michelman

KyrIa SabIn waugaman: I’ve found that most clients benefit by initiating a Pilates program through private sessions. We offer an initial series of three sessions to help our clients clarify personal goals and understand how to get the most out of a Pilates program. Long-term, most clients do best in a semi-private, or a small group class setting. I’ve found the ideal “recipe” for the majority of our Pilates clients and students is to start with a certain number (three to 10) private sessions, followed by two to three semi-private or small group class equipment sessions plus one or two mat classes a week.

What can Pilates teachers—and our leaders—do to maintain the integrity of the Pilates method?

BrEnt AnDErson: I believe the single greatest thing we can do in the future is to create education accreditation for the Pilates schools. I believe this will significantly improve the quality of the method, and decrease the amount of “Pilates certificates” hung on the wall by individuals who have not been adequately trained.

Rael IsacowItz: We must find a way of working together harmoniously and respecting each other.

The culture of saying, “There is only one true Pilates” is destructive, negative, judgmental and simply not true. I had the pleasure of studying, to a greater or lesser degree, with five of the Pilates Elders, including Romana Kryzanowska. Each one was a brilliant teacher. Each one had integrity and unfathomable knowledge and experience. Yet they could not have been more different in their approaches and how they interpreted the material. My advice is if anyone says there is only one way, run the other way!

Fran mIchelman: If Joe were alive today, there is no doubt in my mind that he would not only be evolving the method, but the apparatus as well. While few of us, if any, have his genius, we must stay true to the essence of the method while evolving our approach to reflect biomechanical research.

Do you believe in integrating props into your sessions and classes?

Suzanne Gutterson: I like Eric Franklin balls for a standing warm-up, to wake up the entire body and increase awareness of leg/foot articulation. Bands are great for torso alignment and stability in Side Kicks, and to foster success with both Closed- and Open-Leg Rocker. I like large gymnastic balls for both pelvic and torso isolation, as it’s easier to accomplish when sitting. Weights can help the student experience the principle of self-resistance so as not to over-rely on the springs. I have also developed a series of Reformer adaptations that can be accomplished by hanging a band over a barre.


Props can help with stability of a joint or joints; assist in achieving a stress-free position (i.e., sitting on a cushion to take negative tension out of the lower back); or add variety so clients are not constantly.

“We must find a way of working together harmoniously and respecting each other. The culture of saying, ‘There is only one true Pilates’ is destructive, negative, judgmental and simply not true.”

Rael Isacowitz repeating a similar neuromuscular pattern. As long as the instructor maintains the “essence” of the exercise, props can be very beneficial.

“Getting a client to move is very important no matter what you do…don’t impose your value system—listen to them. Get to the human side of what this work is all about.”

Mari Winsor

RISA SHEPPARD: I used to be against props, as I felt they only acted as a crutch or an excuse to have more “toys.” Now I incorporate props, to assist the client in better understanding the movement and grasp its full benefits if they are not yet able to do it themselves.

Any last thoughts on the future of the industry?


Stay focused on Joe’s guiding principles, not the exercises alone, and you will always have a place to work and people to work with. At Polestar, we believe in our vision, “Impacting the World through Intelligent Movement.”


Our team has put together a series of programs that incorporate varying but complementary approaches to mindfulness. Instructors in mindful modalities intrinsically “get” how the mind and body work synergistically to achieve greater results. With the introduction of new training regimens, we are adding a fresh dimension to training styles by focusing on a comprehensive approach to “well-being,” which helps clubs and fitness professionals expand into new areas.


Getting a client to move is very important no matter what you do. But if you’re going to do a specific technique called Pilates, you need to understand the basic

principles. If you want to be an instructor, it’s very important to study classical Pilates, as the industry is getting saturated with diluted versions of the work; Romana’s program is my personal favorite. But when you’re with a client, don’t impose your value system—listen to them. Get to the human side of what this work is all about.

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