Pilates teachers (don’t necessarily) know best

September 3, 2015 — 5 Comments

ivory towerYes, I’m afraid I’ve been browsing Facebook forums again – and becoming struck by the tone of some teachers’ comments with reference to other movement disciplines, and other exercise professionals. Warning, generalisations follow.

Is it me, or is there something within our training that implants the idea that a knowledge of Pilates somehow gives us an understanding of all movement, or makes us a little more expert than other fitness professionals?
I come from a Pilates teacher training background where we were encouraged to believe in, and promote ourselves as having “the highest standard”. There was no-one in the country better qualified, more knowledgable than us. (Perhaps it is just me, or my egotistical interpretation of what I heard and saw…)
It was, and according to Facebook, still is fairly standard to look down on the methods and the level of knowledge of personal trainers, for example. I’m in no doubt that there are some shoddy PTs out there, just as I’m in no doubt that there are some sub-par Pilates teachers out there (let’s not forget that you don’t need to have ever attended a Pilates classes to gain a Level 3 Diploma in teaching Pilates in the UK).
Why do we appear to feel superior?

I have a certain affection for CrossFit so I may be particularly sensitive to Pilates teachers taking a swipe at it (though I’m sure that CrossFit HQ isn’t at all worried). It seems to be a widely held belief that CrossFit ignores bad form in its athletes, or maybe even teaches bad form. I’ve done the Level 1 CrossFit Trainer course and can attest that bad form is not encouraged, and that trying to coach someone who is moving at a speed not usually seen in a Pilates studio is a tricky skill. Never mind – looking in from the outside us Pilates teachers can see enough to ‘know’ that CrossFit is bad, the coaches aren’t bothered about technique, and the practitioners are sure to be injured soon. We may even crow that those poor mugs will be knocking on our door fro help once they have injured themselves – I’ve seen comments like this many, many times. In short, we (Pilates teachers) understand and can coach movement much better than a CrossFit coach can.

It may be true that more people injure themselves doing Crossfit than injure themselves doing Pilates, but just because you see something in a gym, or on YouTube that makes you wince, doesn’t mean that high numbers of CF athletes are hurting themselves. (On the other hand, figures suggest that in the USA, between 37 and 56% of people who run regularly are injured every year. Yes, up to half the Americans who run regularly are injured annually. That’s a dangerous activity, and one in which poor form and technique routinely goes unnoticed.)

Pilates is about whole body health so let us consider the health outcomes from CrossFit. I can’t speak for every facility, of course, but I believe it’s safe to say that the majority of regular CrossFitters will be encouraged not only to move a lot – to challenge their physicality – but also to think about health fundamentals like their food quality and their sleep quality. Not to mention that they are encouraged to “regularly learn and play new sports” (from founder Greg Glassman’s ‘World-Class Fitness in 100 Words’) Ido Portal, who does not suffer fools gladly, has said: “I think the CrossFit community is a very open community….they’re hard workers, they’re open-minded, mostly…..Most Crossfitters are not humble enough to see what is missing but, once you show it to them, they accept it.” Can Pilates teachers truly, routinely boast the same kind of outcomes, or the same kind of approach to overall health?

Getting back to movement, I will always agree with anyone who says that the pursuit of Pilates (in the original/traditional form) will provide an excellent foundation for understanding human movement but does this make us omniscient? Firstly, for Pilates to really teach you about movement I believe that it has to be treated as a system, without unpopular movements being left out, and to be seen as a series of patterns. It was very interesting for me to see recently that there was broad agreement among the Pilates teachers commenting on it that a particular picture of a press up represented ‘bad form’. However, when it came to solutions to fix this bad form the answers were quite varied, indicating a lack of (amongst that small sample) collective understanding. Most alarmingly, while none referred to the hip joint’s role in spinal stability under load, there were suggestions that abdominal muscles should be pulling into the spine. I suspect a great many CrossFIt coaches would know that you do not effectively create spinal stability, especially under high load, by drawing your stomach in.

Until, as a profession, we raise our game, do we have any business to be feeling superior to our movement teaching colleagues from other disciplines?



Ivory Tower image borrowed from: http://3menmakeatiger.blogspot.co.uk

5 responses to Pilates teachers (don’t necessarily) know best


    I have always felt that Pilates training was biased on learning the repertoire whereas I think students should spend much more time on the assessment of movement and then the application of said exercises to correction of movement dysfunction. However; that would then identify that the majority of Pilates exercises are not functional to every day life. I love Pilates it gives me as dense of alignment but does it help with my training; not really.
    if I have 150 kg on my back for a squat there is no way I am pulling my navel to my spine. I will make a large, rigid cylinder by bracing. Core stability as a abdominal hollowing manoeuvre is a myth that we all followed without rigidly examine the research. The physiotherapy profession is guilty of pushing the myth of abdominal hollowing. I personally do no give any instruction as to trying to activate TA; impossible volitionally.
    I teach/look for mid line stability during the performance of a functional task. Is that not core stability.
    Physiotherapy and Pilates need to move on.


      Excellent observations, Tony, thank you.
      (We can debate ‘functional’ and its significance in Pilates as a whole body health practice….)


    I’m a Pilates instructor and a member of some of those forums too. I have sometimes felt like I can’t speak up because I’m only qualified in mat and reformer and my authority would be questioned. So I just observe.

    I did one of those level three course and there were ladies present who had never attended a Pilates class before! I was gobsmacked!
    On my reformer course we were taught to teach bracing the abdominals instead of hollowing in. Our instructor is very progressive. I also learned bracing as core engagement on my yoga course and a biomechanics course.

    I have also attended CrossFit and most of our time was spent on learning technique slowly then progressing to a 20 minute workout phase. We were watched very closely throughout and people were stopped if the coaches felt they were performing poorly. I think it depends on the facility.


    Hi Mike. Without going into the ins and outs of core stability or anything else… I just want to say I agree 100% that there is no room at all for feeling superior to another movement professional. And it doesn’t help us or our clients at all… The best we can do is focus on making ourselves the best we can be and hope others are doing the same 🙂


      Touché, Amit. I may have fallen on my own sword, or maybe I’m mis-inferring.
      Either way, I look forward to the chance to go into the ins and outs of core stability when we have the time…

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