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What knowledge and skills does a Pilates Teacher need?

The tremendous growth phase that the Pilates and Yoga Industry is currently experiencing is going to continue at a rate of 13.0% from 2021 to 2030, according to current market research. This is due to an increase in health awareness and more people realizing that sedentary lifestyles lead to increased health risks. With the rise of exercise instruction on-demand content since the Covid-19 pandemic began, it has never been more important for people to educate themselves when it comes to what is on offer. With the increasing choice of online platforms and on-demand streaming options beaming into your living room, there is no excuse not to stick to a routine of regular exercise and start reaping the many benefits it promises. If you are a stressed and overworked office worker, then Pilates can offer improved relaxation plus increases in your flexibility and strength, resulting in better posture and improved mood. This blog article brings you some of the behind the scenes knowledge of the skills you should be looking for in a Teacher, when deciding to practice this growing trend that is Pilates.

The movements and exercises that are traditionally taught.

There are 34 original Pilates mat exercises that Joseph Pilates created. A mat certification program most likely has additional mat exercises well above the 50+ mark. Most of these programs will also include options for your Instructor to learn regressions and progressions for clients, adding even more understanding and tools.

The Reformer Teacher Training modules also vary in the amount of exercises that can be taught. There are 38 Universal Reformer Exercises, however, most Teacher training programmes will provide more than 60+ Reformer movements from Beginner to Advanced and Super Advanced. Depending on the Teacher Training program your Teacher has undertaken there can be a large amount of variety in terms of add ons and variations of the traditional exercises. Not to mention the extensive creativity that has emerged with many other contemporary versions. The Classical Pilates repertoire would be most traditionally aligned with what Joseph Pilates and the Pilates elders based their teachings on. If you would like to delve a little deeper into the equipment involved, then I would recommend reading this extensive Study on Pilates published in the Sports Health Journal, July 2011.

A comprehensive Teacher certification always includes the additional equipment to the repertoire. Comprehensively certified Teachers need to have more than 480+ study hours under their belt and hands on experience at a Pilates studio, in order to obtain a recognised Certification. There are 53+ Cadillac (also known as Trapeze table) exercises, 35+ High Chair/Wunda Chair exercises, 20+ Spine Corrector exercises & Ladder Barrel options and several additional Auxiliary equipment add ons that are traditionally found in Classical Pilates studios. This includes the toe corrector, the foot corrector, the finger corrector, the ped-o-pull, the pinwheel and among many others the popular magic circle. If you have ever walked into a mat pilates studio or perhaps taken a class at your local gym or community center, there are many more props lurking around, such as the gurdi ball, yoga blocks, resistance bands, fitball and more.

A skilled Teacher will have spent several years practicing themselves and also applying these teaching modalities to their clients in order to create effective movement sequences and grow an understanding of how these exercises serve a clients goals. They will understand why the popular feet in straps series on the Reformer can be made a lot easier on the Trapeze Table and for a beginner, the Step Barrel can be a wonderful way to learn these basics.

In another example, a Pilates favorite, the Teaser exercise, can be a difficult exercise for a beginning Pilates enthusiast. Your teacher will have just the right tool and spring setting on the Trapeze table to allow you to build the strength to accomplish this exercise. You will most likely learn Upper Arms and then be swiftly moved on to the Step barrel or the Chair where the applied springs can assist you. Any of my readers out there who have achieved wonderful coordination and form performing the Teaser on the Reformer, I applaud you!

An in-depth understanding of how the body works.

While many Pilates Instructors have additional qualifications in health and exercise, fitness or dance, at the least, they will have a good understanding of how the body works and the muscle groups involved in creating efficient movement patterns. Pilates teachers study human anatomy, physiology, posture and alignment. If you are interested in Clinical Pilates or Pilates to rehabilitate an injury, you may find a suitable hands on Physiotherapist who is also trained in equipment Pilates. A private session with a Pilates teacher will allow you to cover more ground much faster as your practice will be tailored to your specific needs. Our bodies are designed to adapt and move in habitual ways, so if you are overcompensating for a particular weakness, your Teacher will spot this and ensure you are moving with correct form and technique.

Knowledge about common Injuries.

While it is not a Pilates Instructors scope of practice to treat injuries, they do require an understanding of, and study common injuries, their symptoms, the precautions and contraindications of these injuries extensively. Often though, Physiotherapists have a very close relationship with Pilates teachers they refer their clients to. This relationship works both ways of course. Many clients see a Doctor or Physiotherapist about a specific issue, as medical professionals are perfectly positioned to diagnose, prescribe and give recommendations. Health care professionals in Ireland often recommend starting a Pilates program. That said, a Pilates professional can be uniquely trained at recognizing conditions that may need further investigation and they will advise you to see a medical professional to provide a hands-on approach for testing your mobility and strength.

Pilates professionals design programs according to clients needs, they will coach you and give you guidelines to ensure you are doing exercises that are appropriate for you. They are acutely aware of what you should be avoiding if you do have injuries and illnesses to prevent further injury. They have the ability to monitor your progress and gauge your abilities so they can advise you when you are ready to move up a level if you have mastered a particular sequence. Working one on one with a Pilates teacher can provide additional information to your Physio or doctor, as documenting your progress will enable them to cooperate effectively with your Physio.

Teaching skills and passion.

Just like rhythm and flow is achieved once you have been practicing for many years, a skillful, effective, engaging and fun Pilates Teacher emerges from years of teaching practice. It takes a lot of practice to perform these full body movements with grace and strength and I believe that is what makes Pilates so wonderfully addictive. I recall my very first Mat Teacher Exam back in the early 2000’s when Pilates was gaining so much popularity in most gyms across Ireland. I always admired the graceful dancers who could so effortlessly transition through the sequence without a hitch. Luckily, I was able to master the strength element of most of the 34 exercises and ‘muscled’ my way through it. In an attempt to execute these tough transitions gracefully, it took so much out of my non-dancer Fitness Instructor body, the sweat dripping off me and panting breath sounds that were getting louder as the exam went on, were clear evidence that this was ‘no walk in the park’. My face was flushed and bright red partly from exhaustion while trying to maintain a facial expression that read: “Ya, I am flying through this like the swan in swan lake, no bother on me!’’. Luckily, we now have Studios with Pilates equipment options available that make it so much easier to learn these difficult advanced mat exercises.

A passionate Teacher will not just be able to perfectly demonstrate, but also give you effective feedback and coaching, motivate and encourage you while providing verbal and tactile cueing. They ensure you exercise safely, oversee your progress and adjust your positioning, spot you when you are struggling, keep an eye on your end-goal and assess and reassess your posture and ability.

Does the research stack up?

Even though more research on the effectiveness of Pilates is constantly emerging, a survey published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies (2006), found that over 70% of the 177 participants in this study had some form of musculoskeletal discomfort and 30% came to Pilates due to LBP and most came with the goal to improve their posture and flexibility. Another very interesting study published in the BMJ medical journal examined the effectiveness for people suffering from chronic low back pain. They concluded that Pilates had a beneficial influence for these clients if they performed a variety of Pilates exercises tailored to their individual need with a qualified instructor 2-3 times per week. Such positive results can be observed within 3-6 months, the study concluded.

So what about active Individuals? What does Pilates have to offer for athletes or the physically fit and healthy? In another study where college baseball pitchers were put through a 10 week trial of Pilates exercises in order to examine its effectiveness of improving trunk, postural stability and throwing speed concluded that Pilates does improve athletic performance. The players were able to increase their ability to activate the deep trunk stabilizers and also improve their throwing velocity. A stronger core means you can translate that power much more efficiently in sports requiring this coordination of upper and lower body strength. Another reason people come to seek us out is for mindfulness and relaxation. In another blog, I wrote in detail about how great the benefits of Pilates are for post-pregnancy women and another study found significant results of improving post maternal fatigue. This study concluded that Pilates at home exercises can enhance the health of mothers and infants.

Whether you intend to take up Pilates at your local gym, join a Pilates studio or practice online - on-demand, it is important to be aware of what you are buying into. As a Teacher with a wealth of experience, it is my opinion that if you are a healthy active individual who exercises regularly, then a mat class at your local gym with a qualified Teacher could be a great place to start. Alternatively, an online on-demand practice can introduce you to some of the best Teachers this country has to offer. If you are looking for a comprehensive Teacher, then do seek out a Pilates studio that has lots of equipment on offer. If you are less active and have other limiting factors to exercise, the full modalities including equipment such as the Reformer can give you the most benefit as well as some private sessions. If you are in need of hands-on medical help, then your Pilates certified physiotherapist can get you on the road to recovery with clinical Pilates. A certified Pilates teacher will most commonly assess your suitability prior to joining a Pilates program and make recommendations based upon your needs. The Pilates study published in the Sports Health Journal concludes that “Pilates may benefit people of all ages and levels of conditioning”, and that “The effectiveness of Pilates is dependent on the Instructor’s training”. My blog about the 4 Questions to ask a Pilates Teacher might be of further help on your search for your Pilates fix.

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