I sat down to write this in January, full of enthusiasm for talking about where Pilates would go in the new decade, how it might evolve.
I began by trawling the internet for predicted fitness and Pilates trends. If I am being generous, then what I gleaned from my search is that most people who are writing and predicting this stuff are eager young graduates with a metropolitan lifestyle, doubtless with a honed toned 6 pack
Honed and toned eh? Does stoned count?
Their world view of what fitness is, and therefore what it might become is defined in terms of what people like them might do, or be sold as a product.
If I am being ungenerous then I would say that there is alot of BS in evidence
Don’t believe me? How about “conscious deceleration” as a fitness trend? In some ways I am pleased, because BS aside, I think it means, now you don’t have to do HiiT . (High Intensity Interval Training). How about “mindful running”. Is there any other kind? “Boutique venues”. So a fitness class in a clothes shop then? I suppose the grumpy old woman in me has to move with the times and accept that the word Boutique has morphed to mean a small, niche fitness space
Digital classes. I get this – it’s going to be a major trend. You remain at home or in your hotel room or office and download your class from the Internet
Shorter classes. They are increasingly going to be 30 minutes, although if you consciously decelerated a 30 min class you’d only work out for about 10!
Increased diversity. This is suspiciously woke. We do definitely need increasing diversity – exercise, fitness, moving more should be for everyone. True diversity means that we need to reach out and embrace older people, people with disabilities. people who are really overweight and unfit, people with no spare cash and people who are nervous and anxious about joining a mainstream class or embracing a mainstream form of exercise. When journalists talk about diversity I wonder if they realise the implications of true diversity in this particular context?
New Beginnings Reboot
It is now February and I’ve decided to talk about how I would like to see Pilates develop in this coming decade.
Before I do though, I want to talk about where Pilates is at the moment
Where is Pilates currently at?
Pilates has taken the world by storm but there is no one definition of Pilates. That means that it is infinitely adaptable, but also that it is infinitely corruptible.
There is also, essentially two types of Pilates: Matwork – done on a mat in a room, and Studio: performed on specialist equipment only found in specialist studios
Mat classes are widely available in Gyms, dedicated Pilates studios and in community spaces. It is this form of Pilates that originally made it over from the USA in the late 1980s because the training and start up costs were more easily managed by instructors. This means that over the years, more and more people have been able to access Pilates and do it regularly. At the moment though, demand may be outstripping supply in terms of classes.
I teach exercises that are not true Pilates exercises in my classes. If that shocks you then bear this in mind: there are only 34 Original Matwork exercises as defined by Joseph Pilates himself. And most of them are terrifically difficult and not possible AT ALL in mainstream classes
Swimming Legs on all Fours? Diamond Press? Pelvic Clock? Side Lying leg raise? Air Squat? Not Pilates, as defined by Joseph Pilates
I openly admit that some of what I do is not Pilates as originally defined, but is probably close-ish to what people expect it to be. Pilates really has morphed over the years – adapted itself to accommodate normal bodies. It has become supremely good and helping people recovering from injury, who wish to start gentle, who have back issues. I am ok with Pilates changing and adapting but do fear that we are moving along way from Joseph Pilates’ legacy.
This has changed a lot over the years in large part due to how young the industry is – the Fitness industry at large and Pilates too. At present there is enormous variation in the quality of Training Courses. Broadly speaking, there is the Gold Standard Level 3 REPS course and in addition there is a 2 weekend Fitness Pilates qualification. People have either and we are all calling ourselves Pilates Instructors. Some of these courses are taught entirely online. Yes folks that is sad but true, and it is the same for Personal Training, Yoga, Gym Instructor Training, Aerobics etc.
Within the industry we all have to pay for our own training and of course there is pressure to offer things cheaper so as to benefit students with less money, hence the boom in online training. I have done online training for further study and found it to be marvellous. However, in my opinion, complete rookie instructors should observe, watch and learn and be observed and advised in a real space with real people
MATWORK VS STUDIO EQUIPMENT
Studio Pilates is a whole other world. It has been slower to grow because of the sheer investment required by tutors to kit out a Pilates studio. The kit is seriously expensive! I converted a room in my house for my studio and have a small amount of equipment. There are four fully equipped studios in Leeds with more kinds of apparatus.
For some it maybe that their rehab goals or movement problems mean that using Studio apparatus is safer and more practical. There is also far greater variety in terms of the diversity of exercises you can do on a variety of pieces of apparatus. Being on the studio apparatus feels very different. With the Reformer it actually moves when you do. This is novel, challenging, different and very enjoyable.
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How should Pilates evolve in the next decade?
More Standing Work
There is currently none in the original repertoire. Instructors are adapting their classes to add standing work. It is fundamental. If we want to be stronger when standing when we need to do exercises whilst standing. If we want to overcome the effects of sitting down too much, then also we need to exercise in a standing position.
There is a serious problem with this in the UK. It disrupts body alignment, breathing, shoulder function, head position. It fuels neck tension and upper body mis-alignment. If we want our bodies to look and perform better then this needs to become a Pilates priority.
This speaks to another way in which Pilates needs to morph: provision of Pre Pilates. Our bodies are now adapted for sitting and for curving forwards with the spine flexed back, the head forwards and the shoulders rounded. Our breathing will also adapt to this position. To address this and also weakness in the buttock and leg muscles, we really need a Back To Basics approach for Beginners. There needs to be plenty of classes which teach basic alignment and introductory stretching, to prepare the body for the next stage and those recognisably classic Pilates exercises.
Pilates in Schools
For the first time ever this week I have come across a Children’s Pilates workshop. Until now, apart from reading that Joseph Pilates believed children should do it regularly, I have never heard of the concept.
Our children, like adults , are sitting too long and tending to lean over screens a great deal. The emphasis on exercise in schools is still biased in favour of sport, and often competitive sport. If that is not your thing, then there are precious few alternatives. When doing post 16 study there is no provision at all in most schools. Pilates would be brilliant for children: to build strength , awareness of posture, keep flexibility and all in a non competitive environment.
Chair Based Adaptation for the very frail
There is a whole group of people who cannot lie down on the floor to do Pilates (or cannot get back up again, thus precluding lying down in the first place). There are yet more people who can’t even move from their chair with enough ease to do a conventional class. Some of the Studio Equipment is well suited to frailer or people with disabilities better than Matwork.
In addition, Pilates, like other forms of movement, as we progress though the decade, will evolve to embrace these groups.
Chair Based Exercise already exists and I have been teaching that for over 10 years, so it is a question of blending the two together.
Core vs Whole Body Exercise
I am concerned that Pilates is viewed by people as a workout for the core and abdominal muscles. In some classes this is what it has become. I have written about this before in this article and also here
Joseph Pilates’ philosophy and passion was to unite and work the whole body and mind as one. We need to return to this guiding principle and get away from the present muscle hierarchy where there Core is King. Even if the core is weak (and aside from defining what the core is, or assessing its true weakness), the solution to that is via work on the whole body.
How to Help People with Meaningful Ways to Respond to being told to sit down less
This is just another stress on us, along with being told to drink less alcohol, eat healthily. When you are busy busy busy with work, family life, relationships, hobbies, long commutes, and heaven knows what else, it is terribly hard to make lasting changes to daily life.
Pilates can help us all. Doing some Pilates some of the time is hugely beneficial. Also helpful in the future will be digitally available classes. The digital classes comes with a vitally important caveat: only do the digital class as an add on and occasional alternative to a real class. We all need a real Tutor to correct our technique at least some of the time! Without that, the benefit of a Digital class is compromised.
Shorter fitness classes are already here and it will happen with Pilates too.
To harness our valuable time: how about a focus on specific things to do in short bursts? For example, ways to keep the spine moving whilst sitting or standing beside a chair; a two minute standing work out incorporating things to keep the buttocks functionally strong.
The Money Question
Doing Pilates costs money. The rise and rise of the Budget Gyms has enabled more people then ever before to join a gym. I attend a gym based in a solidly working class area of inner city Leeds and to see the variety of people working out is really nice. However, for the most part in Budget gyms there is little Pilates on offer and where it is available it can often be aimed at younger fitter people with no injuries.
A really good Pilates qualification is expensive, experience takes years to acquire and smaller class sizes mean more focused tuition. All of this can make classes pricey and this will continue to be the case. So what on earth do you do if you have no spare cash? We come back to digital classes. For people like me who want to put Pilates out there that isn’t just Planks and Single Leg Stretch, it means grasping the digital nettle myself.
Niche Classes for Specific Populations or Goals
These have already arrived: Pilates for Men, for Older Adults, for Runners, for Back Care, for ante natal and post natal women. The trend will continue and many groups would benefit from specialist classes. For example, people with osteoporosis, hyper-mobility, neurological conditions. Here again we have the marvel that is the internet yet again making its presence felt. With a bit of judicious typing you can find out if this niche class exists near you, or find it on YouTube. Again, YouTube does not substitute for the real thing. Enhance your workout with Youtube, but don’t replace your real Teacher
Learning from the Latest Developments in Biomechanics, Medicine, Rehabilitation, Neurology
Pilates will embrace, as it does already, the latest developments in the science of movement and our increased understanding of the Physiology of muscle, bone, joints, ageing. There have been changes over the last couple of decades, notably, the influence of the notion of whole body movement via fascia linking us from head to toe
Some of this evidence base will probably turn out to support what pioneers like Joseph Pilates were saying all along. Other developments will be new and influence what exercises we do, why we do them and how. Even people who wish to preserve the legacy of Joseph Pilates must accept that scientific knowledge has to inform Pilates in the future.
Nobody Expects The Spanish Inquisition
You have to be a certain age to get this quote! I was shocked to find that its genesis was 50 years ago….(unless you count the actual Inquisition of 500 years ago)
Anyway, the thing is, I’ve had a go at predicting what will happen to Pilates over the coming years. My predictions reflect my biases.
There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that there will be plenty of new developments that come seemingly out of nowhere. If they are good, Pilates will embrace and absorb them, helping our bodies to becoming stronger and more supple.