Happy Pilates Day!

Here at balance, we teach Classical Pilates, but what does that actually mean?  Our recent guest teacher, Shari Berkowitz, has a whole blog post devoted to this same question.  Below we picked out some highlights from her post that make it clear!  Before we dive in, a little history on Mr. Joseph Pilates, the creator!

Joseph Pilates was born in Germany in 1883 and created his exercises to create a fusion of mind and body so that movement is efficient, balanced and graceful. Joseph came in contact with many soldiers who had suffered from various injuries during and following World War I.  He devised spring mechanisms attached to beds to aid in rehabilitation and so began the development of what we refer to today as the Cadillac.  He continued to build his method and the machines that were utilized. His system focused on the core postural muscles which help keep the body balanced and which support the spine. He and his wife Clara moved to New York City and opened their own gym in 1926.  Later, one of their disciples, Romana Kryzanowska, took over the gym.   The first generation of Pilates teachers are often referred to as The Elders.   As the method has been taught, variations and debates about the method have arisen, and in general there is a differentiation between Classical and Contemporary Pilates.

As Shari describes it, the definition of Classical Pilates is quite simple, but contains three subsequent parts to the definition.

The definition of Classical Pilates is, ” Joseph Pilates’ actual exercises, executed in the order he created, with his intentions.”  Shari subsequently explores the three parts of the definition: the exercises, the order and the intention.


  • Classical Pilates and instructors of this subset, teach only the actual exercises or modifications that Mr. Pilates created.  If an instructor does incorporate a different exercise, they will explain the origin.
  • The Pilates exercises themselves, “are verified through The Elders (who are wonderfully clear on what are Mr. Pilates’ exercises and what are their own creations), photographs (which there are many.  They are beautifully clear with shots from one action to the next within each exercise) and film (converted to video.  While the conversion makes everything appear faster than in real-time, these are valuable, easily accessible on DVD and YouTube and vital to watch)”
  • Shari gives a simple reason as to why some instructors (including herself) stick to Classical Pilates: ” Because we find that doing it all Mr. Pilates way truly crafts the body and mind into balance.  Mr. Pilates’ exercises are simple enough, challenging enough and “deep” enough to delve into for a lifetime.  So, we stick to this.”

The Order of Exercises:

  • Mr. Pilates created a set order of exercises on the mat and reformer.  A Classical Pilates teacher follows this order every time s/he works on the reformer and mat.  S/He may omit exercises to make it suitable for the level of the client (over the past 20 years, training programs have created systems to determine what are beginner exercises, intermediate exercises, advanced exercises and super-advanced exercises.  These systems were developed to help apprentices and new teachers know what to do and what not to do with a client.).
  • Classical Pilates teachers teach within the order of exercises Mr. Pilates created for the reformer and mat.
  • Why?  Because Mr. Pilates’ order appropriately warms up the body, challenges and cools it down.  His order challenges clients in the appropriate progression with and then against gravity:  lying down, sitting up, kneeling, standing.
  • What about on other apparatus?  Classical Pilates teachers use the previously mentioned progression as well as all of the information s/he gathered during the reformer and mat portion of the session to pick which exercises to do on other apparatus and which order to do them in.  If the session is primarily on an additional piece of apparatus like the wunda chair or cadillac/trapeze table, then a Classical Pilates teacher works to create a session with that gravitational progression and the theory behind the reformer and mat exercise orders to create a well-balanced and challenging session for her client.


  • What was Mr. Pilates’ intentions?  That the session is a strong full body and mind workout, appropriate for the client that centers around abdominal strength.  Clients are meant to exercise to their fullest potential.  We must take into account the person in front of us adapting the workout for each client’s individual needs.  A relatively normal, healthy person ought to be challenged in stamina, strength, stretch and stability.  Those who are ill or special cases in any way still get challenges, but we take their condition into account when challenging stamina.

Shari continues on to explain some specific differences in the details of Classical Pilates.  At Balance, our instructors are trained through Power Pilates, which is a Classical training program, which is why we call ourselves a Classical Pilates studio.  In contrast, Contemporary Pilates builds off the method and “thinks outside the box” when it comes to the method, incorporating different exercises.  In 2000, a court decided that the term Pilates could not be trademarked. As a result, many schools have taken extensive liberties with the system – adding exercises, changing principles, including new kinesiology research, etc, in programming sessions and developing a new curriculum.

If you’d like to read the whole article from Shari Berkowitz, check out the full blog post here!

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