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Classical Pilates teaching or Contemporary Pilates teaching- it’s a raging debate amongst some quarters of the Pilates community…

There are two types of training body for Pilates teachers:

Classical Pilates, taught by direct-line descendants from Joseph Pilates’ original teachers such as world-renowned protégé, Romana Kryzanowska, and later her daughter, Sari Mejia Santoand.

And Contemporary Pilates, headed by institutions employing anatomical and medical specialists to lead innovative movement patterning. These include contemporary Pilates training bodies such as Stott, BASI and Polestar.

Classical Pilates is based exactly on the exercises and the order of the exercises that Joseph Pilates taught

from his studio in New York which he founded with his ballerina wife Klara in 1926. In their ‘Body Conditioning Gym’ they used machines with leather straps- this style of machine (typically made by the manufacturer Gratz) is still found in Classical studios today. They taught a sequence of Mat and Reformer exercises that didn’t change from lesson to lesson.

Classical teachers do the same today- this benefits class members who want to know exactly what comes next and sense their improvement in a single exercise from week to week. The classical body would also argue that this sequence is optimal for ‘results’ and flow.

The problem that we have with the Classical approach is two-fold:

1). In abdominal work, the Classical pathway is to imprint the spine regardless of the person’s strength or ability level. As most runners we see are already posteriorly tilted in the pelvis and potentially weak in deep abdominals, this might not be helpful for them. It can be perfect for someone else (a lordotic individual, for example, with a pronounced lumbar curve). But Classical Pilates doesn’t allow for variation. And there is evidence to suggest that prolonged or loaded abdominal work in imprint can actually weaken the spine.

2). The Classical routine is set regardless of the participants’ needs that day. Classical teachers spin out the same class week after week. There is little room for imagination (read: variety!) and even less for progressive challenges (where you build-up a certain progression through exercises to meet a final challenge). And no deviation from the format is allowed if someone can’t work in prolonged extension (if they have facet joint degeneration) or flexion (if they have disc herniation tendencies). So the lack of versatility appears disadvantageous and potentially disengages clients.

Contemporary Pilates integrates the latest research

and best practices in orthopedics, sports medicine and movement science into Pilates. It takes the original exercises, suggests modifications and sometimes even abandons some of Joseph Pilates’ teachings entirely.

Within Contemporary Pilates, the exercises are almost limitless as small changes in joint positioning, the equipment interface and breathe and cueing mean that everything can be modified for any purpose. Thus someone with shoulder girdle issues can still perform strengthening exercises even in chronic inflammation. And someone who has just undergone spinal surgery still has plenty of options for mobilisation.

At One Grove, we love this modern, scientifically-led Contemporary approach. Our thirst for knowledge leads us to attend different conferences every year to search out the latest thinking on rehabilitative exercise and optimal training for all ages and levels. And we enjoy creating varied and challenging content using newly developed equipment add-ons in our studio.

But we do understand how far the original Pilates method has come from its source- and understand that Classical teachers often don’t see what we do as ‘true Pilates’.

The essence of Pilates is shared though between both camps: a structured and specific exercise methodology combining coordination, strength and control alongside breathe and precise flowing movement. Whatever it is, Classical or Contemporary, we love it!

Lucy Whitehead

Head of the One Grove Team