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Pilates Instructor Education, Schools, and Career Overview

If you like the idea of helping others to stay agile, flexible, fluid, then becoming a Pilates instructor might be your calling.

Pilates is a method of exercise performed with flowing, controlled, and precise movements that draw energy from the deep torso muscles at the body’s core. Pilates incorporates both floor exercises and exercises performed with Pilates-specific machines and equipment. The movements seek to strengthen the core muscles that surround and support the spine. Pilates exercises can be used as a form of rehabilitative therapy, a physical and mental discipline, and as way to take physical fitness to the next level.

  1. Breathing: Concentrated, controlled, and precise inhalation and exhalation. Proper breathing charges the blood with oxygen, activates the circulatory system, and works to purge the body of waste gases, toxins, and sloughed off cell debris.
  2. Centering: Support spinal stability through core muscle strength. Focus is on the large group of muscles that make up the abdomen, lower back, hips, and buttocks. 
  3. Concentration: Being mindful of body and form of movement; being conscious of breathing; being conscious of every muscle that is engaged in the course of movement.
  4. Control: Absolute control of the body as well as the mind. Smooth, elegant, controlled, and precise movements, each have a specific purpose.
  5. Flow: Exercises are performed with graceful, fluid, dance-like motions free of jerky or fragmented movement. Each exercise smoothly transitions into the next, causing the body to be in constant motion.
  6. Precision: There are no wasted movements and each exercise looks to accomplish a specific goal. Pilates uses minimal repetition and focuses rather on a few repetitions performed with perfect precision.

How to Become a Pilates Teacher

To students of Pilates teacher training programs, and certified practitioners alike, Pilates is more than just an effective way to work out. Pilates is intelligent exercise in which all movement is honored and recognized as having purpose.

Before embarking on a Pilates instructor program, it’s best to first take Pilates classes to become familiar with the exercises and to experience the results personally to better determine if you would enjoy a career instructing. The time spent in Pilates classes also provides opportunities to observe instruction in progress.

Pilates Instructor Courses and Training Programs

During formal Pilates instructor training programs, students can expect to learn about:

  • Exercises for injury rehabilitation and injury avoidance
  • Structuring the routine for new students
  • Equipment that might be used when performing Pilates exercises

In addition, students can expect to have an intensive focus on learning about the body’s structure through anatomy courses. The Pilates philosophy pays great attention to a strong skeletal system and spine, surrounded by strong core muscles, all held in place by strong and limber connective tissue.

Pilates teacher training programs are most often offered at these two levels:

Mat Trainer: Basic Mat Pilates instructor training aims to prepare graduates to teach mat exercises only. These programs are more appropriate for those who have less knowledge of the Pilates method and who have little experience working as fitness instructors. Typical courses include:

  • Movement Anatomy for Mat Instructors
  • Essential Pilates Exercises
  • Intensive Mat Class

Comprehensive Mat and Apparatus Trainer: Programs at this level are designed to prepare graduates to teach both mat and apparatus exercises. Comprehensive-level programs are more geared toward individuals who are well versed in Pilates exercises and who have some fitness industry experience, but who want to become a Pilates instructor. These classes are often the choice of certified personal trainers looking to augment their existing training with a full knowledge of Pilates. Typical courses include:

  • Comprehensive Pre-Training
  • Movement Anatomy for Mat Instructors
  • Essential Pilates Exercises
  • Mat Intensive
  • Reformer Intensive
  • Reformer Labs I & II
  • Cadillac Intensive
  • Cadillac Labs I & II
  • Auxiliary Equipment
  • Auxiliary Lab I
  • Postural Analysis and Program Design

Schools

Having some personal experience with Pilates exercises before beginning a Pilates teacher training course is a requirement of most programs. However, the experience doesn’t have to be extensive since most training programs are designed to first teach students how to perform many of the exercises themselves, before going on to provide training in how to properly instruct students. Most basic Pilates mat instructor training programs only require incoming students to have participated in 5-20 Pilates mat classes before being eligible to begin instructor training.

Prerequisites for comprehensive Pilates instructor training course are considerably more challenging to satisfy. Those entering comprehensive programs are typically required to have had about 10 private sessions on the various Pilates apparatuses, two years of experience in some form of movement like dance or yoga, and to have completed about 30 hours of personal Pilates practice.

Depending on the school, incoming students of Pilates instructor training programs may also need a letter of recommendation from a certified Pilates instructor or other movement teacher. This is often necessary to show competency and aptitude before beginning a program.

Certification and Licensure

Pilates trainer certificate programs are a great option for working students since the schools offering these programs very often hold class on weekends. This also allows students to satisfy requirements for observing classes in progress during the week.

The applied hands-on training portion of Basic Pilates Mat Trainer certificate programs requires participants to complete:

  • 15 hours of mat teaching practice
  • 15 hours of mat personal practice under the observation of a veteran certified Pilates instructor
  • 10 hours of observation in which the student either observes a class in progress or actually attends class

The more advanced Comprehensive Mat and Apparatus Trainer certificate programs take students through:

  • 75 hours of personal practice
  • 100 hours of student teaching practice under observation
  • Observation of 60 hours of Pilates classes

There are currently no licensing requirements on either a national or state level for those who are actively teaching or wish to become a Pilates instructor.

Skills and Qualities

Pilates instructors should like being around people and have a high energy level. It helps to enjoy dance and movement, and to be graceful. It’s especially important to believe in the mind-body connection while performing or instructing Pilates – you can’t separate the two.”

Pilates instructors are tasked with tailoring this form of exercise to fit the skill level and physical ability of anybody who wishes to learn. Pilates instructor jobs can involve working with a diverse demographic, including the elderly and people whose physical capabilities have been dramatically limited by severe injury.

Career and Salary Outlook

For the entrepreneurial individual, opening an independent practice may be a lucrative alternative to traditional employment. Some certified Pilates instructors opt to open their own independently run Pilates studios. Others choose to partner with a group of practitioners of other types of movement training, like yoga instructors, to create integrated multi-practice studios.

Keep in mind that the take-home income associated with independent practice needs to be factored against the expense of running a studio business. The biggest expenses for running your own studio are usually the cost of leased space and insurance. The cost of studio space is largely affected by the location of the studio, but this typically balances since space leased in more upscale neighborhoods of affluent cities can expect to serve a clientele that is prepared to pay more for the service. Just like personal trainers, all independent Pilates instructors are required to carry professional liability insurance in the event that a client experiences bodily injury in the course of a session.

Professional Resources for Pilates Instructors

The Pilates Method Alliance is a professional certification organization specific to Pilates method exercise. A not-for-profit organization, its goals are to:

  • Establish and maintain an exam for national certification
  • Function as a resource for Pilates instructors and practitioners
  • Maintain an international registry of certified Pilates instructors made available to the public
  • Define and standardize various levels of expertise for Pilates instructors

Membership in the PMA requires that Pilates instructors:

  • Graduate from PMA-approved programs
  • Pass a PMA administered exam
  • Pay annual dues

There is no legal requirement to carry or maintain PMA membership in order to be able to instruct Pilates. However, potential benefits to becoming a member could include better pay, reduced professional liability insurance premiums, and peer and client recognition for having graduated from Pilates teacher training programs that properly represent Joseph Pilate’s core philosophy and ideals.

Pilates Instructor Schools