A Pilates instructor helps people improve their physical health through a series of movement exercises created by Joseph Pilates, using body work done on mats and specially designed apparatus.
Pilates was invented by the half German, half Greek Joseph Pilates (1880 – 1967). After working in the UK as a circus performer, self-defence instructor and boxer, Pilates was interned with other German nationals during the First World War. Here he had the opportunity to treat war-wounded German POWs interned along with him. Later, stationed at a hospital on the Isle of Man, he began to further develop his personal system of physical rehabilitation, working on war veterans that were unable to walk. After the war he moved to the United States where he consolidated his practice and became somewhat of a celebrity in elite dance circles, treating icons such as Martha Graham (the foremost pioneer of Modern Dance). After his death, Pilates’ chosen students carried on his work and his revolutionary fitness method continues to grow in popularity worldwide.
Pilates works on several core principles in an effort to consolidate mind and body so that all movement is refined and perfected, resulting in a completely healthy organism, free from disease or injury. Pilates is performed both on mats (Pilates Matwork) and with the help of specially designed apparatus (Bridge Pilates). Focussing on the core (the muscles around the abdomen and spine) and eliciting special breathing techniques, Pilates seeks to isolate movements down to their most natural process, bringing a state of gracefulness and ease to the practitioner.
Pilates is hugely popular in Europe and America today with literally thousands of registered practitioners in circulation. Its health benefits have been recognised for individuals, ranging from sufferers of chronic disease, to elite athletes working to prevent and recover from injury.
Most Pilates instructors are self-employed and their earning depends on how many classes they teach and how many people are in each class. Classes can be taught on a one to one basis or as a group. The average cost of a one to one session is around £60 within London and £40 elsewhere. Per-person the cost of a group class ranges from around £8 to £12. Room hire and other overheads may have to be deducted from any earnings made. Some large chain gyms hire Pilates instructors for salaried positions.
- A Pilates teacher just starting out may earn from £12,000 – £18,000 per annum.
- An experienced Pilates instructor teaching several times a week may earn from £25,000 – £38,000 per annum.
- A well known Pilates instructor working in elite circles and conducting private and busy group classes can earn in excess of £40,000 per annum.
The day to day work of a Pilates instructor could contain any of the following:
- Teaching Pilates methodology on a group or one to one basis
- Working with individual students to achieve specific goals in fitness or rehabilitation
- Instructing students, assisting and overseeing their work on Pilates apparatus
- Maintaining their own level of superb fitness through regular personal practice
- Designing and implementing a course of practice covering multiple sessions for the specific needs of a client
- Keeping detailed client records
To qualify as a Pilates teacher you should take a certified course with a registered provider. There are a number of organisations offering teaching courses so you should always check out the standard of education provided. Alternatively, one can study as a Pilates teacher with REPS, the Register of Exercise Professionals. You could study one of the following courses:
- NVQ Level 3 Pilates Matwork
- NVQ Level 3 in the Complete Pilates Method
- OCR Level 3 Certificate in Instructing Mat-based Pilates
Many courses will expect you to have completed a predetermined amount of personal study as a Pilates student before being admitted to a teacher training course.
A Pilates teacher should have the following personal characteristics:
- A calm and approachable manner
- The ability to lead a large class of students
- Great communication skills
- In depth knowledge of the human body and biomechanics through personal experience
- An excellent level of personal fitness, strength and flexibility
- An empathetic nature and a desire to help others
- A love of teaching
Pilates teachers usually work from a studio which they may hire on an hourly basis or it may be dedicated to the practice. In the cases of Bridge Pilates it is always a dedicated studio as the apparatus is complex and heavy. Matwork Pilates may be taught in clients’ own homes in the case of private one to one lessons.
A Pilates class usually lasts from between 45 to 90 minutes and a teacher may teach several such classes in a single day. Classes are commonly held at weekends and in the evening though private classes take place at any time, often early in the morning before clients go to work. Teaching is tiring as is the need to keep up with regular training. However, most Pilates teachers enter the profession due to a deep seated commitment to improving others and their own health. As such it is a very rewarding career that suits dedicated individuals.
Most Pilates training institutions expect a high standard of ability and lengthy attendance at Pilates classes as a student, before admission onto a teacher training programme.
Any experience working with the body is beneficial to Pilates such as Yoga, Physiotherapy, Massage, Martial Arts or Gymnastics. Any other sporting activity performed to a high level where relative strength and flexibility plays a large part in performance will come in handy.
Large chain gyms such as LA Fitness, Virgin and Nuffield Leisure employ Pilates teachers as it becomes increasingly mainstream. Dedicated Pilates studios also hire proficient teachers; check out local listings for details.
Many Pilates teachers enter through another movement related profession such as dancers, circus performers, gymnasts or other high-level sporting disciplines.
Pilates teachers can go on to take advanced teacher training courses and even train to teach other teachers.
Also known as…
- Pilates Method
What’s it really like?
Jackie Leon Sysum, 46, is a Pilates Instructor and part of an acro-balance duo along with her husband; you can see them in action at Tuyo Acrobats.
Hi Jackie how long have you been in the Pilates industry?
I qualified as an instructor just last month but I had been doing my training for more than a year before that. I am a professional acrobat and work with my husband doing a professional balancing act together. I also teach acro-balance at Circus Space in London. Obviously we are getting on a bit as regards performance work and I used Pilates many years before as a dancer as I had a very arched back which caused me problems. About three years ago I had a nasty fall and used Pilates to get over that injury. What I learnt in that time inspired me to take Pilates further and train to become an instructor.
What did you do before this job?
I worked full-time between working as a professional performer and teaching acro-balance in Circus Space.
What do you do in a typical day at work?
Because I’ve just qualified I’m currently going through the process of setting up classes to begin after Christmas and dealing with all the promotional work associated with that. I’m currently teaching Pilates at the Notts School of Gymnastics, that’s one of the top gymnastic schools in the country and I’m teaching the elite gymnasts there.
There are many routes you can take in teaching Pilates and one of them is working with elite athletes; that’s the route I want to take and I’m well qualified to do so – because of my experience as an acrobat I already know the problems they face.
What do you like about the job?
I love teaching and I’ve been doing it for a long time. I had the teaching skills already and it’s just been a matter of modifying my subject. What I like about Pilates is that anyone can do it. You can teach elite sports people or elderly people, you can treat serious injuries or osteoporosis, there are just so many things you can do with it.
What do you dislike about the job?
I haven’t found anything yet. Im used to being self-employed but it’s always difficult. You have to do your own work and your own accounts, and of course if you are sick you don’t earn anything. There are a lot of problems being self-employed but about being a Pilates teacher, no, I have no problems with that.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing this job?
First of all you need a good knowledge of Pilates and a good knowledge of the body. I already knew a lot of anatomy and physiology before so that really helped. You also need to be a good communicator and a good organiser.
What job do you think you might do after this role in terms of career progression?
I want to work with elite athletes.
What other inside-information can you give to help people considering this career?
Really, confidence comes through knowledge of what you are teaching, so you need to get on a really good course with good teachers and work hard during the course.