After experiencing an injury, patients sometimes feel unready or unable to return to a pre-injury exercise routine. Yet exercise is critical both for general health and to prevent injuries from recurring. The Pilates method of exercise can provide a bridge for patients who have been given medical clearance to return to exercise, but want help to exercise safely and effectively as they move from physical therapy to independent exercise.
Pilates is a form of mind-body exercise that focuses on postural alignment, body awareness, core support, and balanced strength and flexibility. It is frequently taught in either one-to-one sessions or small group classes. Those characteristics make it especially helpful for post-rehab patients who are returning to exercise. Pilates has become quite popular in the fitness industry, and it can be found in many settings all around the world. Given that popularity, however, finding the right instructor for you among the many can be a challenge. Here are some pointers to help you narrow the field:
Do your research
While an internet search can help you locate many Pilates instructors in your area, knowing which one to choose may be difficult. One resource is the Pilates Method Alliance (PMA), a professional membership organization that provides third-party certification of Pilates instructors and lists its members on its website. Instructors with PMA certification have completed a comprehensive course in the method and have passed a standardized exam demonstrating their knowledge. They must also complete continuing education to maintain their certification every two years.
While there are no guarantees, instructors who are trained in the full Pilates method (including all apparatus) and maintain their education will have more training and opportunity to work with a variety of clients and conditions than those trained in mat work only or who are not committed to continuing education. Choosing a dedicated and comprehensively-trained instructor will likely lead to a safer, more effective workout for you, the client.
Another resource to keep in mind is word-of-mouth. Asking your friends, neighbors, coworkers, or health care providers for a recommendation might point you to an instructor in your area with a reputation for excellence.
Ask your questions
Once you have the names of some instructors, be sure to ask questions before you schedule an appointment to find out if an instructor is right for you. Questions to ask may include:
- Are you comprehensively trained and how long have you been teaching?
- Do you work regularly with clients with my same injury/issue or primarily with a general fitness population?
- Do you participate in continuing education?
- Do you have related exercise or movement skills or experience?
- Are you certified by the Pilates Method Alliance (PMA)?
- How many people do you enroll in a group class? (if the instructor offers group instruction)
Test your findings
Once you find someone who seems like a good fit, and have medical clearance to return to exercise, take a session with the instructor. If you’re working one-to-one, he or she should ask you directly about your injuries and issues during the session. If you are taking a group class, make sure the level is right for you in advance, get there early, and speak with the instructor before class about your physical limitations. Regardless of the format, you want someone who listens to you about your body, and who you feel confident in and comfortable working with. Client-instructor rapport is important in Pilates, as both individuals must work together to achieve the client’s goals.
After the session, you should hopefully feel better than you did when you walked in for the appointment. If not, speak with the instructor about why that might be. You might need a different format, level, or perhaps a different instructor. Feeling and moving better is the goal of Pilates, so settle for nothing less!
Lynne Balliette is a PMA-certified Pilates instructor at the Integrative Care Center, with almost 20 years’ teaching experience. Lynne has a master’s degree in motor learning and control from Teachers College, Columbia University, and an MFA in dance from the University of Michigan. She has worked with a wide range of clients, and focuses on improving clients’ alignment, control, and function.