Pilates class design principles
The classical Pilates repertoire developed by Joseph Pilates consists of 34 original exercises that are supposed to be executed in the same strategic order every single time.
Many of these exercises are great, but not appropriate for all populations. Routine is also great, but can get boring in the fast-paced world we live in.
We’ve found really effective ways to shake things up with our classes that really take Pilates to the next level, and are enjoyable and engaging for all participants.
Keep in mind: these ideas are based on my experiences. Try a few things in your classes and with your clients and see what feels right for you. Some concepts will work and others will fall flat. You will do the best job when you teach what feels natural and comfortable to you.
Best positions to use
Supine, Side Lying, Quadruped, Side Lying, Prone, Quadruped, Standing (and use them in this order).
Number of reps
In each position pick one or two exercises. Then create four to six variations of it so people do not get bored . Remember that an exercise can simply be a variation on one of the Foundations, or two Foundations melded together (e.g. Ab Curl + Hip Fold)
Some key exercises that work at every level
Supine: “Shoulder Bridge” (basic version of Bridge with Leg Arc) and Ab Curl (basic version of “The Hundred”)
Side Lying: Side Lying Hip Abduction, Side Bridge (difficult on shoulders but excellent for core)
Quadruped: Cat, Quadruped Arm/Leg Reach
Prone: Spine Extension, Robot Arms and Shoulder Extensions
Use variations to spice up basic exercises
For each of the key exercises listed below your best bet is to create a sequence that gradually builds in challenge and intensity.
You don’t have to do the entire variation sequence at once. Give your class breaks as needed.
1. Bridge x 4 reps
2. Bridge + alternating heel lifts x 8 reps
3. Bridge + head turns left and right x 4 reps each side
4. Bridge + Sagittal Arm Arcs x 4 reps
5. Bridge + lifting and lowering of buttocks (just a couple if inches) x 8 to 12 reps (I find that people usually need a lot of work on their glutes)
6. Bridge + double toe taps x 8 reps
e.g. Ab Curl
1. Ab Curl x 4 reps
2. Ab Curl + hold for 4 breaths
3. Ab Curl + hold curl + posterior pelvic tilting x 8 reps
4. Ab Curl + Hip Fold x 4 each side
5. Ab Curl + little pulses at top of curl (it feels like you curl slightly forward and back) x 8 to 12 reps
6. Ab Curl + Hip Fold x 4 each side
e.g. Side Lying Hip Abduction/Adduction
1. Hip Abduction/Adduction x 4 reps
2. Hip Abduction/Adduction + toes pointing x 4 reps
3. Hip Abduction/Adduction + foot flexing x 4 reps
4. Hip Abduction/Adduction + little circles x 4 reps each direction
5. Hip Abduction/Adduction + mini Side Kick x 4 reps
Question for you:
What are some key elements you consider when designing your Pilates classes?
Good class design starts with student-focus! What was my class doing all day before I got them? Last winter, I had mothers, teachers, and post-retirement folks in a small class of 6. Super active, but so many injuries! With 9 weeks to play with, I’d just mention how certain exercises would improve shoulder strength or hip mobility, hints for different injuries that my students had. Those little hints along the way made all the difference! Students came up to me after class to thank me for not ‘putting them on the spot’ or singling them out because of an injury.
Bridge and Side Lying Hip Ad/Ab are especially wonderful for warming up before my morning walks.
Great post! 🙂
Valuable help for seasoned instructors and people wondering how to conduct a class
Great Post Margot! It is good to read and be reminded that you do not always have to get fancy and do all the hard exercises. Basics can be a good work out as well! I always try to use the foundations in my classes.
Great, reminder, Margot, for designing all levels of classes, especially for beginners. It’s helpful to be reminded of the basic principles. I sometimes forget them when I’m seeking more complex knowledge and challenging exercises.
I have tried the original made by Joseph Pilates himself but it indeed gets boring when you have done it several times. Thanks for sharing this. Now I have something to look forward to in doing. I exercise at home with videos but when feeling lonely, that would be the time when I go to the studio.
Hi Margot, I was in your class Saturday at the Yoga Show and enjoyed it immensely. In going over the notes you gave I cannot remember what the Hip Fold Series was. Was this just raising one leg at a time with bent knee? Please explain. Thank you.
The Pilates hip fold series is raising one leg at a time while folding at the hip. We keep the knee bent at 90 degrees for this one. Here’s a video example of the Hip Fold
To make this great exercise into a series, you can add repetitions and variations.