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.

e.g. Bridge Pilates neutral shoulder bridge

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 abdominal 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


Hip Adductione.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?