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Run Your Studio ‘Like Joe Did’ and How...

Run Your Studio ‘Like Joe Did’ and How To Get There

Joseph Pilates ran his studio very differently than many Pilates studios today. As a student of Joe’s, you would begin by coming to the studio during quieter times so he could spend more time with you. He would show you some exercises, and then you were expected to go into the studio regularly and do those exercises to the very best of your ability, again and again, until you were ready to be given additional exercises. It was about moving the body, strengthening, and stretching with control. Was the Pilates perfect? Absolutely not. Did it facilitate changes? You bet! Students were independent. Being independent is the freedom from outside control, thinking, and acting for oneself. With independence comes confidence, empowerment, and autonomy. Yes, you have to think, but that is the MIND in the mind-body connection we all strive for.

Compare that to most Pilates studios today; you get a different image. Clients come in at the same time and do exactly the same exercises; instructors explain each step, what comes next, how to set it up, and even what the client should be feeling. This scenario creates a complete dependency on the teacher. Joe wanted us to learn Pilates, to take Pilates out into the world. How is one expected to do this if they are not independent?

So, how do you transition a Pilates studio from a teacher-led approach to one that fosters student independence and emphasizes self-practice and mastery of exercises over time?

For this scenario to work well, you have to believe in yourself. Continuing to learn through your own practice is paramount, and you must know this is the right way forward for you and your studio. It will take commitment to see this transition through. Once you have decided this is the right way forward, take it step by step.

Open communication with an honest discussion about what you want to do while explaining the many benefits of working this way is crucial for your students to transition successfully. Some of these benefits include

  • Moving at a pace fit for them (not their neighbor)
  • A deeper understanding of the exercises
  • An increase in their confidence
  • The ability to self-correct
  • An increase in community within your studio
  • Opportunity to experience all the apparatus
  • More changes, faster in their body

Start with your long-term, trusted students who already have a solid understanding of Pilates, or set up a particular time for students to experience and practice their independent workouts.

  • Ask your students to learn the order of the exercises. Knowing that there is an order and the rationale behind it removes the guesswork and is one less thing your students need to think about, which creates a structured learning environment
  • Put up a chalkboard or poster of the repertoire in your studio so they have something to refer to
  • Allow them to set up their equipment and springs and clean up after themselves
  • Give them time to think before you instruct them. When we learn a skill, whether it’s how to drive or play an instrument, the teacher is not with the student every time they get behind the wheel or sit at the piano. The student has to be allowed to practice
  • Demonstrate the exercise if necessary. Joe did this a lot for his students at the beginning
  • Talk less. Teach the most important skill and allow the student to focus on this one thing throughout their workout. This will facilitate changes faster in their body

Supporting your students during this transition is essential. This is a significant change for them, and many will be apprehensive (even scared) to take this on. Give them a lot of encouragement; tell them they are more than capable and that they are not being deserted. You and your teachers are still there to support and guide them. If anything, your teaching will be allowed to flourish. They will get just what their body needs, and this would make Joe happy!

Remember, the transition may take time, and patience is key. Continuous communication and reinforcement of the benefits will help create a positive environment for both teachers and students.


Christine Waterman is a 3rd generation teacher who has been teaching for 20+ years. Her journey has taken her from contemporary Pilates to studying Classical Pilates in depth. It is her mission to teach others about the true work of Joseph Pilates. Christine is an assistant to Karen Frischmann teaching teachers around the globe and is available for coaching on transitioning from teacher-led to independent studios. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram @thepilatestree or online at www.thepilatestree.com

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