A great Pilates teacher training program is transformative. You leave fitter than you imagined possible, with a deep understanding of how to teach a wide variety of clients. Ultimately it changes your life.

All sorts of Pilates teacher training programs claim to deliver these kinds of results. Unfortunately many do not. Some are just too short in duration or not intense enough to deliver real transformation. Some offer tips and tricks or are formulaic but never get deep into the art of Pilates. Many are run by centralized organizations that can’t deliver personalized attention. Some are run by teachers with only a superficial understanding of Pilates. And many never really teach you how to teach – how to work with real clients in real situations.

To help you pick a really good training program we’ve compiled a list of useful guiding questions. Ask these questions of studio directors, recent graduates, or yourself as you are getting to know each program. Regardless of where you end up, these questions will guide you towards a program that will transform you into a great Pilates practitioner and teacher.

Is the program personal?

We can’t emphasize enough the need for lots of personalized hands on feedback and attention both as you practice the exercises yourself and as you work with clients. This feedback should come from master teacher trainers with years of experience and it should be a regular and frequent component of your program as you progress. This kind of coaching addresses your personal confusions, weaknesses and needs, inspiring you not only to work harder, but to work on exactly the things you need to work on. It is tempting to think that sitting in a lecture, following a book, or a few sessions with a visiting guru is enough, but it simply is not. Impersonal programs cannot address your own personal habits, and weaknesses, both in your body and as a teacher. Furthermore impersonal programs may have a “one size fits all” approach that generates groups of teachers who follow the same recipe. Lastly, your program should offer several opportunities to meet with your main instructor one on one to discuss your overall progress. We have heard horror stories of trainees thinking everything was going just fine, only to fail the final tests. You should be provided with specific feedback about your progress throughout the program.

Will the program teach you the complete repertoire of classical pilates exercises?

A good program introduces you to the full range of exercises that Pilates himself developed as a workout program. The program may also go beyond, showing variations and innovations, but the core must be there. Does the program delve into the essential advanced exercises? Does the program stay connected to the essentials of Pilates? If you are unsure of this ask around. We have met Pilates teachers who have unfortunate gaps in their repertoire even after extensive training and teaching experience. This is not to say that a program needs to or should try to replicated everything Joseph Pilates said or did. Such an approach becomes quickly formulaic, out of date, and uninspiring. But ultimately you are teaching Pilates, not some vague collection of movements.

Does the program explain the reasons for each exercise and connections between the exercises?

Pilates exercises are much more than just shapes to aspire to. There are deep underlying principles within each exercise. The exercises feed and build on each other, flowing from one to the next, to grow fundamental strengths and skills that you can apply to any activity. This is why Pilates transforms your body. Ask the program instructors how the exercises interrelate to form an integrated whole and notice if they answer with intelligence, passion, curiosity, and excitement. Your program should also demystify the exercises. There should be no lingering feelings of “why am I doing this?”. By the end of the training, you should know. You will need lots of clarity when you are working with clients so a clear understanding of the underlying principles are essential. Many programs also provide an anatomy component to the program. Is the anatomy program just a list of bones and muscles to memorize, or is it taught in an interactive, applied way that helps you develop a basic understanding of the body in motion?

Is the program physically rigorous, challenging, and transformative, taking you beyond the limits of what you thought you would do?

A good program requires and inspires extreme commitment and physical training to transform your body and focus your mind. By the end of a good training you will doing things that you couldn’t do before and you didn’t think you could ever do. Your posture, strength, mobility, balance and overall skill will improve dramatically. A good program inspires you be accountable for yourself, to come to class, to follow private sessions. If the program is too short or sporadic you will not truly change. Don’t kid yourself into thinking otherwise.

Are the teachers advanced expert movers?

Watch and train with the instructors before you start the program. Do they practice what they preach? Do you feel inspired to learn to do what they do, to move like they move, to carry yourself they way they do. These people should be your role models, embodying everything that they are teaching you, inspiring you over many months. Choose them carefully.

Do you learn a holistic, practical, adaptable approach to working with clients?

Your eventual clients will be whole people with their own individual needs, strengths, weaknesses and characters. Because of this you need to learn how to be flexible and creative in your teaching. A great program teaches you diverse ways of making things accessible to a variety of different people. It teaches you how to challenge your clients without overdoing it. It teaches practical effective verbal and hands-on cuing. Most importantly, the program should teach you how to invent your own cues when needed. This creative skill is the true art of Pilates teaching and only the best programs know how to inspire it.

Do you learn to deal with injuries safely and realistically?

Pilates is not physical therapy. A client with a dangerous injury or condition should be working first and foremost with a physical therapist, who can assess and treat the condition specifically and point out any particular movements to avoid. A Pilates teacher training program should not be pretending to teach you physical therapy or specific treatment for injuries. Run from programs that claim that they can teach you this. Pilates helps recovery by reestablishing balance in the whole body – overall strength, flexibility, balance, posture, self confidence, and healthy coordination. This whole body development will encourage and support any recovery process. An injured client will experience these benefits only if the teacher knows how to work safely with the injury. A good program teaches to do this while at the same time challenging the client to the edge of their limits.

Do you learn fundamental, up-to-date anatomy and physiology?

Talk to the teacher if you can and find out what their perspective is. You need to learn the basic muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments, but memorization should not be the main thrust of the program.  A good anatomy program will teacher you the essential concepts and skills so that you can analyze any moment in an exercise.  It will also draw connections with neuroscience so that you learn to appreciate how the whole system changes with Pilates.

Do the studio and it’s teachers inspire and excite you?

Do you really really want be there and nowhere else, learning there, taking classes there, practicing there, put in extra time there, and ultimately teaching there? You will be spending hundreds of hours interacting with your mentors and your studio. In fact, during your training, your studio may start to feel like a home away from home. You want to feel connected and affiliated and excited about what is happening in the studio you are training. You want people you can come to for questions, who you can watch in practice. You will be learning things just from being in the studio even subconsciously. You will be observing the quality of the work there, inhaling the atmosphere, picking up up things randomly. You can join extra classes if you wish, knowing they will be consistent with the training program. Some programs don’t offer these opportunities either due to the structure of the program, limits to the hours and access to the studio.

Does the program give enough hours, time, space, and availability, and access to expert feedback?

The greatest gift that a training program can give its trainee’s is time. Time to learn, time to practice, time to get feedback. Time to absorb the atmosphere. Some programs don’t offer the hours and exposure needed to learn. They don’t include the necessary time for training, feedback, observation, and practice. This may be due to bureaucratic constraints, a desire to market to people with less than 100% commitment to the form, or limitations due to location and/or teachers needing to travel around. Whatever the excuse, don’t let any program try to convince you that there are shortcuts to this process. There are none.

Will you learn how to learn?

No matter how fantastic and complete the program you eventually choose, you will still have lots to learn when you leave. Actually, the program is just the beginning of your learning process. After the program you will be diving into the real world of working with clients, staying in shape, and developing yourself and your own personal style, and of course, earning money. A good personalize program with lots of time and focussed attention will spark a lifetime of learning and growing. Look and talk to the graduates of your program. Are they still growing, learning, and developing? Did their training program inspire this? Then you have a good one.

About us

We have been running a personalized teacher training program at Smartbody in Amsterdam since 2008. Our graduates are successful inspirational teachers across the globe. We aspire to all of the above goals in our teaching. Please feel free to contact us directly if you want more info about our program or just want to talk about your own goals and needs.

More about Smartbody’s teacher training