Are you doing Pilates effectively at the gym?

I have often been asked about the differences between doing Pilates at a Pilates studio as compared to a gym. As an avid gym goer who started my Pilates journey at the gym and progressing to learning and eventually teaching Pilates at studios, my experiences at gyms and studios are vastly different.

An obvious difference would be the number of clients in a class. Gyms typically accept a large number of clients in classes and it is not uncommon to see thirty or forty clients in the class. Pilates studios accept a much smaller number of clients, on average eight clients per class.

While there is nothing wrong with conducting or attending large Pilates classes, in fact, it is great that so many people have turned up, big classes poses a number of challenges for both the client and the teacher.

For the teacher, it is always challenging to teach big groups of clients. For one, due to the sheer number of clients in the class, it is usually impossible to give each student enough attention. Think 30 students in a 60 minute class and the teacher would have to spend a maximum of 2 minutes with each client correcting alignment, giving cues etc in order to give each client the proper attention. Yet at the same time, besides walking the floor, there is a 101 things that teachers need to do from ensuring all clients are moving safely, the newbies are not lost, the exercises flow from one piece to another to giving modifications when required.

Realistically, it is often impossible to achieve all of these especially correction in big classes. As a result, the teacher often provides limited (or none at all) correction to clients. Comparatively, it is easier to manage these with smaller number of clients.

For the client, while it is great that they are exercising and enjoying the benefits of Pilates, it is often easy to fall into the trap of not using the right muscles efficiently and, therefore, not getting the most effective workout. It is, thus, important that clients are taught to move properly, incorrect posture and alignment pointed out and corrected. This is also done to ensure that the client works out safely and do not injure themselves.

In my experience, I have seen clients who have spent many years doing Pilates at the gym coming to studios and discovering that they have been moving incorrectly all this time. If we look at the amount of time a teacher in a gym class can provide for correction, it is not at all surprising that the client is not moving efficiently. Once the body has registered the incorrect muscle movement, it takes a longer time for the body to change the habit and re-learn the movement.

For clients who have specific conditions such as osteoporosis, back pain, herniated discs to address, working out in a class in a gym setting is definitely not ideal! This is because certain exercises are not suitable for certain conditions and modifications will have to be given to address these issues. For example, a client suffering from a herniated disc should not be doing flexion exercises and modifications will have to be provided for exercises that involve flexion work. It will be challenging for these client specific modifications to be provided in mass gym classes. Comparatively, studios with smaller teacher-client ratios are better placed to help clients address their issues.

With that being said, group classes in our studio are kept small and we work with up to 3 students in a group class. This ensures that each client derives as much attention from the Pilates teacher and gets the most efficient workout.

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