If a workout is branded as "Pilates," it should be pretty predictable — or should it?
Joseph Pilates developed his method of exercise after years of working with war internees, dancers and athletes. Some instructors teach Pilates true to his method, doing the exercises in the order he designated and keeping form true to his teachings. While Pilates developed his program early in the 20th century and died in 1967, some teachers who taught under him still guide students or have mentored other instructors so his legacy lives on.
That being said, Pilates programs have morphed over the years and developed into a myriad of interpretations. One of such is Stott Pilates, a method developed by Lindsay and Moira Merrithew, along with physical therapists, fitness professionals and sports medicine experts.
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The Big Difference
Stott Pilates works off the foundation of exercises provided by classical Pilates, but instead of recommending a "straight" spine as Joseph Pilates did, the program recommends that exercises honor the natural curvature of the spine.
Pilates, in his day, felt that imprinting the spine — meaning that you push it flat to the floor — was beneficial in preventing and helping certain postural irregularities, such as swayback or lordosis. However, the Stott method is of the belief, which is based on updated physical therapy research, that artificially holding a flat back can actually be a detriment to a healthy spine.
In a Stott class, when one or both feet are on the floor, it's recommended you maintain a natural arch in the small of your back. If you're doing work that involves lifting both feet up, you're encouraged to press the entire spine to the floor and get rid of the arch. This helps to brace the abs. In classical Pilates, you're supposed to keep the imprint in every exercise, regardless of where your feet are placed.
But all "Pilates" is not classical Pilates. Nowadays, instructors can gain a certification to teach without a lot of rigorous training. If an instructor is classically Pilates-trained or of a lineage that traces straight to Joseph Pilates himself, she's likely had hours of in-depth training and really knows the body and Pilates equipment.
Of course, excellent instructors are out there, and some are true to the Pilates method, but many not-so-excellent instructors exist, too. As Pilates gained popularity, training programs did as well. Some instructors can pick up a Pilates certification in a quick day-long or weekend class.
This is not true for Stott Pilates, however. Stott Pilates, like the original trainings provided by Joseph Pilates, are thorough and extensive. They teach future instructors effective communication skills, how to observe students and imagery cues to best guide students. Postural analysis, modifications, theory and safe exercise progression is also part of the program. You'll get between 200 and 500 hours of training to be a Stott instructor.
Stott is not the only quality training program available, either. But, its method is well-respected and thorough. Whether a training through Stott, another comprehensive Pilates program or classical Pilates is better for the body, it's hard to say. Each has a sightly different approach to the exercises; it's up to the practitioner to find a program that feels right and promotes physical progress in his body.
Classical Pilates, and weekend Pilates courses, don't necessarily specialize their trainings for clients with specific needs. Classical Pilates was so thorough, modifications and specializations were implicit in the trainings. After all, Joseph Pilates developed and used his method on the ill and bedridden. Short training programs just don't have the time to invest in every detail of Pilates training.
A Stott instructor will have a good idea as to how to modify for clientele with certain needs, such as arthritis, osteoporosis and athletic performance. A Stott instructor is expected to keep up his certification with continuing education, which involves workshops that continue to hone teaching skills and offer information about special populations.