What Is Classical Pilates?

Posted on March 5, 2024

We hear the word “classical” get thrown around a lot when talking about Pilates, but what exactly does it mean? How does Classical Pilates differ from contemporary renditions of the method? Let’s break it down.

Classical vs. Contemporary Pilates

So what is Classical Pilates? Quite simply, Classical Pilates refers to the traditional series of exercises designed by Joseph Pilates, performed in the precise sequence he had intended, with the purpose of achieving complete coordination of body, mind and spirit.

Having suffered from numerous illnesses growing up, Pilates became passionate about health from an early age. He dedicated his later years to shaping and perfecting his method—which he would later name Contrology—that focuses on holistic movement and overall wellness. Deeply rooted in his work in rehabilitation, and drawing a little bit from his background in gymnastics and calisthenics, Pilates was able to create a full body movement system that enhances coordination, strengthens core muscle groups and even boosts immunity.

Since its inception a century ago, the Pilates method has evolved immensely. These days, numerous adaptations of the system are being offered in studios the world over. Fusion classes have become all the rage. We’ve witnessed the birth of Xtend Barre, for instance, a dynamic programme that fuses Pilates with cardio and dance.

Through these modern innovations, Pilates’ traditional teachings remain intact and unwavering. Devoted practitioners and casual fitness-goers alike still swear by Classical Pilates a hundred years after its inception. What has been the key to its long-lasting success? Here are 3 major factors.

1. Sequence

If you’ve ever wondered why Pilates follows the same order of exercises every single time you do a class, well… that’s because Joseph Pilates designed it to be that way! Each set of exercises was carefully crafted and measured to create continuous and flowing movement throughout your body to improve strength, flexibility and control. Each move builds from the one before—starting off with foundational exercises to warm up your body and progressing towards more complex (and often very tough!) movements. Pilates sequences also enhance mental alertness as performing the moves requires a great deal of focus.

Despite the repetitive nature of the sequences, you will always walk out of a Pilates class feeling challenged, even after your hundredth session, which goes to show how truly effective the method is. Because of the foolproof nature of Joseph Pilates’ original system, many practitioners believe that doing any modifications to these sequences would only dilute the complexity and effectiveness of the method.

2. Apparatus

Even if you’ve been practicing Pilates for quite some time, chances are you haven’t tried every single apparatus yet. (If you have, then colour me impressed!) One of the keys to the success of Classical Pilates is the depth and breadth of the method—much of which can be attributed to the diverse set of equipment available. In other words, you will never get bored doing Pilates!

Joseph Pilates himself invented much of the equipment that is still used in studios today, namely the Reformer, Cadillac, Wunda Chair, Ladder Barrel and Magic Circle. Each apparatus was designed to intensify and deepen stretches, tone muscles and improve strength and control with varying degrees of resistance.

No equipment? No problem! One of the things that makes Pilates great is that it can be done on the mat, too. And yes, Mat Pilates is Classical Pilates!

3. Teacher Training

Aspiring instructors must undergo rigorous and comprehensive training and are required to complete a minimum of 600 hours to become certified. What’s more, they must train under a teacher whose lineage can be traced back to Joseph Pilates himself.

What does this mean? Back when Joseph Pilates was running his studio in the US, a group of individuals—Romana Kryzanowska, Kathy Grant, Lolita San Miguel and Eve Gentry, to name just a few—worked and trained directly under him. These individuals later became known as First Generation Pilates instructors. After Joseph Pilates died, they went on to teach his method to Second Generation Pilates instructors and so on.

The lineage system helps to preserve Pilates’ original teachings so that they can be passed down as accurately and canonically as possible to future students. It also guarantees that only the highest quality of training is provided to future apprentices.

Learn all there is to know about Classical Pilates at Flex Studio, Hong Kong’s first and only Classical Pilates studio. We run 6-week “Introduction to Classical Apparatus” courses regularly, pre-register for our next Trio (three-person) group by emailing info@flexhk.com.

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