Personalizing Pilates' Q&A Blog – by Sherry

January 21, 2014

Questions to ask when choosing a Pilates teacher

Filed under: pilates,pilates teacher — personalizing pilates @ 10:35 am
Tags: , , ,

Hi everyone!

In the fitness industry, there is always a surge of new clients at the beginning of the year.    Given that many of you will be starting Pilates, I wanted to give you information about what you should ask a Pilates teacher that you are considering taking classes with.    

When I started my Pilates career, I took the first weekend mat series course and after that weekend I could say that I was a Pilates teacher.  In reality, I had learned enough to be dangerous!   Two more years of courses and successful certification by the Pilates Method Alliance (PMA) in 2007 qualified me to call myself a Certified Pilates Teacher.   In order to help you find the best teacher for your needs, I have written an article (below) that outlines what you need to ask a potential Pilates teacher. 

Remember, if you have any questions about this or any other posting, leave me a comment and I’m happy to help you!



As Pilates has become more popular over the last few years, the demand for teachers has sky-rocketed.   Since Pilates exercises deal with moving and balancing the spine and associated musculature, it’s important to find a teacher who is going to help you, not hurt you.   Not all Pilates teachers are created equal.

When you are considering taking Pilates, here is a list of questions and considerations to help you make the best decision about a potential teacher.

Where did you do your training?

As the demand for teachers has increased, so has the number of teacher training facilities.   Ask for the name of the training facility where the teacher trained and do some research to find out if it’s a reputable company.   In Canada, the best known Pilates teacher training facilities are Stott Pilates, Dianne Miller Pilates (Vancouver), Saskatoon Pilates Centre and Body Harmonics (Toronto), although there are others.   There are many more facilities in the U.S.   I trained and am certified by the PhysicalMind Institute which is based in NYC.

How long was the training program?

Some Pilates mat exercise training programs are only a weekend long and anyone can enroll in them and say that they are a Pilates teacher after only two days of instruction!   These courses are necessary in the teacher’s learning process but I’d prefer to work with someone who had taken comprehensive courses after that.   After I did my first weekend mat training course, I remember thinking that I had learned enough about Pilates to be dangerous!   And I have a background in anatomy and skeletal biology!!!

Ask about the number of classroom teaching hours, the number of observation hours completed, the number of self-practice hours completed and the number of one-on-one practice hours completed.   Ask the teacher to tell you about the exam at the end of the course.   It should include both written and practical portions.

How long have you been teaching Pilates?

We all have to start somewhere, but I’d prefer to work with someone who has been teaching Pilates for several years.

Who are you qualified to teach?  

Pilates teachers are qualified to teach ‘apparently healthy persons’.   There are Pilates courses that teachers can take in order to teach special populations (i.e. – pre-post natal women, osteoporosis)

Are you PMA certified?

The Pilates Method Alliance (PMA) is a not-for-profit organization that is providing accreditation for Pilates teachers.   They have set a standard by which all Pilates teachers can be measured regardless of where they trained.   In order to become PMA certified, you must pass a comprehensive test that involves a detailed knowledge of anatomy, postural assessment, all of the Pilates equipment exercises as well as modifications and contraindications for special populations.

If a teacher is not PMA certified, they should at least be a PMA member.  If they’ve never heard of the PMA, be careful because they’re not aware of what is going on in the industry.

What is your philosophy in teaching Pilates?

Some teachers like to teach the classical version of Pilates exercises which are done in a specific order designed by Joseph Pilates.   These exercises, although wonderful, are often too difficult for the ordinary ‘joe’.   Many teachers prefer to teach the exercises by breaking them down into their component parts so that just about everyone can benefit from them.

Do you have experience teaching people with my spinal condition?

Many people have spinal conditions that can be aggravated by doing certain Pilates exercises.   For example, people with herniated discs or osteoporosis have to avoid many of the traditional Pilates exercises because they involve spinal flexion (forward curling of the spine).   If a teacher does not understand your specific condition, they could inadvertently hurt you.    My neighbour has a herniated disc and went to someone who had him doing exercises that resulted in a second herniated disc.    If you are not sure, email me!

How long are the sessions and how much do you charge?

Sessions should be 55 or 60 minutes in length.    Private sessions usually cost between $55 and $80 depending on the teacher’s experience and qualifications.  You might find a less expensive session if you are willing to work with a trainee, but make sure that they are supervised by a more experienced instructor.

What types of Pilates are you trained to teach?

Pilates teachers can train to teach the mat-version or the equipment version of Pilates.    There is also a new certification in Standing Pilates that translates the mat exercises into a standing position.   

Do you do the exercises in the class with the clients?

Be wary of a teacher who does the exercises with their participants.  A good teacher should be watching your movements carefully and correcting you during the class.  That’s not possible if they’re squeezing in their own workout alongside you.

Will you provide me with references?

A teacher should be able to provide several references from clients.   Insist on speaking with some of their current clients.

Do you get along with this person?

This is a subjective feeling that you will get from talking with a potential teacher.   You are going to entrust your spinal health to this person so you need to be comfortable with them, especially if you’re going to be spending one-on-one time with them doing private sessions.   Over time, you’ll develop a relationship with this person so ‘listen to your gut’ and make sure you’re compatible.  For example, if you’re a 55-year-old woman doing Pilates for the first time, you might be more comfortable with a teacher who is closer to your own age instead of a 23-year-old who has not had the same life/body experiences as you.


July 24, 2012

Help for your sore neck

Filed under: sore neck — personalizing pilates @ 8:52 pm

Hi there!

If you spend many hours every week sitting at a desk working on a computer, you likely have a stiff or sore neck and shoulders.    Here’s an easy exercise that you can do at your desk that will help to mobilize the neck and stretch the tight muscles.

  • First, you need to sit up really tall and balance on your sitting bones (those bones you can feel in your buttocks!)
  • Look straight ahead and try not to lift your chin when you do the exercise
  • Imagine holding the steering wheel of your car at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions
  • Lift your heart up a little
  • Pull your imaginary steering wheel apart
  • Look straight ahead and pull your head back as if you were a turtle retracting its head back into its shell
  • Hold here for 3 breaths before you release
  • Repeat 3 times

When you pull the steering wheel apart, you are contracting the muscles in your upper back that tend to get very weak when we sit for long periods.   Lifting the heart helps these muscles contract as well.   Pulling your head back as if you were a turtle helps to stretch the tight muscles at the back of the neck.

Try it!   And if you want more great exercises that you can do at your desk, check out my Computer Hunchbacks workout on my website (link on the right).   It’s a downloadable, MP3 workout that you can do in 15 minutes – guaranteed to help with your neck and shoulder pain.   I promise!


July 12, 2012

How to Sit with Lower Back Support

Hi everyone,

Our bodies are designed to move, they are not designed to sit for long periods of time.     One of the things that happens when we sit is that we lose the inward, lumbar curve of our lower back.    When this curve is lost, our posture suffers, we slouch and we put tremendous pressure on the discs of our lower back.     If you happen to have osteoporosis, a herniated or bulging disc, sciatica or any sort of lower back pain, it is absolutely critical that you have this lumbar curve in your spine at all times.     

The problem with sitting is that very few chairs have proper lumber support.   Even the ones that claim to have support, don’t have enough of it so we still slouch to a certain degree.

How NOT to sit

How NOT to sit

In the photo above, you might think that this is an okay way to sit because my back is supported.    But here’s the problem.   Look at my lower back.   It is flattened and there is no lumbar/inward curve in the spine.   If you have a herniated disc, osteoporosis or sciatica, sitting like this (or slouching even more) is going to make the problem worse.

Here’s what I show all of my clients.   It’s the proper way to sit with support.   It will feel a little “rigid” at first but it will quickly become comfortable.

First, you will need a good-sized bath towel.    Fold it in half lengthwise.   Start rolling it up until it’s a cylinder and secure the ends with elastics or duct tape.    When it’s finished, it should be 6 to 8 inches in diameter.     Now sit in your chair and wiggle your hips all the way to the very back of the seat.    Lean forward and place the roll behind your navel in the curve of your lower back.    There!   Now when you sit, your lower back has the lumbar curve in it but it is supported by the towel.     You’ll notice in the photo below that my spine is more vertical when compared to the first photo.   I’m not leaning back.    When sitting correctly, you should be able to draw a vertical line from the earlobe, through the shoulder to the hip.   In this photo, you can do that.   In the photo above, the line is not vertical at all!

How to sit properly using a lumbar support

How to sit properly using a lumbar support

You can buy a lumbar roll instead of using a towel, but make sure it’s big enough.   Many of the ones that I’ve seen are only 3 – 4 inches in diameter which is not big enough for an adult.

Remember if you have questions, add a comment here or email me via the website (on the right).  And I’d really appreciate it if you would check out the workouts that I have on my website.    There are even special workouts for osteoporosis and herniated discs that teach you how to strengthen your abs while keeping the lumbar curve intact.



July 10, 2012

 Personalizing Pilates BBB Accredited!


Personalizing Pilates is now Better Business Bureau (BBB) accredited!   That means that you can purchase and download my Pilates MP3 workouts without any worries or hassles!    I have always promised great workouts and great service and now you have the BBB’s guarantee as well.    You can preview and purchase workouts at or simply click on the gravatar on the right hand side of this page.

All the best,


June 14, 2012

Great Ab Strengthener for Herniated Disc

Many folks who have spinal conditions are told that they need to strengthen their abs but that they are not meant to do ab curls because they cause pain.   So if you have a herniated disc or osteoporosis, how are you meant to get stronger abs without doing curls?

Here’s an exercise for you that will not hurt your back but will really challenge your abs.

Lie on your back and fold in both legs to a “tabletop” position.  In this position, your shins are parallel to the floor.

Make sure that you have space underneath your lower back.   Do NOT flatten your back to the floor.    You should have enough space underneath your lower back that you can easily slide your hand underneath.    The first photograph shows the correct starting position.

Keep  your knees bent at 90 degrees throughout the exercise.

Take a deep breath in.  As you exhale, engage your abdominals and unfold one hip so that your foot touches the floor.

As you exhale again, switch legs.

Repeat 10 times.

The most important thing to remember is that you must keep space beneath your lower back.    This is the spine’s strongest position where the vertebrae all “lock together” so its important to strengthen the abdominals with the spine in this position.

I have created two different workouts that are great for strengthening your abs if you have any sort of spinal condition that prohibits you from doing traditional curls.  If you go to my website, you can download the Herniated Disc or Osteoporosis workouts.   Both are safe to do and I promise that they will help you!   Simply click on the gravatar on the right side of this page or go to

If you have any questions or need help, let me know.


March 31, 2012

Great Glutes!

Filed under: Ab exercises,glutes — personalizing pilates @ 4:11 pm


I have a wonderful client who refers to the back of her thighs as “the dead zone”!    So we always do this exercise in class, just for her.  It’s a great exercise to strengthen and shape the backs of your thighs and your glutes.  And it will strengthen your deepest abs so that your tummy is flatter!

Your primary goal doing this exercise is to keep your hips level.

Start with both feet flat on the floor.  Arms rest by your sides.   Starting at your tailbone, start to curl your spine up off the mat one vertebra at a time until your hips are floating in the air.  Check if your hips are level, left to right as in the first photo.

Take a deep breath in and as you exhale, draw your navel towards your spine and lift your right foot off the mat just a couple of inches as in the second (are your hips still level???).   Place your foot down and switch.    Work up to doing 10 repetitions in total (5 each side).

Modification:   If you cannot lift your foot off, try lifting just your heel off the mat keeping your toes down, as if you were wearing a high heel on one foot.  Once your hamstrings, glutes and abs get stronger, try lifting the whole foot.

December 1, 2011

Standing Pilates to strengthen your hips

Hi there!

I have a lot of clients who have osteoporosis and I teach them this exercise so that they can train for balance, stability and strength in their hips.   It’s always surprising that one hip is so much stronger than the other so do a few more reps of this exercise on your weaker side.      You can also download this exercise from my website – the exercise changes monthly so check back at the beginning of each month!

Exercise of the Month for December 2011

Joan Breibart, head of the PhysicalMind Institute in New York, created this exercise and included it in her book “Standing Pilates”.  I love this exercise because it can be done just about anywhere, anytime.   It’s great for mobilizing the hip joint and for strengthening the muscles that support the hips.  This exercise is fantastic if you have osteoporosis because it’s weight bearing and I’ve included in my Personalizing Pilates/osteoporosis workout.   It’s also in the Runners workout since runners need strong hips and balance because there is always just one foot on the ground when running.

  • Stand with your weight on the four corners of your right foot (base of big and baby toes, inner and outer heels).
  • Place your left heel on top of your right foot.
  • Your hips will be facing forward (a) and your eyes will be on your horizon.
  • Inhale and slide your right hip out to the right side (b).
  • Exhale and slide it back underneath you (a).
  • Repeat six or eight times and switch sides.

Start position

Slide your hip

November 18, 2011

Lower Back Strengthener

Hi everyone,

As a Pilates teacher, I see many people who have lower back pain and problems.   I would estimate that 90% of these problems come from poor posture and from sitting way too much.    Our bodies are not designed for sitting but too many of us sit for hours and hours each day.   I dare you to calculate how many hours a day you sit – from eating breakfast, commuting, working at your desk, eating dinner and watching television.   It’s not uncommon to hear that people are sitting for 8 – 12 hours a day!  No wonder their backs hurt.

Here’s an easy exercise that you can do just about anywhere and anytime.  It’s not a classical Pilates exercise although you could say that it’s a version of Joseph’s swimming or flight exercise.   It’s known as a McKenzie exercise, named after Robin McKenzie who is one of the world’s leading authorities on lower back pain.

To do the exercise, follow these cues:

  1. Stand with your feet a bit wider apart than your hips
  2. Keep your knees straight
  3. Place your hands in the small of your lower back, fingers turned inward
  4. Imagine doing a back dive over your hands, lifting your heart out of your chest
  5. Hold for a couple of breaths
  6. Repeat three times

Try to do this exercise every hour or so when you need to sit.   If you’re at the office, you can do it in the washroom where it is private.   It will help to strengthen your lower back safely.

Questions?  Don’t hesitate to email me.   I’m here to help.

And please check out the downloadable MP3 workouts on my website.   They’re easy to follow and very effective.   Plus, if you input promo code 4001 when you place your order, you’ll get 10% off your entire order!


October 22, 2011

Hip Flexor Stretch

Good Morning Everyone!

The Toronto Marathon was completed this past weekend and  I have several clients and acquaintances who ran the full or the half marathon.   I want to share a stretch with you that I teach my runners.   It’s also a great stretch to do after you have been sitting for a long period of time.

The hip flexors are a group of muscles that fold the hip.   They pull the leg forward and they all attach at the pelvis or in the case of the psoas muscle, to the vertebrae of the lower back.   When the hip flexors are tight, they can cause lower back discomfort.

I would recommend doing this stretch every day, whether you have gone out for a run or not.

  • Start lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet wide apart (wider than your hips).
  • Reach your arms to the sides
  • Look at the ceiling.
  • Sway both knees to the right (as shown in the photo)
  • Reach your left (top) knee away from you so that the front of your left hip lengthens.  Your left hip will lift up off the mat a bit.
  • Hold for 3 breaths and switch.  Repeat 3 times on each side.

wide knee sway hip stretch

It’s common that one hip is tighter than the other so I recommend holding the stretch longer on that side.

I have a great Pilates for Runners workout available.   It’s a downloadable MP3 iPod workout that comes with photos.   Kathrine Switzer, the first woman who ever ran the Boston Marathon, does the workout and she says its “tremendous”.    Please check it out!

Let me know if you have questions!


October 6, 2009

How to protect your lower back

Hi everyone!

I wanted to pass along a neat trick that I learned that is really helpful for people who have a weak or sore lower back.    This is not a Pilates exercise, but more of what I call a “common sense” technique that is easy to incorporate into daily life.    

One of the best ways to hurt your lower back is to bend forward and pick up something.    For example, bending forward and picking up a bag of groceries or even a pair of shoes off the floor will put a lot of strain on the small, supportive muscles of your lower back.     The first photo below is a perfect example of what NOT to do.    The model is bending forward with a rounded spine with both arms reaching down to pick up the weight.    


How NOT to pick up something

How NOT to pick up something

A better way to pick up something is to have “three points of support” – two feet and one hand.    The photo below shows a better way to pick up the weight.   The model is bending forward as well as reaching her hips back a bit so that her back is not rounded as in the first photo.   Notice that she also has one hand on her thigh.   She has lots of weight on her hand so that there is less stress on her lower back.   Once she picks up the weight, she uses her hand to push herself back up so that the small muscles of the lower back are protected.





3 Points of Support (2 feet and 1 hand)

3 Points of Support (2 feet and 1 hand)




If you have any spinal conditions, this is really important for you to do when picking up objects (even light ones!).   Even if your spine is healthy, why risk having a herniated disc?

Remember, I’m here to help if you have questions.   My e-mail and website are on the right side of the page!



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