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
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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.



  1. Hi Sherry,
    Hope you’re doing well, sorry for the late reply and thank you for your time!

    What i believe happened was: I woke up one morning with a stiff neck on my left side; something i thought i could just stretch out with a few neck rolls. What made it worse was doing a series of shoulder and headstands during Ashtanga later that evening. By the end of the night, it was painful to use my left neck muscles (ie putting my head down on my pillow or getting up) and the next morning it was difficult to turn my head. After quite a bit of massages i now have much more movement in my neck can feel it is still quite stiff on my left side. Although the discomfort is slowly subsiding, it is most uncomfortable when i have to turn my head fully to either side (ie blind spot checking) and i can now hear a faint crackling if pull my left ear to my left shoulder.

    Any stretches or exercises which can help strengthen my neck and shoulder muscles would be greatly appreciated.
    I thank you in advance for your thoughts.

    Kind Regards,

    Comment by Tiffany Tang — July 31, 2009 @ 3:19 am | Reply

    • Hi Tiffany,

      Sorry to hear that your neck is sore, but here’s a couple of stretches that will help.

      They are both done sitting so you can do them anywhere!
      Sit on a chair and tuck your left hand (palm up) under your left hip. Imagine tipping water out of your right ear onto your right shoulder. Hold for a few breaths. Slowly move your head so that you are looking down at your right knee. Hold for a few breaths. Slowly release. Switch sides.

      The second stretch is one that I call “the turtle”. Sit tall and look at something on your horizon. Imagine that you are a turtle. Slowly pull your head back as if you were a turtle retracting its head back into its shell. Make sure that you don’t lift your chin. Look straight ahead. Hold for 3 breaths. Repeat 3 times.

      Both of these exercises mobilize the “facet” joints (the side joints) of the cervical vertebrae. Whenever you feel tight on one side, or you cannot turn your head, try these. They will help!
      Please let me know how they work out and how you feel!

      Comment by personalizing pilates — August 4, 2009 @ 8:48 pm | Reply

  2. Hi Sherry,
    Thanks for your quick response.
    I’ve been doing the stretches you’ve recommended a few times a day and find that they are really helping!
    I’ll be directing my friends and family to your expertise should they have any injuries.

    Best regards,

    Comment by Tiffany — August 12, 2009 @ 12:00 pm | Reply

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