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.

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.


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 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!



September 23, 2009

Abdominal Anatomy & How to Flatten Your Tummy

Hi everyone!

I was working with a new client this week who was referred to me by her chiropractor.   She came to me because she has lower back pain and her core stability needs a bit of work.    When we were chatting to determine her goals, she said that she didn’t understand why her back was sore because she did sit-ups every day and that her abdominals were strong.    When I did a few tests for her abdominal strength, we determined that she was actually very weak.     Once I taught her a bit about the anatomy of the abdominals, she understood why sit-ups weren’t helping her back (in fact, they were making it weaker).    

There are four different layers of abdominal muscles.  

Most of us are very familiar with the outermost, superficial layer because this layer creates the “six-pack” look that you see on fitness models.   This outermost layer is called the Rectus Abdominus.    The job of the Rectus Abdominus is to curl the trunk forward so it’s the main layer of abdominal muscle that  is used when you do a traditional sit-up.     Most people who want to flatten their tummy will start doing lots and lots of sit-ups so that they have a strong outer layer of muscle.   Unfortunately, this is NOT the way to flatten the tummy because flattening the tummy is the job of a different layer of abdominal muscle.

The next two layers of abdominal muscle are called the Outer and Inner Obliques.   These two layers of muscle wrap around the body on an angle and their job is to curl and twist the trunk.   So if you are a golfer, these muscles need to be strong!

The fourth layer is the innermost layer of abdominal muscle.  It’s called the Transversus Abdominus.   It is like a corset that wraps around the body and holds everything in place.    This is the layer of abdominal muscle that supports the spine so that you don’t have lower back pain.   It’s also the layer of muscle that you need to strengthen if you want to flatten your tummy!

If you want to flatten your tummy, here’s an easy exercise that will strengthen the innermost Transversus Abdominis muscle.

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat
  • Place one hand underneath your lower back
  • Place the other hand on top of your navel
  • Take a breath in through your nose
  • When you exhale, gently pull your navel down towards your bottom hand (avoid doing a pelvic tilt!)

When you exhale, you will feel that your tummy flattens underneath your top hand!   That’s the Transversus Abdominis muscle doing its job!

It’s important NOT to flatten your lower back when you do this exercise because doing so actually weakens the lower back.  So gently pull your navel down when you exhale but try not to squish your bottom hand!

Need help?  Have questions?   Let me know….I’m happy to help you!


September 1, 2009

How to Exercise with a Herniated Disc

A herniated or bulging disc is a very common spinal condition that causes pain in the buttock and down the leg.   It’s important to strengthen the lower back and abdominal muscles so that the pain is minimized or eliminated.  

However, the problem is that this condition is made worse whenever you bend or curl the trunk forward.   So abdominal curls and any sort of ‘classic’ abdominal exercise is going to not only cause pain, but also exacerbate the problem.    I’m estimating that three-quarters of all classic Pilates exercises involve curling the trunk so that means that you absolutely cannot do these exercises.    Exercises such as The Hundred, Rolling Like a Ball, and the Single/Double Leg Stretch are not to be done!   

So how are you going to strengthen your abs and back muscles if you can’t do a curl up?     

Easy.   The simplest way is to do back-bending exercises and include only those exercises that can be modifed so that they are done in a ‘neutral pelvis’ position.    If you’re not sure about ‘neutral pelvis’, there is an earlier entry on my blog so check it out.   There is also a good back bending exercise that I posted in July.   It’s easy and safe if you have a herniated disc and it will help eliminate the pain you feel.    

I created a workout especially for folks with herniated discs – there’s no forward bending at all but it’s still a great workout for your abs.   You can listen to an exercise from the workout on my website (link on the right side of this page) – it’s on the Shop and Sample page.     It’s downloadable, green (no packaging!) and it’s an MP3 format compatible with iPods and all MP3 players.

If you have any questions about how to strengthen your back safely, let me know.   I’m happy to help!


August 18, 2009

No Pelvic Tilts,please!! How to have a strong lower back!

For many years, starting in the early 80’s  I taught aerobics.  One of the things that I remember clearly when teaching abdominal work was to do a pelvic tilt and press the lower back down to the mat so that it flattened.   We always said that you should do this to protect your lower back.     Even Joseph Pilates wrote that the lower back should be flattened when doing exercises. His reasoning was that when we were a fetus, our spines were rounded like a C and this was the proper curve for the spine – this was the prevailing wisdom in the 1930’s.

Sadly, we were not only misleading people but we probably hurt more than a few people as well with this cue.   

Over the years, we have learned that the lower back should have a natural inward curve to it.    It should not be flat.   When you are lying on your back, there should be two places in your spine that do NOT touch the mat – the back of your neck and your lower back.   The inward curve in the lower back is critically important for a strong and healthy spine.   Think of it like the foundation of a tall building – when it is strong, the rest of the building is strong and solid.    Doing abdominal work with the lower back flattened overstretches the small muscles that support this area of the spine and it creates weakness.   Worse, it can lead to herniated discs, sciatica, lower back pain and other spinal problems.

When doing Pilates, it’s really important to have what we call a “neutral pelvis”.   This position of pelvis is defined by 3 bones – the two hip bones and the pubic bone (see below).

two hipbones and pubic bone


When you are lying on your back, these three bones will form a level plane when you have a neutral pelvis.   In this position, there will be an inward curve in your lower back and it will NOT touch the mat.   It’s hard to see in the photos below, but there is enough space that I can slip my hand underneath my lower back.   It’s not flattened.     In the second photo, you can see that the three bones are level and you could balance a cup of tea on my hands and it would not spill.   (In a pelvic tilt, the tea would be slopping into my navel!)

neutral pelvis


neutral pelvis with hands

If you have any sort of spinal condition (such as sciatica, a herniated disc, osteoporosis) it is absolutely critical that you work in a neutral pelvis position.   Flattening your lower back will cause you pain and can make your condition worse.   My neighbour had one herniated disc at L3/L4 and managed to herniate a second one by doing ab work with a flat back.

All of my downloadable workouts include an Ab Tutorial that teaches you how to find and hold a neutral pelvis.  All abdominal work is done with this position so that you are strengthening the foundation of your spine in it’s optimal position.     Check out the workouts that I have available (my website is on the right side of this page!)   

If you are not sure which one is best for you, email me and I’ll help you!

Take care,


August 9, 2009

Pilates makes you younger!

Filed under: lower back exercises,pilates,sore lower back,sore neck — personalizing pilates @ 8:29 pm

In an earlier post, I talked about Pilates being the fountain of youth and I promised to share my own personal before and after photos.    So here’s my story.

I was cleaning drawers out a couple of years ago and I found this first photo.   I was horrified.   It  was taken in 1989 just before I turned 33.    Note the great 80’s sunglasses (aren’t they back in fashion now?).   At the time, I was working out a lot.  I taught aerobics four or five times a week and I was doing weights as well.   I also worked in the corporate world so I sat at my desk for endless hours every day.   Despite all the exercise, look at how horrible my posture was!!!!   I stood like an old woman.    My upper back is rounded and I had the beginnings of a Dowager’s hump which is directly related to poor posture.   My neck hurt so much that I had trouble turning my head and I had frequent headaches.    I had not started doing Pilates yet, in fact, I didn’t even begin with Pilates for another seven years and my posture only got worse!


Sherry before

My ‘after’ photo was taken 16 years later!   I was standing on the dock and I didn’t hear my husband sneaking up to take the photo – so I didn’t have any chance to correct my posture.   And look at the difference!   I’m standing tall, I’m not rounded forward and the Dowager’s hump thing has gone!    And the only thing that I can attribute this change to is Pilates.     My neck pain is gone and I can put on my socks without my hips hurting!!  


Sherry after


I am sharing these photos to show you that you can change  your posture, how you feel and how you look by being consistent with some basic Pilates exercises just 2 or 3 times a week.    If you need help, please let me know.    My email and website are on the right side of the page.

Have a good one!

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