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.

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!


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,


July 12, 2009

Hi World!

Filed under: Uncategorized — personalizing pilates @ 6:22 pm
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Hi everyone!

I have just set up my new blog!    I’d like to introduce myself and let you know that I am here to help you with any questions that you may have about Pilates.

First, let me tell you a bit about me.   I am a PMA Certified Pilates Teacher.   What that means is that I have passed a National Certification Exam that was set by the Pilates Method Alliance (PMA).   Pilates teachers can do their training at many different facilities and the curriculum and quality of teaching can vary so the PMA has set the standard for Pilates teachers.   There are less than thirty PMA Certified Pilates Teachers in Canada and I am proud to be one of them!     I did my Pilates training through the PhysicalMind Institute which is based in New York.   I am certified to teach mat Pilates as well as Pilates using the reformer, cadillac and wunda chair.   I’m also certified to teach Standing Pilates.  

I have taught fitness (as an ACE certified aerobics teacher  and personal trainer) for over twenty five years and Pilates for more than ten years.   I have a private studio where I work with clients with various needs including general fitness to herniated discs, sciatica, amputations, osteoporosis and motor vehicle accidents.    My studio is in a chiropractor’s office and over the years  I have picked up some really great exercises and tips to help my clients and I will be passing these along to you over time! 

I will be blogging about exercises and ways that Pilates can help various spinal conditions.   However, I am much more interested in helping you with your specific questions and needs.   So please send me your questions!   I’m happy to help you.


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