How to become a Pilates Instructor in 5 Steps

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I was smiling as I typed the title for this blog as I remember so clearly typing those very same words into a search engine a few years ago, the beginning of my journey.  

The 5 steps to becoming a Pilates instructor are:

  1. Take up Pilates
  2. Select a training provider
  3. Qualify as a Pilates instructor
  4. Setup shop
  5. Start teaching

This may well be the beginning of a new chapter for you, are you toying with a new career path?  Looking for a new adventure? Do you want to retrain?  Are you wondering where to start and which company to invest your money and time with to train to become a Pilates Instructor?

I would imagine you have lots of questions, I know I did. Let me share my experience and things I’ve learnt along the way.

Step 1: Take Up Pilates

I know this sounds obvious, but the first step really is learning Pilates to gain a basic knowledge and understanding of the benefits it provides your body.  It takes time to become good at Pilates and to try out the various styles to see which you like best.

Learn from others first, try out different classes, watch a range of YouTube channels, go on retreats and soak up the training methods and gain that hands-on experience. Ask yourself the following:

  • Which style do you feel passionate about?
  • What do you like about different Pilates instructors?  
  • How do they motivate you to progress?

The path to becoming an instructor is to first be a student, take private lessons or do a variety of classes and see what style you like.  

When considering which course to take you’ll need decide between two main concepts: Contemporary or Classical. 

Contemporary Pilates applies the exercise concepts created by the methods founder Joseph Pilates and adds a modern twist. Whilst some exercises are the same as in Classical Pilates, many more have been added and are often used for Rehabilitation from injury. The classical exercises have been adapted to fit with modern research and have influences from Biomechanics and Physical Therapy.  Contemporary Pilates generally teaches the exercises with the pelvis in a neutral position. When you lie on the floor with your pelvis in a neutral position the spine will have some space between the floor and spine, mimicking the position of one’s spine when standing with good posture. 

Classical Mat Pilates focuses strictly on the concepts devised and developed by Joseph Pilates. He created a set order of exercises on the mat and reformer. Whilst in modern day there may be variations of the order in which the exercises are taught as well as some changes in the exact way that Pilates wanted the exercises to be taught and performed. However, a true Classical Pilates teacher won’t deviate from his order. Pilates intention was that this order would create a structure for teachers to follow, whilst creating a balance between one’s mind and body.  With Classical Mat Pilates much emphasis is placed upon the position of the pelvis during mat work. Classical mat Pilates will generally teach abdominal exercises with the pelvis in a ‘posterior tilt’, creating a tuck in the pelvis. Imagine you are lying on the floor resting a marble on your lower abdomen and rolling the marble towards your naval by tucking your pelvis, this creates a ‘posterior tilt’.

Joseph Pilates is regarded as an innovator and throughout his lifetime was continuously looking for ways to develop his method. Having passed away in 1967 he wasn’t aware of the many biological discoveries from the past half a century which may well have informed his work and created adaptations. For example with the development of smartphones and computers many people have a far more sedentary working life and sit for hours and hours each day in positions that will tighten and restrict shoulder and hip mobility whilst increasing postural kyphosis in the thoracic spine. The classical method does not take this into consideration as it wasn’t a life style factor at the time for Joseph Pilates to consider. 

Decide if you are more of a traditionalist and want to stay true to Joseph Pilates original ideas or whether you wish to evolve his method and add more creativity in your teaching. Once you have attended classes taught by teachers from both backgrounds and experienced the teaching styles for yourself it will help to inform your decision as to which type of Pilates training will fit with your personality, mind and body.  

There is a second reason to study existing Pilates instructors, not only should you observe how they teach and interact with clients, you should also study as much of the business as possible.  Consider:

  • How do they market services? / How did you find out about them?
  • How do they communicate with clients? 
  • How are services priced?
  • What additional products/services do they offer?
  • What insurance do they have?

If you become a full time Pilates instructor who works for someone else then business details may not applicable, but if you have aspirations to start your own studio you’ll need an additional set of skills to deal with the business side of things.

Step 2: Select a Training provider

Once you’re comfortable in your own Pilates practice it’s time to undergo training to become an instructor.  Who should you train with?  The simple answer is it’s up to you! How much money can you afford to invest and how much time do you have to train?

In the fitness industry low cost often equates to low standard. You are going to be working with clients who have muscle imbalances, people recovering from injury, pre and post-natal, so I would suggest choosing a certification program with depth that involves you being assessed for numerous hours in your teaching practice and is regarded highly in the industry. 

Avoid online courses!  I see so many of these low cost courses advertised and there is no way you can deal correctly with clients based on a few video lessons, if you’re serious about becoming an instructor there are no shortcuts, you need to do the work via a proper training school.

When I was doing my research, trying to figure out which Pilates school to join, the companies that were recommended and mentioned repeatedly were:

All are recognised as world leaders in Pilates teacher training and offer courses worldwide. 

Taking a Pilates course to become a teacher will ultimately result in you gaining a qualification, the course element is just like driving lessons giving you experience of driving on the road before taking (and hopefully passing!) your final test.

Nothing beats experience, I remember passing my driving test, the more I drove my car the greater my confidence, intuition and experience and the same has been true for me once I’d qualified as a Pilates instructor.

You learn so much more about Pilates and how to adapt it to the needs of individuals once you are qualified, the more you teach, the more in-depth your knowledge.

All Pilates courses from the companies mentioned above will allow you to legally teach, there is no wrong course. Some training courses go into more detail than others, some courses require you to be observed teaching hours and hours of classes before a final teaching assessment (this was my experience with Body Control Pilates).

I suppose its like anything, the more time you invest the greater your reward will be.  For me (and others on my course) I felt that whilst it was time-consuming the hours of teaching practice enabled me to build my confidence and gave me the opportunity to ask questions and deepen my understanding. I am glad I didn’t go for a quick fix and chose a challenging, fun, in-depth teacher training course with Body Control Pilates. 

I think it’s worth mentioning that most Pilates schools allow people who haven’t trained with them to attend workshops, filling gaps in their knowledge. You can also sign up for a bridging course transferring what you have learnt over to a new Pilates school if you choose to.  

Step 3: Qualify as a Pilates Instructor

Once you’ve selected your training provider you’re ready to begin your professional development!  At this stage I’m sure you have a lot of questions, let me try to answer some of them for you.

How much does it cost to become a Pilates instructor? 

To become a Pilates instructor you can expect to pay from £2500 / $3000 upwards for an in-depth comprehensive training course.

Assess and compare the cost of training as a Mat Pilates teacher and Reformer Teacher separately as opposed to the cost of doing a combined course and then compare the depth and detail of each course to assess value for money.

I would say that you get what you pay for, the deeper your knowledge and understanding the better teacher you will potentially be and this will impact on your success and earnings.  

Do Pilates instructors need certification?

In order to gain Pilates insurance you will need to demonstrate you have comprehensive certification from a recognised organisation.  This demonstrates to the insurer you have hours of training which has been independently assessed for a period of time.

Am I too young/old to become a Pilates instructor?

If you are in good physical health and regularly practice Pilates you are fine to consider becoming an instructor.

On my course there was such a wide age range, males and females, aged 20s to late 50s. I loved that we came from diverse backgrounds but all shared a passion for Pilates.

Your age may impact on who you would like to teach and inspire but being older or younger won’t impact whether you can train to be a teacher.

One of the many fabulous things about Pilates is that it’s suitable for anyone to practice regardless of age, you choose the intensity level, you can choose it you want to work with or without equipment and if you prefer to teach in a class environment or 1-2-1’s. 

Is my body flexible enough to become a Pilates teacher? 

He, he, I think this is as frequently asked as ‘Am I fit enough’, another common worry. 

I think the most important thing is your passion and interest in Pilates. In my experience your flexibility will naturally improve as you practice and teach Pilates as hopefully will your level of fitness. Teaching Pilates is about encouraging and supporting others to move with confidence and control. Your desire to teach is, I would say, more important than your ability to be super flexible or strong. Our role is teachers of movement and this can be done in numerous ways. 

Can I train as a Pilates teacher and continue working?

Providing you have the time for both you can train as a Pilates instructor while continuing to work.

Most courses offer a mixture of Intensive and Extended training. Extended training happens at weekends and intensive takes place in bigger blocks of consecutive days.

The key is finding a course that works around your needs, commitments and life demands. Aside from the tuition days, you will need to find time to study for your ‘Anatomy’ exams and other self study such as essays and assignments. 

Check, does the course indicate a minimum number of supervised teaching hours? If you are currently working factor in how will you fit this around your working hours. 

How long will it take to Qualify as a Pilates Instructor? 

Most courses will give an indication of how long you can expect the training to take as a minimum. It’s really important to be realistic about how much time you can devote to your training and supervised teaching each week. This may impact which course you ultimately choose. With some courses you will focus purely on Mat Pilates and once you have gained your teaching certificate you would then take an additional course to become a Reformer Teacher. Other courses offer a combination of Mat and Reformer training in one course.  

I chose to train with Body Control Pilates whose head office is in London, UK. I signed up for the Intensive course which involved two blocks of Tuition, firstly a 6-day block and then a 7-day block with a three-week break in between.

Following this I began my Supervised Teaching with teaching Supervisors in my local area for 3-5 hours per week.

I attended three further full student days in London.

I was required to sit two anatomy exams, write a couple of essays and complete half a dozen assignments.

By the time I had my final teaching assessment in London I had completed over 70 hours Supervised Teaching.

From beginning to end this took me 7 months whilst working part-time, had I been working full time it would have taken much longer.

It was intense and in depth and on reflection I am so glad I chose a course with such depth and with a big emphasis on the teaching practice.

Will I be able to make a living as a Pilates teacher? How much will I earn?

Yes you can make a living as a Pilates instructor if you build up a regular client base.

To make this a full time career you’ll need clients that visit you regularly, it’s not uncommon for new instructors to start slowly via a few classes per week while building up the client base and maintain part-time work elsewhere to ensure a regular income.

Pilates is becoming more & more popular and I have found there is a huge demand for good teachers, but how much you earn will depend on your overheads, where you live and I ultimately how good a teacher you are.

If you live in the UK and teach in London, teachers can earn nearly double what they earn for a private session in other parts of the country but then the cost of living is so much higher in London, so it is all relative. 

Step 4: Setup Shop

Congratulations!  You’ve qualified as a Pilates instructor and are ready to establish yourself.  So what’s next?

Once you qualify you’ll need to decide if you intend to teach classes for a studio or gym for (which you will probably be paid a set rate per class) or a mixture of the two.

Working for an established studio/gym has advantages, you just need to teach the classes, they worry about marketing, pricing, gaining and retaining customers.  This can be a useful when you start out, allowing you to quickly gain additional experience interacting with clients and giving you a regular income.

There is also a security element, working for an established studio or gym means you’ll be with co-workers and have an element of safety, if you are going to teach private clients would you want to invite them into your home?

If setting up your own practice consider the following:

  • Where will you teach?  If you intend to hire your own room/studio you will need to factor in the cost of hiring the venue and travel costs to/from the studio.
  • Do you have good quality equipment for clients to use?  Factor in any expense from purchasing equipment use such as mats and props.
  • How will you advertise and promote these classes?  Once you have some happy clients word of mouth will help you gain more, but to start with consider advertising on locally.
  • How will your price your services?  I’d recommend having a price for a single session and a discounted rate for buy a block of sessions in advance.

The advantage of starting on your own is you will be paid per client and could potentially earn more per hour than you would working for a studio, but remember you will have greater overheads and an increased workload in running all aspects of your business. 

When starting out you don’t necessarily need a website, but I’m glad I had one set up as not only did it give potential clients a way to find out more about me and the services I offer it also opened the door to Google Maps.  

I’m not a techie person, I employed iindigo to set up my website and email, and they also suggested (and set up for me) a Google Maps listing.  This literally puts your new business on the map and I immediately noticed an increase in the number of potential new clients contacting me after seeing me listed on Google Maps, it’s well worth the investment.

In person classes came to a shuddering halt in 2020 thanks to the global pandemic. Having to stop teaching in person meant Pilates teaches, myself included, have resorted to teaching classes online.

This posed a new set of challenges as I didn’t have an online booking system for in person classes.  I managed to resolve this by using a combination of Zoom and https://goteamup.com/ who I highly recommend as they made transitioning to online very easy:

  • Online booking form that can be added to your website
  • Integrates with Zoom and automatically sends out the correct join links to clients
  • Allows you to set different pricing and packages
  • Very helpful customer service

As we tentatively start to reduce restrictions here in the UK and begin to work towards a new normal we don’t know as yet if this trend of attending classes online will remain as popular. For many teachers it has enabled them to continue earning a living teaching Pilates with reduced overheads. 

Sadly in the UK teaching outdoors on a regular basis isn’t an option but if you are lucky enough to teach in a warmer climate Pilates on the beach or in the park may be something you could consider. 

Step 5: Start Teaching!

The demand is there. Pilates is a method that once explored and enjoyed, people will continue with this method for years, decades in fact, adapting it to their age, stage of life and fitness goals.

Once a client finds a teacher that inspires them they are very loyal and will become a client for years. Take your time choosing the right course for you, learn your craft well and yes you will be able to make a living as a Pilates teacher teaching a mixture of private sessions and classes.

I wish you luck as you begin your journey and hope you have lots of fun along the way.  My qualification as a Pilates teacher with Body Control Pilates is something I am very proud of.  The learning continues daily through teaching and working with clients and continuing my education with additional courses. 

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