Shape up with Pilates


Legendary choreographers Martha Graham and George Balanchine did it. Julia Roberts and Madonna do it. And so do players from the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals and the San Francisco 49ers.

The “it” is Pilates, exercises devised in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates as a way to increase a person’s strength and flexibility without adding bulk.

Certified instructors

Pilates isn’t as widespread an activity as jogging or swimming, of course, but its popularity continues to grow in Canada and around the world and so creates the demand for certified instructors.

There’s no central certifying body for would-be Pilates instructors, but there are individual schools in the GTA that offer courses of varying duration and complexity, although all start their programs with what’s generally called “mat work” or exercises performed on a mat using the participant’s body and gravity to work out — and occasionally a small piece of equipment.

The acknowledged big name among the studios that teach Pilates instructors is Stott Pilates in Toronto. Moira Merrithew, who started the company with her husband in 1988, says to take the Intensive Mat-Plus program that Stott offers, potential instructors need a fitness or movement teaching background of at least three years, a good grounding in anatomy and 30 hours of more Pilates classes.

Once enrolled, the 95-hour course provides 40 hours of instruction and supervised teaching, at least 10 hours observation of Pilates classes, a minimum of 30 hours of physical review and another 15 hours of teaching.

Fast track

At Body Harmonics, also in Toronto, founder and teacher Margot McKinnon says someone on the fast track could be fully trained in all aspects of Pilates — matwork and equipment — at her studio in a year to 18 months. “There is a designated course of study at Body Harmonics tailored to the people taking it,” says McKinnon, who has a graduate degree in adult education from U of T.

Christine de Bellefeuille, a former dancer who trained at Stott, began Total Balance Fitness Studio and Clinic in Oakville five years ago.

She offers an intensive course in mat work that runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday for two weeks and which lasts 48 hours. Her teaching course is open to anyone, not just dancers or fitness instructors, but they need a background in movement and anatomy, de Bellefeuille says.

At Second Wind Pilates Plus in Mississauga, owner and director Danielle Belec, who has an M.A. in movement analysis, says she offers certification first in mat and then in equipment. She too says students “need to understand the basics of anatomy and alignment.”

It’s mostly women who learn to become Pilates instructors. However, beyond that, the studio heads say backgrounds are all over the place.

Belec says she gets women from their late teens to their early 60s who are housewives, nurses, fitness trainers, massage therapists and chiropractors. And Merrithew recalls one woman who was 75 and came up from Minnesota to be certified at Stott.

Cost varies

The cost of becoming a Pilates instructor varies. De Bellefeuille, for example, charges $1,400 for her mat course, which she says is pretty much the going rate. At Body Harmonics, McKinnon says to be fully certified at all levels costs $6,000.

Job prospects vary, and would-be instructors need to be, well, flexible about hours, location and pay — about $65 an hour for private lessons.

Nevertheless, “Jobs in Pilates are abundant,” McKinnon says. “You could make Pilates a full-time job. I see it all the time.”

Mary Jane Handy has been teaching Pilates at Second Wind since January and isn’t sold on making it a full-time career. “I’m finding it a lovely thing to do on a part-time basis,” says Handy, who plans to use her training north of the city when she and her husband retire there.

Quick facts

Pilates was devised by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s.

No two instructor studios are the same and they tend to be scarce in the GTA.

To become an instructor in Pilates a background in movement, fitness or physical therapy is generally recommended.

Instruction fees vary from course to course and from studio to studio.

There is no age barrier to becoming a Pilates instructor.