The challenge for a Pilates Instructor looking to develop a career or grow a business is to understand not only where the Pilates Market has come from to also to recognise where it is going and then to have the confidence to either move with it in broad terms or to make niche position within a perceived Niche which has some certainty to be a growth niche in the medium term. Five years ago in August 2013 an article in Health Club Management  entitled Pilates Predictions identified at that time that Pilates was beginning to move from its ‘girly image’  with views about it being for ‘yummy mummies’ or ‘ladies who lunch’ towards something more professional as more sports teams, physiotherapists and an older population started to see Pilates as an option to fit into their lifestyles. 

The challenge for a Pilates Instructor looking to develop a career or grow a business is to understand not only where the Pilates Market has come from to also to recognise where it is going

At this time Lynn Robinson, Founder and Director of Body Control Pilates pointed to the wide spectrum of elite sports teams and sports players using Pilates within their conditioning and rehab programming and she predicted that the image of Pilates would become less sedentary as instructors focussed on more physically challenging workouts conducted at a faster pace. Glenn Withers, Founding Director of APPI Health Group predicted the future of Pilates would be ‘getting off the mat’ or lying only positions on the Pilates Reformer with a move towards more functional upright positions to allow more suitable post rehab programming within Pilates.  He also predicted an increasing older population interest in Pilates and challenged the industry to focus more on Bone Health and falls prevention.

Align-Pilates M2-Pro Pilates Reformer model demo with sitting box

Balanced Body CEO Ken Endelman predicted a move in fitness programming towards more high intensity interval training (HIIT) programming fusing into the Pilates arena with Barre Programming growing and instructors challenging clients to hold positions for longer to create more muscle density than traditionally was the case in Pilates. My contribution at this time to the article was to predict an increasing movement in the UK away from mat based fitness Pilates towards Apparatus based Pilates with a more wellness focus. Five years on and the Pilates market in the UK seems, from where I sit, to be moving at a consumer and provider level to embrace the reality that traditional Pilates Matwork classes are, just as Glenn Withers predicted, not catering for the rapidly increasing growth in the older retired market where client preparedness to invest in lifestyle and health is often incompatible to Pilates on the Mat.

Between 2000 and 2005 Health Club operators Esporta and Holmes Place invested heavily in Pilates Studios in their flagship Health clubs only to find it impossible to operate them with insufficient Apparatus trained Instructors willing to be employed and very soon these chains were selling off their Pilates Apparatus Assets and moving to a policy of leasing space to Pilates instructors to run their own Studio businesses outside of their membership systems. The failure of the Apparatus Studio in the UK health Club during the first 5 years of the century scared away health club operators around Europe from revisiting a strategy of providing Pilates Apparatus studios within the Business plan of the health Club but this is now changing –  in the UK David Lloyd Health Clubs and Virgin Active are working with Apparatus suppliers like Align-Pilates and BASI Systems to market test and expand Pilates Studio provision as a part of a corporate strategy to embrace the value of Apparatus Pilates particularly to the older more wellness focussed market.       

Likewise I am seeing the growth in plans to integrate Pilates Apparatus studios into the ever increasing numbers of ‘retirement villages’  that are delivering flexible Real Estate propositions to cater for the retired right through from the early active retired and transitioning these clients through progressive support based housing options right through to care home provision all within the same general locality.

Align-Pilates A2RII Pilates reformer model demo with planking handles

Pilates Instructors are definitely ‘upskilling’  and the focus of Pilates training companies is less on their base Pilates Matwork and fitness oriented workshops and increasingly on Continuing Professional Development education with more options than ever for instructions to train in different ways and the most used word in the Pilates training Industry must be the term ‘Bridge’ as Companies no longer only look to focus on those students that they trained from scratch but instead seek to offer attractive routes to encourage Pilates Matwork instructors trained elsewhere to switch their allegiance as they seek Apparatus qualifications and Special Populations CPD and qualifications.

Whilst the training providers are changing their focus to upskilling rather than just training from scratch, there has been a distinct instructor movement to reject the sales tactics of larger ‘inside the box’ style Pilates training providers who threaten to disenfranchise instructors who reject taking CPD only with their initial training provider. 

The Pilates accreditation market has become more chaotic is the past 5 years as REPS failed and was taken on by Sports Coach UK who needed to revisit the idea of a ‘coach’ if they were not going to go the same way as REPS and lose any government funding.    CIMPSA saw the opportunity to enter more heavily the fitness accreditation market and compete head on with REPS by offering an accreditation alternative.

Five years ago there was a clear split in the Pilates market worldwide, based around the type of training that an instructor had initially chosen.  Those who had trained with training organisations focussed on replicating the teachings of Joseph Pilates in as close a fashion as possible fell into the ‘Classical’ camp, whilst those training with Schools prepared to deviate from the Classical approach and embrace the methodology of Pilates but apply it to Repertoire not suggested by Joseph Pilates or his immediate ‘disciples’ fell into a camp known as ‘Contemporary’.

Today in the UK this split is nowhere near as clear as Classical Instructors argue within their own ranks and cannot agree upon a definition of a Professional Pilates Instructor. Meanwhile there is a move amongst a social media noisy small group to suggest that Pilates Matwork instructors (the only truly accredited group of Pilates instructors in the UK if they hold a Pilates Matwork Level 3 qualification) are not in fact Pilates Professionals and to be a Pilates Professional it should be a requirement to be ‘Comprehensively Trained’ (Trained in all aspects of Pilates Apparatus as well as Pilates Matwork. 

The effect of the failures in the accreditation market as well as the internal infighting within groups of Pilates Instructors has been a transfer of Power from big Pilates Brands to Fitness Instructor Insurance companies. Up until five years ago the insurance companies who focussed on Fitness instructors took their guidance from a combination of REPS and the Big Fitness / Pilates brands such as Future Fit, YMCA, Pilates Foundation, Body Control Pilates, Polestar, BASI etc.  It was in these companies interests to control when and how a Pilates Instructor could gain insurance to teach as a Pilates Instructor.  As a result final accreditation at the end of years of training had been the norm.

Today the Insurance market has taken control away from the accreditation and education market and has taken a much more pragmatic view of the Pilates Instructor – viewing the Initial Pilates Qualification  (whether Pilates Matwork or Comprehensive Studio trained) as the baseline for insuring an instructor and then allowing an instructor to operate with more scope as they take CPD and can show training rather than accreditation in various areas.   This means that today an instructor can be fully insured to work on Pilates Apparatus without having taken a secondary qualification as a Comprehensive teacher, relying instead on a combination of an initial Pilates Matwork qualification and proven CPD on the Apparatus.   

Model with Pilates ring lying on Pilates mat by Pilates-Mad

The result of all the above is a Commercial Fitness market that is looking to embrace the clear benefits of Apparatus based Pilates as it seeks to profit from an Ageing population prepared to spend more on their lifestyle and wellness needs.   At the same time a more flexible workforce with large numbers of Pilates Matwork instructors able to transition much more rapidly than five years ago to work on Apparatus.   

I started this article with the statement that it is not only important to understand the market but to predict areas of growth and act on them if as a Pilates Business you are going to remain stable or grow your business. The next two article in this series will focus firstly on the Wellness Market and then will look at opportunities for micro Pilates Businesses as well as larger sized businesses within the growth sectors within the Wellness Market.

About the Author
Chris Onslow has been in the Pilates industry since 1999. He has sold or distributed Balanced Body, Stott-Pilates and Align-Pilates equipment in the UK and Europe and has owned Pilates Studios ranging from 600 square feet to 6000 square feet in size, with studios in Oxford, London and Witney. Chris brought Stott Pilates education to the UK in 2006 and now runs Mbodies Training Academy. He is a consultant for several Pilates studio operators and owners seeking to use his experience in the industry to ‘launch’, ‘develop’, and ‘refocus’ their Pilates focussed companies.