Is it the End of the Community Pilates Studio?
For as long as I can remember, I have been working on becoming a better Pilates instructor. But I have to level with you. Lately I’ve been in a funk. Heavy with doubt and uncertainty about my chosen field. Why?
With all the competition in the San Francisco Bay Area fitness industry it has felt like I’ve had to move faster and faster just to not get left behind. I can’t think of a better way to describe this feeling than by referencing Indiana Jones & the Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Jones snatches the gold treasure, replacing it with a bag of sand. He thinks for a minute that he’s successful and then the ceiling starts to collapse around him. He runs faster and faster and the boulders behind him are bigger and bigger.
The fitness trend is nothing new: don’t work out more, workout more intensely and it doesn’t matter if you’re doing it right, just do it. But, this time around this trend is different. Why is it different? Because this fitness trend now has all the backing of big companies which have big money and technology. The result?
High level Pilates instructors are being treated as commodities.
And, in my opinion, the service that a highly skilled, certified Pilates instructor offers cannot be mass produced and replicated. And to be perceived as a commodity means that the masses no longer see a qualitative differentiation across the marketplace.
Pilates has historically been an alignment based method, that was taught one-on-one or in small groups. This new pervasive, intensity-driven fitness model that has taken hold of many markets across the country, doesn’t seem to take into consideration the differences that are unique to the Pilates method. Instead, Pilates is lumped in with fitness in general which seems to squeeze out the ability for it to thrive, and I would argue for it to be Pilates.
Recently, I’ve been doubting my ability to compete in this new fitness market. Certainly as a small business entrepreneur I’ve had doubts in the past about my ability to manage everything from teaching to payroll to marketing. But lately I’ve been doubting how I could continue to battle the Goliath that has taken over the fitness industry, unsure how I could find a way to teach what I love. I’ve been asking myself questions like “Is my work still relevant?” “Do people no longer care about form, function, and longevity in fitness or do they just want to feel the burn?”
And please don’t misunderstand. I love to feel the burn. But I want to feel it with attention to form and function. What makes me excited about what I do is educating people about their bodies, building understanding, helping build functional strength, focusing on form, and training core strength, all while getting people to feel the intensity that the Pilates method can offer. I teach longevity, not short term, quick fixes. If I didn’t teach these things and just powered people through the same workout week after week, there’s no chance I would still be teaching after 16 years! I would have been bored after a year.
History shows many examples of great artists and great minds that were often misunderstood by contemporaries. It also shows that many memorable creations aren’t comprehended by the masses. What’s amazing, though, is that Joseph Pilates died in 1967 and people still don’t get what he was all about. So I can understand why “Big Money” would water it down in an attempt to mass market something that slightly resembles Joe’s method. But I love Joe’s method and that’s why I decided to teach Pilates. Sure, let’s update his method to include modern biomechanics and the wealth of research that has been developed since he lived. Let’s also get creative by adding props and new pieces of equipment. Let’s have experienced teachers instruct larger classes to reduce the price point.
Let’s make it smarter but still have it be at heart (and at the core) the Pilates method Joe created.
The good news is that there’s hope. I’ve recently read some articles that make me think there are still people out there that appreciate what an expert instructor can offer. People that want more than just a someone yelling commands over loud pumping music. Kelsey Miller’s article for Refinery 29 pretty much explains the problem. While Miller focuses on one company, I have found that there isn’t just one culprit but many. They come from all angles, from all places, from gyms and studios, private trainers, to middlemen mobile apps. From my perspective, Pilates has been under attack. And all these challenges have really had me down for the last few months.
But luckily today, I suddenly had one of those beautiful “ah ha” moments. And everything changed for me. All of this fitness industry frustration and confusion that had been circling in my head became clearer. This welcome change came in the form of a professional athlete. And, this session was exactly the kick in the pants I needed to get out of the gloom cloud. It wasn’t that she was the first professional athlete I’ve ever taught. I’ve taught many. It was simple: She got it. She understood what I was teaching. She appreciated my knowledge and experience. She enjoyed learning through deepening her attention. She liked that it offered something new for her body and for her training.
As a Pilates instructors who has felt like I’m more and more being perceived as a commodity, the feeling of not being appreciated for my years of experience and training has increased little by little, day by day.
This single session with the professional athlete reminded me of how it felt years ago to teach a brand new client who had never tried Pilates, yet immediately recognized and appreciated how unique and special the method is. It made me realize that, just like Indiana Jones, I could outrun this current trend. That I could survive. It gave me hope that these current fitness trends won’t destroy what I’ve spent years building, learning, understanding. And most importantly, my work will continue to connect to people.
It won’t be easy to compete with the Goliath. It will take marketing and messaging that challenges what entire teams produce for the big companies. I will have to work harder to train my staff to be their best and to speak to the differences we offer in the sea of fitness options. But I didn’t choose a safe, easy career path. I chose that path that truly inspired me. I’m now more than 15 years into my career and realizing I picked a difficult path. But I chose it for a reason. Pilates profoundly changed me, and it has been a guiding force that has directed my life’s path for years now.
So as Pilates instructors let’s march out into the world with sincerity and love for the method Joseph Pilates created. Let’s share our creativity, knowledge, training and experience. And inspire our students to learn and to understand their bodies. Let’s support one another’s teaching, businesses, and dreams. Together we can impact how Pilates is taught, understood, and perceived in the market.
Today, I’m declaring to the world and to the powers that be that I’m digging my heels in. I will not fade away without a fight. And “Nobody puts Baby (or Pilates) in the corner!” This Baby plans to have the last dance.
As always, please share with me your comments.