When you look up the description of a Pilates class, you may seem some unfamiliar terms. Classes may be listed as mat or equipment, classical or contemporary, athletic, therapeutic, or somatic, and/or leveled 1, 2, 3 or beginner, intermediate, advanced, or you may see an open or all levels class. Tune in to get the lowdown on this terminology so you can find a class style and level that is right for you!
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[00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. I'm Olivia, and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and share your thoughts on Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual. You can support the podcast by visiting buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts. Let's learn something new.
[00:00:47] Hello. Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Today we're going to talk a little bit about decoding Pilates language or the jargon [00:01:00] or very specific words that you might hear when people are talking about a Pilates class or a Pilates studio with the hopes that when you see these words, you have a better idea of what to expect from those classes.
[00:01:14] And if you're traveling or if you're looking for a new studio, you might know a little bit ahead of time what you're getting into and kind of help you make some decisions about where you want to start. This is not an episode that is ranking styles or telling you that one type of Pilates is better than another type of Pilates, but really just giving you a mini glossary of terms so that when you see something talking about athletic reformer or dynamic reformer or somatic Pilates, something like this, that you will have a better picture in your head of what might happen in that class and you can then decide for yourself whether that is a good fit for you.
[00:01:56] If you've ever taken any Pilates class, [00:02:00] you know that Pilates has language that is very specific to it, whether you're taking classes with a teacher who's using a lot of anatomical terms or asking you to dorsiflex or plantar flex your foot in footwork, the equipment has its own anatomy of straps and springs, the springs have different tensions, different colors, There's different pieces of equipment and all of them have names. So I completely understand being in a class and feeling a little bit overwhelmed by all of the words that are coming at you and what the teacher's asking you to do. Even if there isn't equipment there, mat Pilates, as we know, is also very complex and very intricate. And if you've ever felt lost, I've been there with you.
[00:02:50] Well, I won't be able to cover every word that you'll hear in a Pilates class. I will be able to talk about today some of the words used to describe Pilates classes or Pilates [00:03:00] studios so that you again have that clear picture in your head of what to expect. And then you can make some decisions for yourself about whether this is a style that you want to try or that, you know, that you've enjoyed in the past perhaps.
[00:03:16] The language used at Pilates studios can also be very specific to the individual studio. So what one studio is saying is authentic or true Pilates, something like that, might be different from what another studio is calling authentic. Class levels are notoriously ambiguous. What one studio says is a beginner class or a level one class and what another studio says is a level one class can be different between studios. Pilates itself is not very standardized. And it can seem a little bit like the Wild West. So let's see what we can do to decode some of the language [00:04:00] around class levels, about types of classes, and see what shakes out.
[00:04:08] Two big distinctions that you'll see in the Pilates world are classical and contemporary classes. A studio may refer to itself as a classical studio, or it might say that it is a contemporary studio. It might say what type of equipment is used in that studio as well, the different brands of equipment. A lot of times Gratz is associated with classical reformers and classical Pilates, not just reformers, all Pilates equipment. And then contemporary equipment manufacturers might be companies like Balanced Body or Peak or Stott Pilates. And these are, of course, just a few names, um, but Gratz, if you ever see anything that's talking about Gratz equipment, that is oftentimes a classical studio.
[00:04:56] I do have an episode that goes a bit more in depth [00:05:00] about what classical and contemporary Pilates entails, so definitely check that out. But, in short, classical Pilates means following the order of Joseph Pilates exercise, trying to stay very true to how Joseph Pilates or how Romana or whichever Pilates teacher descended from Joseph Pilates, that this, uh, studio has teachers who trained under certain people, we're going to try to follow that super closely. It's a lot about maintaining the tradition and things are done on the same springs in the same way. You do the same order of exercises over and over again. That's classical.
[00:05:39] Contemporary draws from classical Pilates, but gets a bit more creative with how the exercises go together. They may not stick to the order, although many of the exercises are either Joe's exercises or derivatives of those exercises, variations of those exercises, but the structure is a bit [00:06:00] looser. Whereas classical is the order and we stick to that.
[00:06:05] You may see some words that are talking about what happens in the class, like the quality or tempo of the class might be. You might see words like gentle or dynamic or athletic and words like that are really telling you about maybe the speed at which the class is going to go, maybe the intensity of the class.
[00:06:32] So as you can guess, gentle Pilates is probably going to move a little bit slower than an athletic or dynamic class, which has more of an emphasis on doing more, the transitions oftentimes in dynamic or athletic classes are part of the exercise. You go a bit harder. The intensity is just higher, which may or may not be what you're looking for.
[00:06:57] Another thing that might show up if they're talking [00:07:00] about gentler classes is there might be something like a therapy class or therapeutic Pilates that also has this gentler connotation that you might be moving a little bit more slowly. Through the exercises, there might be more time to discuss the exercises.
[00:07:20] Athletic Pilates tends to be really fast paced, and while they're telling you things, you're moving a lot faster and just like a lot more. Flow is a word that's used to describe all classes, um, and a class that the description is talking about how well it flows means that those transitions are going to be really important. It happens, I think, more in the contemporary world because, again, the classical world, the order is set, but flow based classes, there's, it's a way of teaching that the [00:08:00] transitions of equipment or body positions are really minimized so that you have a seamless class. It seems like everything goes together.
[00:08:11] I know that students taking classes tend to enjoy that because you can get in a flow state when you're taking a flow style class and it really feels like time is just passing so quickly and you can't even believe that you've been there for an hour when your class is over because everything just flowed so nicely.
[00:08:33] Other descriptors might be something like active aging. Which I think has a connotation of working with like senior citizens, people who are maybe 50s, 60s, or older. I do think that active aging classes don't need to be limited to just people who are older. Because if you've taken any classes or know anything about Erika Quest, I really like [00:09:00] her. Um, she's a Balanced Body trained instructor and trainer, and she does a ton of active aging stuff. And she'll be the first to tell you that active aging, like when we start focusing on that could be as early as your 30s. So don't let that name think that it's just for older folks.
[00:09:17] There tends to be an emphasis on balance work and coordination work in an active aging class. It could be gentler. I would look at other language in that, or sort of class description to see, but it's going to be probably focused on this coordination challenges because that's so important. There can be a lot of muscle building exercises that are related to activities of daily living. Because it's important as we age that we're still able to do the things that we want to do in our houses and stuff like that. So that's what you might think of if you see an active aging class.
[00:09:59] Coming up after the [00:10:00] break, I'm going to tell you more about class levels, my understanding of class levels, as well as what to expect from a somatic Pilates class. That's coming up next.
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[00:11:16] I should have included this before the break, but another distinction in Pilates classes is they'll oftentimes say mat or equipment. Mat is self explanatory. You're going to be using the mat. Whether or not you will also be using small props like maybe hand weights or the magic circle or resistance bands or a little mini stability ball, that depends on the studio. What other supplementary kind of small pieces of equipment they might have.
[00:11:46] Equipment is a bit nebulous because an equipment studio could just have reformers and so the class is reformer Pilates. There are only reformers in the room. I've worked at studios that [00:12:00] have reformers and towers, which are kind of like a Cadillac attachment to the reformer. I have, I've had ones that are, you know, tower and reformer. Tower can also be a separate unit. The springboard does the same stuff as the tower. So you might have classes that have a springboard set up as well. Chair is another piece of Pilates equipment, that if the class says equipment there might be chairs as well.
[00:12:31] Equipment's kind of the general term for all of those pieces of equipment. It might go on to say what exactly to expect, and that's good to know, because if you're looking for a studio that has the Pilates chair, you want to make sure that the equipment class you're going to, that that's the equipment that they're talking about.
[00:12:53] As far as class levels, this is so specific to studios, and [00:13:00] classical and contemporary also level the exercises differently. So, in the classical world, there is a set of beginner exercises, a set of intermediate exercises, that's the beginner exercises, plus some more, and then advanced exercises are beginner and intermediate, and then we keep going.
[00:13:19] In contemporary, it depends on the school that they're from, whether they're going to classify an exercise as beginner, intermediate, or advanced. And then there's also, I think, a little dose of reality that comes with this because technically the hundred is a beginner exercise. But if you've ever done the hundred, you know that beginner does not mean easy.
[00:13:40] So even if you were to go to a studio and take a beginner class, that doesn't mean that you're going to lie down and stretch the whole time. Certainly not. The way I think about exercises, both as a teacher and as someone who does Pilates, is I see every exercise as a spectrum, and a more beginner [00:14:00] variation of an exercise is going to be a little bit more stable, in that you're probably not standing on something that moves. There's going to be more body parts in contact with non moving things so that it's easier from a coordination perspective. Probably the choreography is going to be a little bit less complex, so it's easier to follow and probably more focused on foundational movements, which again does not mean easy, but foundational shapes.
[00:14:31] Whereas advanced exercises would be on the other side of the spectrum, we're working maybe with super heavy resistance, maybe with super light resistance. Maybe the choreography is very complex. Maybe what we're trying to do is very difficult from a strength or a flexibility perspective. So it's going to be a spectrum of that.
[00:14:54] Sometimes studios tell you what body positions, what types of exercises, what to [00:15:00] expect at each level of class. Sometimes they don't. Whenever I go to a new studio, I can tell you that I only take a beginner or an intermediate class because I don't know what to expect, even though I consider myself to be very strong, flexible, and pretty good at doing Pilates, I'd say, just because I don't know the studios set up in the, and again, that specific language that the studio uses, and I don't want to feel lost. I still want to get something out of the class. So I tend to be a bit humble and then try to take a class, that maybe the advanced class isn't the first one that I sign up for.
[00:15:39] There is also an option that you might see on class listings that it's an all levels class or an open class. And what that means is the teacher is going to lead you through a class that has options for beginners, has options that are more intermediate and has some options that are [00:16:00] advanced. As the name suggests, it's open to people of all levels and all experience, depending on your comfort level, both with Pilates, with the studio, with the equipment that's being used. You are welcome to jump into an all levels or an open class. Maybe let the teacher know if it's your first time there. Maybe I'm just a little shy, but I always like to start at the beginner level or intermediate, again, at the highest so that I know what to expect when I would go to an all levels class, but, um, that's what it means.
[00:16:38] It means the teacher is going to be giving lots of options. There might be people who are doing very fancy things. There might be people who are doing things that are a little bit simpler, but no less cool and important. Um, but a lot of things could be happening at the same time if you're in an open or an all levels class.
[00:16:56] The last little style of Pilates that I wanted to touch on [00:17:00] is somatic. And I don't know if I would put it as the foil to athletic necessarily, because we know that going faster doesn't mean harder necessarily, that going slow can also be difficult. Everything can be difficult if you're in a Pilates class and you've got a great teacher, everything can be very spicy. But a somatic class is going to be focusing on the mind body connection a lot. And this could happen in a contemporary setting or a classical setting. It could happen on mat or on equipment, but there is going to be a lot of internal focus in a somatic class.
[00:17:44] It might mean that you are focusing on your breathing a lot, really working on linking your breath to your movement. You might be working slower just because the same way if you were to start meditating, you wouldn't meditate while [00:18:00] doing something really busy or being on a busy street or something you try to find somewhere that's quiet and still so that you can kind of deal with your own internal busyness before you then take that out into an increasingly busy space.
[00:18:14] So sometimes in somatic classes everything will get slowed down, not because you can't have a somatic connection that like mind, body, breath connection when you're going faster, but it's easier to find it when you go a little bit slower, but it can still be very difficult, very intense work. It's very sort of embodied Pilates with that again, that internal focus.
[00:18:42] Again, I'm telling you all of these things because you might hear, Oh my gosh, that's somatic Pilates looks awesome. I would, I want to look for a studio that offers a class like that. Um, you might say, Oh my gosh, that sounds like a total turnoff. I want to avoid that. And that's totally fine. There are so many different styles of Pilates.
[00:18:59] And again, [00:19:00] I'm only touching the tip of the iceberg because in addition to all of this, there are tons of fusion classes where maybe it's Pilates and barre. So you're getting some Pilates exercises with some Pilates fundamentals, but then you're also doing some barre exercises. There's yogilates where we're doing yoga and Pilates. And you might take a class that's Pilates inspired, but you're doing something with kettlebells or you're doing something like a circuit training. Like there's so many different variations of Pilates. I would call those more fusion classes. Um, if you're doing like TRX and Pilates, if you're doing, Maybe pieces of equipment that aren't traditionally Pilates pieces of equipment. Things like the Bosu, things like the foam roller, or even things like gliding discs, stuff like that. You're getting into more Pilates fusion territory. Which is still awesome and exercise [00:20:00] is awesome. And if you like two different forms of movement, if you're a big bar fan, then doing some barre and some Pilates at the same time might sound super appealing to you.
[00:20:11] And if all else fails, when you are looking at a class schedule. You can always reach out to the studio, shoot them an email or send them a text, give them a call and ask them. They will be happy to let you in the loop of their lingo so that you feel prepared when you go to take a class there.
[00:20:34] Huge thanks to all the supporters on buy me a coffee and special shout out to Mo. I appreciate your support. Can't wait to connect with you on this month's coffee chats. I'm so excited. I can't believe it's October, but I'm looking forward to seeing you all and chatting with you. I hope you have a great couple of weeks and I'll talk to you again soon.[00:21:00]
[00:21:06] Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of Pilates Students Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. Be sure to check out the podcast Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual and subscribe wherever you're listening. Interested in teaching Pilates too? Check out Pilates Teachers Manual, available everywhere you listen to podcasts. I hope to see you next episode. Until next [00:22:00] time.