Curious about class levels at Club Pilates, or what constitutes a beginner, intermediate, or advanced exercise? Tune in to learn about levels in classical and contemporary classes, for mat and reformer, and how to choose the best class level 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.
Hello, hello, everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. We're back and better than ever for Season Four of Pilates Students' Manual. And today we're going to be discussing choosing the [00:01:00] best class level for you. I think this is an important conversation to have or something to think about because different studios, different systems, or schools of Pilates often have different ways of leveling their classes. And if you come in kind of cold to a studio, it can be confusing, it can be not uniform in terms of like what class you want to be in.
So I have some experience as a teacher at Club Pilates, as well as a contemporary trained teacher, but someone who works with classically trained teachers. So I can offer some insights into the ways that class levels are often described and ways to think about class levels. And then hopefully, uh, when you go to a studio, you can of course talk to the people who work at the studio so they can help you get into the right class [00:02:00] or the best fit of a class for you, but also ways that you can kind of think about class levels and maybe progressing in your class levels or just finding the right spot to be for you.
If you're in the United States, Club Pilates is a franchised Pilates studio where the structure is corporate, but there are individual studio owners. Studio owners may own multiple studios in an area, or they may just own the one studio, but it's nice in that there's some uniform structure within that studio system. So I do see how that's kind of a nice plus if you were to travel to another state or, you know, visit another neighborhood and then go to a studio. There is some uniformity across leveling there. So I kind of want to share with you how Club Pilates breaks their levels down.
One thing that Club Pilates [00:03:00] offers that I think is really great is an intro class, that you can try a 30 minute sample class that is about at their 1.0 level. And that's what they call their beginning level.
I think that the words beginner, intermediate and advanced are useful in terms of classification, but are also very limited. You can be in a quote beginner class, but also be capable of doing advanced exercises. For the purposes of classification. We'll say that they're reformer flow 1.0 or any of their classes that are at a 1.0 level are their beginner classes.
If you check out on their website or talk to any of their teachers, they'll let you know that that 1.0 level class is a foundational class. It's called 1.0 foundations. There's different ways of thinking about what is a foundational part of Pilates. Uh, one of the things you'll experience in class is the majority of the [00:04:00] exercises will take place, either lying down or sitting on the reformer because that's a little bit more stable and especially for lying down, you're getting feedback from the carriage. So your body's not really loose in space. You're getting a lot more feedback.
The props that you're using are often supporting you and, uh, offering support in the exercise. Things like maybe using that little stability ball between your knees when you bridge, or using that stability ball behind your pelvis, when you're doing like an earthquake abs series where you're leaning back into the ball and then doing some arm movements and kind of that isometric abdominal contraction that you do when you do those kinds of exercises.
That stability is at the forefront as well as, in terms of the speed of the classic was a little bit slower. The teacher is explaining things a little bit more, and we're going over the foundation of [00:05:00] Pilates. We're talking about spine shapes and we're talking about breathing and we're talking about really the foundation, what you're going to need and every other Pilates class, that's what we call our 1.0 level classes. And if you're new, they're a good place to start. The instructor's going to tell you more about the equipment queue, more of those transitions for you. So that, that you get a good grasp on the system, the equipment, all of that stuff.
Club Pilates is of course an equipment studio. So they're working with reformer, chair, springboard, and then auxiliary props, like the TRX, the Bosu, the jumpboard, stability ball. We've got free weights that we throw in there, magic circle, stuff like that. So that's how they're breaking down those classes.
1.5 classes, uh, could be reformer flow. 1.5, could be cardio sculpt 1.5. I mean, technically there center and balanced 1.5. Those are all different class types. Reformer flow is [00:06:00] their strength training class, which is just, you know, 50% reformer, 50% other things. Cardio sculpt is going to be using the jump board. It's going to be about 50% jumping and 50% doing other things. Center and Balance is the stretchy one. Restore is the foam rolling one. Suspend is the TRX reformer fusion where it's 50/50 TRX and reformer. And then Control is their barre fusion class, which is 50% on the reformer, 50% on the barre.
But even within those levels, in a 1.0 level of class, we're again talking about foundations. Whereas when you go to 1.5, which they call progressions, we're focusing a little bit more with kneeling exercises on the reformers. So we have a narrower base of support. We're a little bit more unsteady. We're throwing in some coordination challenges where your arms or legs are doing things at the same time, we're doing some [00:07:00] unilateral work where you're working just one arm or one leg at a time. In our 1.0 classes, we would probably focus on bilateral work, where you're doing the same thing with both arms at the same time.
And we usually recommend that you're going to stay at that 1.5 level once you progress and are hanging out there before going to the 2.0 class, which they call evolution. And in those 2.0 classes, we have this idea that we kind of know what we're doing on the equipment. And so the teacher is going to go a lot faster. They'll go faster in a 1.5 and they do in a 1.0, and they're going to go pretty quickly, transition pretty quickly through a 2.0. There will be standing exercises, both on the chair and on the reformer.
And that's not to be a barrier to taking those classes by any means. Just knowing that we want you to have a strong foundation, a strong, you [00:08:00] know, body awareness, a strong support network of muscles, so that if you are standing on something that is unstable, you are stable, even though it is not stable.
They do have a class beyond that. That is 2.5 mastery class, but we actually- the studios I teach at any way, they don't have a 2.5 class. And the way I understand that class is to be more of a work shop and really breaking down exercises and getting into the nitty-gritty of it. So it's actually, I want to say, that it's less of a workout, but it's not as much about accomplishing all of the exercises with a lot of coordination challenges and like quickly transitioning and, you know, doing the quote hard stuff, unquote, but it's really breaking stuff down and more kind of a workshop idea. So I've actually never taught or taken a 2.5 class at Club Pilates, but that's the kind of the general idea of it.
Now within [00:09:00] all of those levels, of course you are not going to flounder alone. The instructors are going to give you options in every class level to take things to a more challenging place or to take things to a more supportive, more stable place. So even if you are, you know, comfortably at the 1.5 level, you, you know, understand those exercises and stuff, if you were to take a two, the goal isn't to be perfect at all of those level two exercises before you take a level two. Like you take the level two to try and do those exercises. You don't have to be perfect at them. You're might be trying them for the first time.
As a teacher, I can tell you that we are going to give options. I feel like students know, and you as a person taking class will probably know, if you're really, really out of your depth. The goal is for you to feel successful. So those class [00:10:00] levels aren't there to limit you, but to kind of give you an idea of what you're getting into so that you can work in a place that you're comfortable.
Because yes, to challenging yourself, but it's like challenging, but doable. Like we want to push ourselves and move ourselves along. Not because the goal is to do, you know, standing on the reformer exercises. You just know what's going to happen if you take a level two and you stand on the reformer, you're not going to like be surprised. You're going to be like, oh yeah, I knew this was coming.
Coming up after the break, I'm going to share with you the way classical Pilates exercises break down, at least for the mat work, and also the way that I learned in my contemporary teacher training to break down exercises or classes into levels through my contemporary teacher training. Both of those things are coming up after the break.
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So the virtual [00:12:00] studio that I teach at where I work closely with teachers who are classically trained, is focusing on mat exercises. So this description of class levels is about mat exercises specifically, but I believe you can also begin to infer what those levels would be like on the reformer as well, in terms of like the reformer repertoire and choreography.
But within the classical system, overlaps to Club Pilates of course, the focus in beginner level classes is going to be bilateral work, limited extension. Club Pilates also limits extension in their level one classes. And exercises you're going to be focusing on are the foundation of the mat work, which is exercises like the hundred, the roll-up, maybe half roll up or half roll down, depending on what we're doing, focusing [00:13:00] on like the shape in rolling like a ball, or the AB series, also called the stomach series. We'll be doing some spine stretch forward, maybe a bit of swan or swan prep and your sidekicks.
Now, if you go to a beginning Pilates mat class, obviously you're not going to just do those exercises. You could probably do those in like 20 minutes. But all of the work you're going to be doing is going to be that again, foundational, beginner, introductory to Pilates shapes, way of moving, way of breathing, and keeping exercises, simple, getting to the root, like the core of the exercise, not just like the core, like working your abs, right?
What is the primary goal, because even the fanciest exercise has a kernel that is a beginning level skill, right? So really focusing on building those skills, that body awareness in beginning classes.
Intermediate classes is going to introduce a unilateral work where [00:14:00] we're using one arm or one leg at a time. We'll start to introduce some rotation. Exercises like saw maybe corkscrew, maybe corkscrew without the inversion bit of corkscrew, as well as teaser. I would also say like single leg kick, double leg kick. Probably we're getting a little bit more extension and we're also doing exercises that require a bit more strength.
Advanced exercises are going to be your inversions and things that require a lot of coordination. I always joke with my classes that it's going to be like, you know, we'll start juggling next week, but that's what it feels like. Arms are doing things. Legs are doing things. I think of like on the reformer, like the exercise coordination, where there's a syncopated rhythm and we're doing something like that. Of course, that's going to be more advanced.
Things like shoulder bridge, things like roll over, things like Jack knife or, you know, open leg rocker where we took that rolling like a ball that we worked on in our [00:15:00] level one class or a beginner class. And now, you know, can you do it with straight legs? Obviously much harder. Those are going to be classified as more advanced exercises.
Now I mentioned this in the first bit, but something like shoulder bridge, which the classical Pilates shoulder bridge version is definitely advanced, but there are benefits to doing a bridge, even if it's not that full fledged, straight leg, lower lift shoulder bridge that's in the classical work. Like you can do a bridge, that's either a neutral bridge or an articulated bridge in a beginner class.
And that's why these frameworks are so limiting because everybody's a little bit different. What is easy for you might be an advanced exercise, and there may be a beginning exercise that is just like really tough. Because we all have aptitude and we all have things that click with us really quickly and things that we kind of have to figure out over some time. So again, I'm sharing this with you, not as a limiting thing, but just so that you kind [00:16:00] of see the way teachers and the way studios might think about class levels.
So the last thing I want to share with you is how I did my class level breakdown for my contemporary teacher training. Because, while I learned all the classical exercises, I don't know, just the way I think about class levels is a little bit different. And so I want to share that with you, because that might resonate with you when you're looking at a studio that is structuring their leveling system, however they are.
The way that I learned to categorize Pilates is very much from a proximal to distal way of looking at it. So when you're teaching an exercise in a beginning class, you're going to focus on the most proximal part, which is going to be your primary powerhouse, that abdominal connection, the midsection pretty much from your pelvic floor up to even just your rib [00:17:00] cage, like we're talking about like that central part of the body.
And regardless of what exercise we're doing, like you might be doing the beginning exercises that I shared from the classical work, but the focus, what we're trying to get down is the proximal bit. We're not worried so much about what your hands are doing, what your feet are doing, what your head's doing necessarily. We really want to focus on that center. And then you build out of that center where we start looking at our secondary powerhouse, which is our shoulder girdle.
So we might start to focus on that in a more intermediate class, still talking about it in a beginning class, but where the focus is kind of changes. And for more advanced, either students or classes or exercises, you can start to refine what's happening distally, the furthest from center.
So I see everything as a spectrum. And that's why, you know, when I first started teaching and it was multi-level classes, it was just like mixed levels. Like you might have someone it's their first time doing Pilates, you may have someone who's been doing Pilates for 10 years. And how do you teach both of them the same exercise? One way is by shifting [00:18:00] that focus from proximal to distal offering that refinement.
I would also say, and this is what we saw in the Club Pilates levels and in the classical leveling system, that's going from more stable, that in beginning exercises or level one exercises, there's more stability. And then we start removing that stability, whether that's having a smaller base of support for exercises. Take your shoulder bridge, for example, a beginning shoulder bridges, both feet on the ground, arms alongside the torso, hips lift up. You can make that more challenging by lifting the arms, by lifting a leg. What if you were having your feet on the Bosu, which is unstable? What if you were having your feet on the foam roller? That's unstable. So we can make it more challenging that way.
We talk a lot about short levers and long levers. So working with a smaller body part, I would say, at a time. So if you did something like [00:19:00] a tick tock where you're lying on your back and you've got your feet on the ground and you're taking both knees to the right and both knees to the left for kind of a twist, you can do that with the feet on the ground. Very supportive. You could do that with your legs in tabletop. Now you're responsible for the weight of your legs, but your legs are bent, so they're closer to your center. You could also do it with straight legs, and now your legs are as heavy as they can be. Maybe you add ankle weights, maybe you take your arms from the ground and reach them to the ceiling. So we can dial up that same exercise by making the levers that you're dealing with longer and heavier things like that.
Speed is one way to make things harder. You can go really slowly, break it down and then expect in a more advanced class that you have that foundation. So we can add a little bit more tempo, a little bit more speed, a little bit more of a flowing transition. The transition can become part of the exercise.
[00:20:00] Coordination increases challenge. So having more moving pieces is going to make it a little bit harder. And this is probably why I don't have my own studio. That's like a way of looking at each exercise more than looking at a class level. But I do think it kind of gives you a peek into your teacher's brain as well. Um, where if they're going to teach something like footwork on the reformer in a beginning class, it's going to be bilateral movements. It's going to be using both legs at the same time. It might be at the same speed through. They're going to be focusing on your breathing. Breathing is definitely a foundational skill. Maybe finding that center.
As you're doing footwork in an intermediate class, we're going to start introducing single leg footwork. We might start introducing some choreography. One leg is doing footwork. One leg is drawing circles or doing fan kicks or doing [00:21:00] single leg stretch over the foot bar under the foot. And in advanced class, you could be incorporating free weights. You could be doing tempo changes or pulses or holds or changing ranges of movement. And you could do that in any level class, but like how you go about doing it, um, is going to be different.
I feel like I've opened more cans of worms than I have closed, but those are some ways to think about class levels when you're coming into a studio. Of course, talk to the studio. If you have Pilates experience, you may be able to jump past the foundation classes because you have already established that foundation. But when you're just getting started, I just want to encourage you to not be so preoccupied with, or like, feel so inclined to rush through the foundation because you know what I always tell people is that Pilates gets harder the more you do it. That that beginning level class gets harder the more you do it because the [00:22:00] connection is different, the attention is different. All of those things, the way you understand the exercise, the way you execute the exercise becomes a lot more nuanced, a lot more refined the more you do it.
So I hope that helps you on your Pilates adventure looking for class levels. As always reach out on Instagram if you have any questions, if you have any thoughts about how you look at levels of classes. Pilates Students' Manual will be back in just a couple of weeks.
And before I go, I just want to say a gigantic thank you to Suzannah who just became a member on Buy Me A Coffee. Um, I got to chat with her on zoom a little bit earlier this week. I love chatting with you wonderful, amazing people who are listening to the podcast. So if that's something that interests you visit that Buy Me A Coffee page, become a supporter and, uh, let's have a chat. I hope you have a great couple of weeks.
I'll be back next week with Pilates Teachers' Manual brand new episode over there featuring Micki Havard of @mickiphit on [00:23:00] Instagram. It's going to be super cool. Even if you're not a teacher, she's got some really great stuff to share and say, so I'll see you then. Have a great week and I'll talk to you again soon.
Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates class. 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 time. [00:24:00]