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Fresh, Hot Pilates Stays True to the Core
Chances are, nobody's going to ask for a side of Pilates with their burger anymore.
"It used to be that I said 'I teach Pilates,' and people would say, 'Pi-what? What's that? Is it a vegetable?,'" says renowned Pilates instructor Ana Cabán. "Now when you mention Pilates, they say, 'Oh yeah, I've seen that on TV.'"
According to a 2004 survey by the IDEA Health and Fitness Association, Pilates has been the fastest-growing fitness program in America since 1998. It's great news for longtime Pilates instructors such as Cabán. And with new Pilates props and offshoots cropping up, it doesn't appear to be showing any signs of letting up.
"Hollywood does it. Olympic athletes do it. It's in most people's vocabulary now," says yoga and Pilates instructor Suzanne Deason.
There's a Pilates Studio on Every Corner
Pilates is the word of the day, partly because "People want to do what the stars do," Cabán says. But she also thinks it's because most gyms now offer mat classes — and because the variety of Pilates workout options today make it easy to fit into a busy lifestyle.
"There's really no excuse, especially with technology," Cabán says. Thousands of people have her Gaiam Pilates workout DVDs. "And now I have clients who download me into their laptops and PDAs," she says. "One client was in Italy for a month, and he was doing Pilates with me the whole time on his Palm."
Ironically, it's because Pilates is so accessible now that Deason, Cabán and other Pilates instructors are a little worried. Their businesses have boomed, but as Pilates studios pop up on every corner, they say there's a danger for the practice to evolve away from the "tried-and-true" exercises introduced in 1926 by Joseph Pilates.
If It Says It's Pilates, It's Not Necessarily Pilates
"My only concern is the person who learned on a weekend and teaches something that doesn't even resemble Pilates," Cabán says. "Anything you learn in a weekend you're not going to be a master of. I wouldn't go to a hair stylist or a massage therapist who learned in a weekend. Why would I trust my body to someone who learned in a weekend?"
By contrast, Cabán says she and other longtime instructors studied for 600 hours before they could get their licenses. Now that Pilates is more accessible and has become so popular, it's much easier for instructors to become certified. As a result, Cabán's liability insurance doubled last year, and she finds herself disoriented at times when she sits in on other people's classes.
"I've taken mat classes with other instructors — I do a little market research this way — and in some classes, in the whole hour, I recognize maybe five of the exercises," Cabán says.
A Little Change Is Good — But Not Too Much
Cabán is a self-proclaimed purist. But she also understands that people like to change up their routine now and then — and that new and different ways of doing Pilates can attract a broader range of people to the discipline she loves.
She and Deason both believe props can be great tools to make Pilates even more accessible to beginners and give long-timers a new challenge. And emerging hybrid workouts such as standing Pilates, Pilates-dance fusion workouts (see inset) and gyrotonic — a fusion of Pilates, yoga and T'ai Chi that works in a circular plane — keep things fresh. But the key, they say, is to stay true to the authentic form that Joseph Pilates put out there.
"You've got to have variety," Cabán says. "And classical Pilates offers that. There are 34 exercises, and there are different variations on the exercises, so it can go on and on. There are hundreds of things you can do."
For example, when working with her clients, Cabán might add hand weights or a latex resistance band. But she says she's always working toward the ideal form. "I haven't changed the exercise," she says. "But I've been able to change the sensation on the body for the client and give them an added challenge or added support without taking away the essence of the movement."
Although the popularity of Pilates has created a few unwanted drawbacks, Cabán says she looks forward to having more people discover the mind-body practice she loves.
"I hope it keeps growing — I really believe in it," Cabán says. "It's good for everyone, and it's so simple to do."