Classical Confusion: Clarifying the Definition of Classical Pilates

August 2, 2010 at 10:01 pm 91 comments

Jospeh Hubertus Pilates

What is Classical Pilates?  While it can be clearly defined in 3 sentences, there are a couple of variations within this strict definition.  It’s worth taking the time to understand what Classical Pilates is and a little bit about the differences in teaching it…even if you are a Classical Pilates teacher, I urge you to read.  You might have questions, comments, disagreements or clarifications with what I say.  I welcome it all!

I teach many teachers in sessions and workshops and realize that while I was trained by Romana Kryzanowska, I teach in a different way than some of my fellow Romana-trained teachers.  There are a growing number of us who have evolved differently creating at least 2 sects of Classical Pilates teachers.  I’m glad we have this forum to discuss it!

Classical Pilates (defined):
Joseph Pilates actual exercises executed in the order he created with his intentions.

Let’s delve into these 3 parts of Classical Pilates.

Joseph Pilates Exercises:

Classical Pilates covers only the actual exercises that Mr. Pilates created.  These exercises are verified through The Elders (who are wonderfully clear on what are Mr. Pilates’ exercises and what are their own creations), photographs (which there are many.  They are beautifully clear with shots from one action to the next within each exercise) and film (converted to video.  While the conversion makes everything appear faster than in real-time, these are valuable, easily accessible on DVD and YouTube and vital to watch).

A Classical Pilates teacher teaches only these exercises.  When s/he does an exercise that is not Pilates, s/he clearly states, “This is not a Pilates exercise…” and briefly explains where it does come from (her own creation, physical therapy, yoga, etc.).

A Classical Pilates teacher might create a modification that will assist/train a client to be able to do the ideal version of the exercise, but never claims that that is an exercise created by Mr. Pilates.  Instead, it is a preparatory exercise intended to develop into Mr. Pilates’ creation.

When it comes to variations (advanced versions of an exercise), a Classical Pilates teacher stays within the variations Mr. Pilates’ created.

Why do we stick to what Mr. Pilates created and not venture into our own or others’ work?  Because we find that doing it all Mr. Pilates way truly crafts the body and mind into balance.  Mr. Pilates’ exercises are simple enough, challenging enough and “deep” enough to delve into for a lifetime.  So, we stick to this.

The Order of Exercises:
Mr. Pilates created a set order of exercises on the mat and reformer.  A Classical Pilates teacher follows this order every time s/he works on the reformer and mat.  S/He may omit exercises to make it suitable for the level of the client (over the past 20 years, training programs have created systems to determine what are beginner exercises [foundational actions], intermediate exercises [physically accessible and appropriately challenging to a majority of clientele], advanced exercises [truly challenging for even the strongest, normal healthy client] and super-advanced exercises [the extra challenge for elite athletes and Pilates professionals.  Some regular clients will do these, but they are the utterly devoted who are true Pilates-philes].  These systems were developed to help apprentices and new teachers know what to do and what not to do with a client.).

Classical Pilates teachers teach within the order of exercises Mr. Pilates created for the reformer and mat.

Why?  Because Mr. Pilates’ order appropriately warms up the body, challenges and cools it down.  His order strengthens and stretches the torso, arms and legs in all planes of movement.  His order challenges clients in the appropriate progression with and then against gravity:  lying down, sitting up, kneeling, standing.

What about on other apparatus?  Classical Pilates teachers use the previously mentioned progression as well as all of the information s/he gathered during the reformer and mat portion of the session to pick which exercises to do on other apparatus and which order to do them in.  If the session is primarily on an additional piece of apparatus like the wunda chair or cadillac/trapeze table, then a Classical Pilates teacher works to create a session with that gravitational progression and the theory behind the reformer and mat exercise orders to create a well-balanced and challenging session for her client.

Now, I must note that the current order of exercises on both mat and reformer are different than what Mr. Pilates did.  There are benefits and drawbacks to this.  Most teachers don’t actually even know that they are different.  And most don’t know that there are a lot of exercises left out of training programs that are vital to the balance of the body.  There are plenty of exercises for extension, lateral flexion and rotation of the spine that are no part of the common vocabulary.  Personally, it has been my quest to learn as many as I can and share them across the world of Pilates teachers.

What was Mr. Pilates’ intentions?  That the session is a strong full body and mind workout, appropriate for the client that centers around abdominal strength.  Note that I said “workout”.  Indeed.  Clients are meant to exercise to their fullest potential.  We must take into account the person in front of us adapting the workout for each client’s individual needs.  A relatively normal, healthy person ought to be challenged in stamina, strength, stretch and stability.  Those who are ill or special cases in any way still get challenges, but we take their condition into account when challenging stamina.  We have choices.

Classical Pilates teaching style may vary in many ways:

Now, within this Classical Pilates definition, there are multiple camps.  The most clearly defined are Romana-trained and non-Romana-trained.  Why?  Because Romana Kyrzanowska always taught Mr. Pilates’ exercises, order and intention.  Only.  She did not develop her own method based on his work as the majority of other elders have.  However…

However…there are strong Romana-isms (as I call them) that are truly creations of Romana and not from Mr. Pilates.  In addition, with so many teachers coming out of Romana’s school, there are miscommunications and mistakes that have been translated from teacher to teacher and teacher to client.  This is nearly impossible to avoid.  It happens in every teacher training program.

The most notable Romana-isms are as follows:

  • Flattening the lower back in supine exercises.
    Initially, I learned to teach this, too, but I have been told by many people that Romana never taught this.  So, I believe this was a misunderstanding that apprentices and teachers adopted, even in their training that has continued on.
  • Squeezing the buttocks/sit bones all of the time.
  • Pulling the shoulder blades down the back all of the time and when in a shoulder supporting position pushing the shoulder blades off the back to get them to appear flat on the back.
  • External rotation of the leg in the hip (with the ballet term “turnout”) in nearly every exercise.
    When I studied with Romana, I remember her using this external rotation a lot as a modification.  She would always say, “Eventually this exercise becomes parallel.”  However, probably because she was busy and perhaps tired, she eventually dropped the “Eventually” statement and everything remained in external rotation.
  • Dance-like style of movement.

While my training was initially with Romana, when I left her studio, I then studied with other great Classical Pilates teachers, studied anatomy and kinesiology,  as well as talked with and learned from our Elders and students of Mr. Pilates.  From my additional work, I learned that much of these Romana-isms are just that:  Things that Romana did or errors that became common practice.  It’s interesting because Romana, herself, would call many things ”viruses” and always wanted to clear out viruses in the work, but I believe that it all got a bit away from her as the world of Pilates grew and I also think that she tired of clarifying, correcting, policing, etc.  Some of it, too, could be from Romana’s disdain for anatomical study and because she didn’t have Mr. Pilates to go to when questions came up during her certification program.  Hence, when there were questions, she went to what she knew outside of Pilates…ballet…to answer her questions.

So, those of us who took our Romana training and weeded out what were Romana-isms in the search for what Mr. Pilates’ intentions were practice the following:

  • Neutral Pelvis in supine exercises.  We honor the natural curves of the spine when the spine is elongated (“straight”) in an exercise.  The spine is never actually straight.  We work to lengthen the spine by opening up all sides of between each vertebra in every position.  We learned that when the lumbar spine is flattened, only the posterior portion of the spine is elongated while the anterior is compressed.
  • We keep the buttocks/glutes/sit bones “un-squeezed” to keep the lower back of the pelvis open and balanced.  We know that there is plenty of work in Pilates to create and maintain toned glutes and creating a connection in the back of the leg comes from working the hamstrings in resistance exercises as well as maintaining a strong mid-line connection.
  • We open the collarbones and draw the shoulder blades on the back more than draw the shoulder blades down.  Most of the time, people shrug their shoulders when they don’t have an abdominal connection.  We work on creating an abdominal connection first and find that the shoulders find their way to a restful position on their own.  Later on, we focus on their placement.
  • We work most exercises with the legs in a parallel and together or parallel and apart position.  Except for 2 cases:  1) When needed as a modification to aid in creating a heel connection when we’ll rotate the legs outward only enough to make this heel connection to strengthen the midline/adductors.  2) When an exercise calls for the knees to bed outward, like The Frog”, we work in external rotation.  Otherwise, our focus is on creating a balanced leg.  For that, we must reduce the overuse of the larger, more superficial external rotators and focus on the strengthening of the adductors and deep external rotators.
  • We work with flowing movement, but less like dance and more like exercise.  Mr. Pilates didn’t like dancers.  He said, “Dancers ruined my method”.  No joke.  And, yes, I am a dancer.  However, I don’t do Pilates like dance and I don’t teach it as such.  We have to remember that this is not choreography, but strengthening exercises.  Fluid movement is part of it, but the style of movement is more like a long, lean muscle man, rather than a ballet dancer.

While the actual movements are the same, these nuances make remarkable differences.  They are actually differences in philosophy.

What I am about to say, I say this with great respect as I learned a tremendous amount from Romana and honor her completely:  From my point of view, it was never OK to ask Romana a question.  When I did (and I have been told that many others share the same experience) I was dismissed.  She never wanted to talk anatomy to her apprentices and when questioned “why” about any part of an exercise, the common answer was something the the extent of:  “because that’s how we do it”.  I was frustrated and wanted answers.  As a teacher, I am a student and wanted to learn more.  I wanted to understand why things worked or didn’t work.

It was years after my training with Romana that I met up with other people like myself who honored Pilates and Romana, but wanted to understand more.  We especially wanted to understand why certain issues weren’t getting better with Pilates.  Why did so many great Pilates teachers and “performers” have such bad S.I. trouble, lower back trouble and neck trouble?  I wondered why my own issues weren’t resolving.  I also wondered why I couldn’t really connect to me inner thighs and lower abdominals the way I ought to have.  When I started studying more about alignment, anatomy, etc (and now as a biomechanics scientist) and what I listed above, my entire body changed even more for the better than before…and so did my clients’ bodies!  Less pain, more strength, longer, leaner, better!

So…there is the definition of Classical Pilates and a little bit on some of the differences within Classical Pilates.  Do you have any questions?  Comments?  Challenges?  Concerns?

Are you a therapeutic or contemporary Pilates teacher who would like to take Classical Pilates and study the foundation of the method?  Come take a session!  Contact me at I would love to introduce you to what Mr. Pilates created.  It will enrich your teaching experience!

Are you a Classical Pilates teacher and want to take a session with these differences?  Contact me.  At first, the differences will feel unusual.  It’s the seeming opposite of everything you’ve learned.  I know…I was there, too!  But once I tried and trusted it…the entire world of Pilates opened up for me!  I wish that for you, too!  Contact me at

****Thank you for taking the time to read this.  I hope you’ll also take the time to share this blog site with your friends and write a comment.****  ****Enjoy!****

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“Success Story” – Pilates Style Breathing – That’s What Your Nose Is For!

91 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Body Workout 101  |  August 3, 2010 at 12:18 am

    Classical Confusion: Clarifying the Definition of Classical ……

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

    • 2. Ariel  |  December 2, 2010 at 11:15 am

      Hi Shari!!!! I absolutely adore your post!!!! I am from Argentina, and I have translated this post on Classical Pilates into spanish to share with my colleagues who don´t speak english. I ask your permission to publish it into my blog,

      I find very very interesting all of the posts and hope some day I´ll meet you in person.

      Big hugs!!!

  • 3. Elena Bartley  |  August 3, 2010 at 3:08 am

    I absolutely agree….is a matter of fact I am a Romana student from the fery first generation 1989, and it was true, do not question anything…like you I learned after I started studying anatomy and so, I was just in NY last week after 10 years of absence, and I went to Dragos….to my surprice like you said, it is all a misunderstanding….lots of teachers leave to soon and raelly have not usderstood the work properly…to my surprice because all the Romanaisms are present in Latin america…I did not saw them in Ny…yuppi!!!
    so now I will go back to Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru and Panama and I will try again to make them understand…..??? I really like your blogs…it is like you read my mind!!!

    • 4. theverticalworkshop  |  August 3, 2010 at 10:24 pm

      Hi, Elena!

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

      It’s pretty upsetting how little people understand of what they do. I suppose this is in every field, not just Pilates. People do by rote. That’s where the keen difference between instructor and teacher comes in: Instructors just give exercises and don’t quite know why or what they are doing. They do just as they were told. Teachers have spent time questioning what they have learned and seek out more. They truly understand the material they are working with so that they deliver mindful, complete sessions to their clients. In truth, there are far less teachers than there are instructors. It’s simply how it is in life. However, it makes life a bit challenging for those of us who are trying to raise the standards of teaching in Pilates. I am grateful for your work and study and that of everyone who has taken time to read these blogs! Those who are reading truly endeavor to be teachers!

      Let’s keep doing as we do, share our thoughts and learn! Send out word to Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru and Panama! I would like to join you in one or all of those countries one day!

      And please let’s get together the next time you visit NY!

      Thank you, again!
      – Shari

  • 5. Nityda  |  August 3, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Hi Shari.

    Can’t thank you enough for clearing this up. As someone who studied with a Romana-trained teacher during my first four years of Pilates work, I experienced first-hand that these Classical misunderstandings do run rampant. I was always told to “flatten” my back. After discovering Contemporary Pilates and finding “neutral” my back felt so much better. (I also have scoliosis so it was impossible for me to ever “flatten” my back, in addition to painful and frustrating). I was so relieved to find Contemporary Pilates,however, I developed my own misunderstanding of what Classical Pilates was (I basically thought it meant forcing your low back to the ground while following the classical order) until you cleared it up. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I really look forward to meeting you later this month! 🙂

    • 6. theverticalworkshop  |  August 3, 2010 at 10:26 pm

      Hi, Nityda!

      Your e-mail to me truly inspired this blog post. Thank you!

      If you thought Classical Pilates was something that it wasn’t, then I’m sure there are many other people who are either clients or teachers who thought the same thing. It’s important to educate all Pilates teachers on what Classical Pilates is and for them to experience it. Mr. Pilates created this wonderful method. It is vital for all Pilates teachers to know it physically and intellectually.

      Thank you again!

      See you next week!
      – Shari

  • 7. Rachel  |  August 3, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    Thank you for writing such amazing blogs. I find them so useful as a pilates instructor! I’m particularly interested in the Romana-isms — the parallel versus the external rotation and the shoulder blade cue. I find that if I’m parallel, I do connect to my powerhouse better which surprises me. I’ve developed a feeling of sciatica and it takes pressure off this area. I don’t think I would have believed this until now, because the external rotation was key in my connection for years. Did you have that same experience? I also would love some more blogs on cue-ing. Again, thanks for spending the time to educate us on your pilates expertise.

    • 8. theverticalworkshop  |  August 3, 2010 at 10:33 pm

      Hi, Rachel,

      Thank you for reading and commenting and asking for more information!

      Your physical experience with leg rotation is right on the mark, Rachel. Some people, and very often beginners, need a bit of external rotation to connect their heels when legs are together in many exercises (i.e. The Hundred, The Roll Up, Double Leg Stretch, etc.). Eventually, their adductors will straighten and the alignment of their legs down to their feet will straighten so that they can make a strong mid-line connection and heel connection without needing external rotation. Some people will never need that modification and some will need it for a long time. The amount of external rotation in this modification ought be no more than 2 fingertip widths between the big-toe knuckles. So, it’s not a very big rotation at all. Just enough to connect the heels. It’s a great way to begin if necessary.

      As for blogs on cue-ing…what in particular are you interested in? Imagery? Precision Cues? Stabilization Cues? When to cue? When not to cue? Where shall I begin for you?

      Thank you, again, for taking the time and energy!

      All the best!
      – Shari

  • 9. curious  |  August 3, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    I initially studied contemporary pilates and am ow working with classical teachers so experience the best of both worlds. I have always worked in neutral spine but turnout is new for me. I find that I can really find my connections in turnout that I can’t find in parallel but have been taught that parallel will come eventually.
    Shari, I am a bit confused about enough glute connection that you refer to. I learnt not to use my glutes in contemporary and had back issues. Now I use turnout and engage QF and have not had a problem since. Would you mind explaining more about the use of glutes.

    • 10. theverticalworkshop  |  August 3, 2010 at 10:48 pm

      Hi, Natalie,

      Thank you for reading, commenting, sharing your confusion and asking questions! I hope I can clarify. If this one reply doesn’t do it, then please write back and let’s get to the bottom of it. It might take a while to make sense…and that’s OK, too!

      If you look at the comment I wrote to Rachel on this same blog post, I discuss the use of external rotation as a useful modification. Also, I wrote a couple of big blog posts about it here:

      Will you read them and then either comment there or here and let me know your thoughts?

      Also…glute connection. There is no need to squeeze your seat…ever in Pilates or just about anything else. If you want to work your glutes, then you must do actions that your glutes are intended to do. Your glutes help keep your torso upright, externally rotate your legs in your hips and create hip extension. If you work in external rotation too much, then you don’t work your adductors and there becomes an incredible imbalance. So working your glutes by external rotation is out. However, hip extension is in! Anytime you stabilize your pelvis and extend your femur back along the sagittal plane, you’re working your glutes! Side Kick series is the most awesome glute exercise…without ever having to squeeze them. They work appropriately because they must. Same thing with Shoulder Bridge. The simple action of lifting your hips like that means your glutes have got to engage. You don’t have to squeeze them to do it. If you squeeze, you create compression that is bad for your S.I. joint and lumbar spine.

      In external rotation in Pilates, you absolutely ought to get into your QF/Quadratus Femoris rather than your glutes. Absolutely. However, still, you don’t need to work in external rotation all of the time. So…in external rotation, we ought to attempt to engage our QF rather than our glutes. I agree with you.

      Did I clarify or confuse? Please let me know!

      Thank you, Natalie!
      – Shari

    • 11. Rachel  |  August 4, 2010 at 5:08 pm

      Thanks for your reply. A few things….

      1) Can you clarify the shoulder girdle or shoulders ON your back cue? I usually say shoulders down your back because most, if not all of my clients have their shoulders up toward their ears. I also talk about widening the collar bones because most people internal rotate their shoulders.

      2) In terms of your response to adductor connection and external rotation in the hips, I find that my clients tend toward internal rotation and don’t get into their hamstrings enough and THEIR internal rotation doesn’t open their pelvis or provide enough ‘space’ (not sure anatomically how to phrase it). So I try to cue with the wrapping your legs back or external rotation. The distance I usually recommend is a hands distance. I’d love to get your thoughts on how to get these type of clients to engage their outer thighs and hamstrings which helps with more powerhouse connection.

      3) Regarding cue-ing, I’d love to learn about your stabilization cues beyond the primary — in and up and lifting your spine. And of course, I’m now curious about your precision and imagery cues. I feel comfortable on when to cue and when not to cue.

      4) One final thing….I took a group mat class with you and remember a cue that I didn’t quite understand. I believe it was reaching your stibones forward or something like that. My initial thought is that would make clients pull the tailbone under more to deepen the abs. Will you please clarify?

      Thanks again for your wealth of knowledge!


      • 12. theverticalworkshop  |  August 18, 2010 at 11:19 pm

        I’m so sorry it’s taken me this long to address your comment. And with that, I will be brief, for the moment, but write plentifully very soon. I’m used to having the time to write very long comments to comments…bear with me as I find that time again!
        1) I do, indeed, mean shoulders ON the back. I will write a full blog post on this topic. For now, it’s just important to know that while you have been trained that everyone raises their shoulders too much and that that must be corrected, it’s valuable to understand why they do this…if they do it at all. It’s because they need to strengthen their abdominals to create greater pelvic and torso stabilization. Only with that will any shoulder stabilization cue (down, back, on, etc.) be effective. Once abdominals are strong enough, most people don’t use their shoulders as a replacement and their shoulders find their appropriate place. Most of the time, the cueing of widening the collar bones or open the collar bones is the most effective shoulder cue (far more effective then pull your shoulders down…which may be effective when arms are raised higher than shoulder height). “Open your collar bones” is the same as “draw your shoulders on your back”.

        I promise to dig in more in a full blog post.

        Questions 2, 3 and 4 will also be my pleasure to spend time on. I will write completely on them.

        I just didn’t want you to think I had forgotten you or were ignoring your requests! I am very much looking forward to taking proper time with them! You’ve asked great questions! Thank you!

        – Shari

    • 13. pilates original  |  July 13, 2015 at 12:03 pm

      Vous faites des erreurs dans la compréhension de la méthode authentique il faut serrer les fessiers pour renforcer le powerhouse et les fessiers sont des rotateurs externe de la hanche donc on travaille en rotation externe. Et lebassin neutre c’est une erreur il faut étirer le bas du dos comme tout le reste de la colonne donc il faut chercher à poser les muscles du bas du dos à travers le centre pour l’allongement mais on ne cherche pas la retroversion du bassin!

      • 14. theverticalworkshop  |  July 13, 2015 at 12:21 pm

        In French and then in English…
        And those who speak French and English…please help me if I have misunderstood the original comment…

        Pardon que je devais utiliser Google Translator pour traduire. Je crains que votre message pourrait ne pas avoir traduit correctement et pourrait ne pas être appropriée nouveau à vous … mais nous essayons:
        Je souhaite que vous utilisez dans votre biomécanique modernes Pilates. Si vous êtes, je vous félicite. Le travail classique typique est sans biomécanique modernes. Dans mon article, vous pouvez voir que je suis clairement faire la distinction entre ce qui Romana a fait et ce qui est biomécaniquement appropriée. Comment on peut faire Pilates classique avec la mécanique de qualité en elle.

        Je souhaite que fait sens pour vous. Je ne supplie que tous les enseignants de Pilates classique reconnaissent la valeur d’une éducation moderne dans la façon dont le corps fonctionne vraiment et la couche que sur notre enseignement de la méthode Pilates. Que les indices comme «serrer les fesses» ou «aplatir le bas du dos» ou «enveloppent vos cuisses», «Tirez vos épaules vers le bas» et «fermer vos côtes” pour ne pas mentionner la grande rotation externe des jambes et des pieds qui se produisent souvent sont vraiment influences d’une incompréhension de la façon dont fonctionne le corps humain, plus de ballet et moins de bons mécaniciens.

        Je ne veux pas insulter … je veux dire simplement informer. Je suis sûr que tous ceux qui font encore ces actions que je viens de parler sont extrêmement bien-sens, mais ils ne sont pas bonnes pour le corps humain.

        Parallèlement à cela, je ne veux pas dire que ce soit ce que vous, faites personnellement. Je ne sais pas ce que vous faites … Je écris juste pour vous assurer que je suis clair.

        J’espère que cela à du sens. Je me réjouis à une conversation continue. Pardon que je ne availalbe français pour moi et il faut utiliser un traducteur. Je souhaite que mon ouverture d’esprit et le cœur est traduit ici. Je suis toujours ouvert à la conversation.
        – Shari

        Pardon that I had to use Google Translator to translate. I am concerned that your message might not have translated properly and might not be proper back to you…but let us attempt:
        I do hope that you are using modern biomechanics in your Pilates. If you are, I applaud you. The typical classical work is without modern biomechanics. In my article, you can see I was clearly making the distinction between what Romana did and what is biomechanically appropriate. How one can do classical Pilates with quality mechanics in it.

        I hope that makes sense to you. I do implore that all Classical Pilates Teachers recognize the value of a modern education in how the body really works and layer that onto our Pilates teaching. That cues like “squeeze your buttocks” or “flatten your lower back” or “wrap your thighs”, “pull your shoulders down” and “close your ribs” not to mention the large external rotation of the legs and feet that often happen are really influences of a misunderstanding of how the human body works, more from ballet and less from good mechanics.

        I do not mean to insult…I just mean to inform. I am sure that all who do even these actions that I just spoke of are extremely well-meaning, but they are not good for the human body.

        Along with that, I do not mean to say that this is what you, personally do. I do not know what you do…I am just writing to make sure I am clear.

        I hope that makes sense. I look forward to a continued conversation. Pardon that I have no French availalbe to me and must use a translator. I hope that my open mind and heart is translated here. I am always open to conversation.
        – Shari

      • 15. pilates original  |  July 14, 2015 at 5:32 am

        thank you for your reply. How long have you practiced with Romana’s pilates? we try to open the hips to open the lower back and posture. mobility in the hip enables to avoid the athrose in the hip.
        MOREOVER THE BUTTOCKS ARE EXTERNAL ROTATORS HIPS ! What is the problem? Why can’t we contract our buttocks (precisely small buttocks)?

        we seek to lengthen the lower back but not flatten, It’s different! With a neutral pelvis we can put the lower back muscles on the mat with a good powerhouse and a good lengthening lower back. If the person is not flexible enough, she will pose less her back to the beginning.

  • 16. david  |  August 4, 2010 at 1:43 am

    Good blog. I agree with much of what you have to say but have to disagree about the glutes. The glutes are part of the “powerhouse.” You say, “There is no need to squeeze your seat…ever in Pilates or just about anything else.” Take almost any other exercise class and what do you hear, “squeeze your seat!” I have always squeezed my butt when doing Pilates and nothing bad has happened to me. I have actually found the opposite to be true. Not “using my glutes” has led to some pain and discomfort.

    • 17. theverticalworkshop  |  August 4, 2010 at 10:07 am

      Hi, David,
      Thank you, not only for reading this blog and commenting, but for taking a stand and disagreeing. I appreciate that. Too many people fear disagreement, but I believe it leads to great discussions!

      With that, yes, indeed, most modern exercise demands you to “squeeze your butt” or “tighten your glutes”. I disagree with all of them. You don’t have to work to engage the global muscles: Glutes, quads, deltoids, biceps, etc. Those muscles strengthen by using them in their functional way against resistance. It’s true that if you “squeeze your seat”, you will have tighter glutes, but not necessarily in the positive way. A tight muscle does not mean a strong one. Compression is not strength.

      I was thoroughly raised on and trained to “squeeze my seat” in ballet and in Pilates. When I stopped doing it, I seemed to lose all connection to my abdominals. At first, it made me think that disconnecting my glutes was bad, but then I realized that squeezing my glutes was masking the fact that I wasn’t fully connecting my abdominals. Now, it’s not that I wasn’t trying. I certainly was trying and thought I was pretty great at it. An elite dancer and athlete, I am confident in my abilities and awareness. Over many years of working this way, many Pilates teachers have tried this with me and find it astonishingly effective in truly getting “into” the most important part of the “Powerhouse”…Primary Powerhouse – Abdominals. The Primary Powerhouse often gets neglected, even a little bit, because it’s so easy and satisfying to “squeeze your seat”.

      Again, I was brought up on this as being a “Truth”, too. It’s hard to give up things that you’ve learned as True. A new Truth developed when I realized that it worked.

      Just food for thought which I think is utterly important. Thank you for hearing me out. As teachers, we must question all the things we take as Truth and make sure they prove themselves. When faced with a new thought, it’s great to consider, discuss, experiment, etc.

      Thank you, David!
      – Shari

  • 18. david  |  August 4, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Thanks for responding. You’ve got me thinking, and that’s what blogging is all about or should be about. A quick search on the internet leads to all sorts of thoughts on this subject. As with anything, there are those that agree with your position and those that disagree. Do you have any recommendations for solid research supporting your position?

    I am not a Pilates teacher but have been a student for a while. My teacher studied with Romana; I’ll ask her about this.

    • 19. theverticalworkshop  |  August 18, 2010 at 11:10 pm

      David, I appreciate your questions and the act of questioning.

      I welcome your teacher reading this blog…this post and all of my posts and reaching out to me if she has any questions or comments.

      Take your time and study both physically and intellectually.

      Thank you.

  • 20. Megan Berry  |  August 4, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    I love your distinction btwn “instructor” and “teacher”. Bob was talking a lot about Romanaisms last week- he mentioned that “Powerhouse” was a Romana term (and a bunch of other stuff). I’m sure y’all have had many a conversation bout this subject. I think history feeds invention and I think it is a testament to the power of the Pilates Method that people like Romana devoted their livelihoods to the work and eventually left their own stamps here and there- making it a living breathing entity. I think it is a great thing to celebrate these distinctions!

    One question, just to stir the pot, do you think that pedagogy has a part in defining Classical Pilates? Meaning, Classical Pilates is defined by the choreorgraphy, its order and Pilates’ philosophy on fitness as documented by his writings etcetera, but what about the environment in which he taught? Is it possible to have a Classical Mat class that is 45 or 50 minutes long? A Classical Private even if it is on several pieces of aparatus?

    I’m not looking for a correct or incorrect answer, just curious about your opinion… Great blog! I’m a true fan. Cheers!

    • 21. theverticalworkshop  |  August 18, 2010 at 11:24 pm

      Hi, Megan,
      I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to reply!
      You’ve asked a mega-deep question about the underlying philosophy of “What is Pilates?” It’s a tough one. Ideally, Classical Pilates is Mr. Pilates exercises in his order with his intention on multiple apparatus in 55 minutes. A mat class might not even be considered classical because it doesn’t use multiple apparatus. Yes, indeed, the name “Classical Pilates” is a creation of modern day. It used to just be “Pilates” (after it was just “Contrology”). When I was first taking Pilates there was no statement about Classical or Contemporary, etc…it was just Pilates. I had no idea other people were doing other things, even. Then when I moved to L.A., I learned that I had to differentiate what I was doing from others. There were terms of “New York Pilates”, “East Coast Style Pilates”, “Authentic Pilates” and many more. A mat class, be it 45 or 55 minutes long is a modern, contemporary creation. This name, “Classical Pilates”, is a modern creation.

      Just thoughts!

      Enjoy! And thank you!!!
      – Shari

  • 22. Alex  |  August 5, 2010 at 11:28 am

    I had to look this up, so I pasted it in just coz I thought….well I didn’t think actually!

    Hope it’s Ilegal 😉

    Pedagogy literally means the art and science of educating children and often is used as a synonym for teaching. More accurately, pedagogy embodies teacher-focused education. In the pedagogic model, teachers assume responsibility for making decisions about what will be learned, how it will be learned, and when it will be learned. Teachers direct learning.

    Andragogy, initially defined as “the art and science of helping adults learn,” currently defines an alternative to pedagogy and refers to learner-focused education for people of all ages. In other words an andragogic approach is all about putting the learner in the driving seat.

    I am not entirely sure I undertsnad Megan’s question but I am keen to read what if you write on it.

    Megan I almost wrote something about what might be similar idea’s about a “Classical Mat Class” that is 45-50 mins long.

    I took a beginner mat class on Sat out of curiosity by an Instructer I wanted to meet with Romana History etc sadly I had booked to go back and do the intermediate on Sunday, I had the choice of BBQ or another hour of frustration, head shaking, pursed lips, internal pain listening to squeeze your butt, now let’s all try to turn out our legs or work in “Pilates V” and all the other area’s covered above. I chose the class, my heart sank lower the next day, more of the above, plus a little curveball, “Corckscrew” into “Bridge” to be fair I didn’t spot that coming, so I asked, “Why did you you put bridge there?”
    “I, I, I, don’t know, I have no specific answer for you, I just thought the class needed it!” One of the hardest parts was watching all the people that were trying to educate them selves making notes and sucking it all in, leave thinking they had found great info, and so the chain continues on and on.

    And then I read this Blog, and it all makes much more sense, so apologies to that instructer, it’s partly not her fault! Maybe!!!!

    Megan; ( I absolutely belive you know this already ) it is definately possible to have a fab Mat class that last past the 40 -50 minute time scale, But it takes a good group and a really good teacher to keep all the bases covered, maybe Shari would comment some more on that.

    But I do think about how a 15 – 20 -30 min work has become 55mins and some places I have been 90 mins?

    Shari must have some thoughts there?

    Also Shari can you help me write up some course note’s? 😉

    Ballet terms mostly, I have other people I can ask so no biggy if it’s not ur bag!


  • 23. Alex  |  August 5, 2010 at 11:42 am

    David, I realy don’t like making comment directly to other people as I think it’s not my place, but……every rule!

    My personal recomendations for solid research to start with would be every blog written on this site, it will take time to read re-read digest, but you will find consistent quality info, that has not come out of a text book ( they don’t exist ), and takes into account most peoples backgrounds and is completely non judgemental, a rare gift to find.

    I can’t begin to describe how much knowledge is wrapped up in these blogs alone, and to be able to absorb understand interpret, and turn it into a usuable format is another gift, there are not many (there are some) people like this in the Pilates world….

    Just my opinion, please, no offence intended, I hope you can find some more pieces and fit them together, it isn’t easy.


    • 24. theverticalworkshop  |  August 18, 2010 at 11:07 pm

      Alex, Thank You for your resounding support and care. I’m sorry it’s taken me a while to respond to this, but I’m glad I got this moment to do so!

  • 25. Jami  |  August 9, 2010 at 9:02 am

    Love Love LOVE this Blog. I have been certified both contemporary and classically. I do have an element to ponder. I too don’t train clients to “squeeze” their glutes. I do however work with them on engaging their pelvic floor. This was big while I was studying my contemporary Pilates certification. What are your thoughts of including the pelvic floor along with the Primary Powerhouse?

    • 26. theverticalworkshop  |  August 18, 2010 at 11:05 pm

      Hi, Jami!
      Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and even comment! Thank you!
      I have much to say about the pelvic floor and how to address it. I will honor your question appropriately by taking some time with it and writing a blog post rather than being too flip with it in one sentence or two. I hope that’s OK. I will absolutely answer your question!
      All the best!
      – Shari

      • 27. Jami  |  August 22, 2010 at 7:43 pm

        Thank You Shari. I look forward to reading your blog on the subject.

  • 28. Jodi Brinkman  |  August 19, 2010 at 9:05 am

    i have to go teach in a bit, but wanted to add a short comment. i want to come to new york and continue my TEACHING and learning from you! (yes i do believe myself to be a teacher and not an instructor 🙂

    will you be in new york in october sometime? if so how much do you charge? you can email me personally and we can discuss!

    once again, thank you! 🙂

    from the core,

    • 29. theverticalworkshop  |  August 19, 2010 at 10:47 am

      Jodi! I would absolutely love it if you’d come to NYC for a while and study with me! Yes, I’m in town through October (except the weekend of Oct. 16 when I’ll be up in Burlington, VT teaching a bit and hearing my boyfriend play some great music!) I’ll e-mail you directly and we can chat about it!

      Thank you for reaching out…from the core!
      – Shari
      P.S. – Enjoy your day of teaching…and more!

  • 30. Kerstin Korzekwa  |  August 27, 2010 at 10:25 am

    How interesting.

    Let me just say that I experienced none of the so called “Romana-isms” during my apprenticeship or prior to my apprenticeship as a client with Romana certified teachers.
    We were also always encouraged to ask questions, the why and how of certain cues were explained to us.

    Elena brings up an interesting point: Teachers leaving training centers too soon, not keeping up with continuing education.
    This is unfortunately always an issue that most certifying bodies will have little control over.
    What does Power Pilates do to prevent this from happening?

    If you are interested in studying with a teacher certified by Romana or Romana’s Pilates, ask to see their certificate and ask how they continue their education.
    Any self respecting teacher will gladly provide the information.

    Also be careful when reading the expression “Romana- trained” it is currently very en vogue to claim to be “Romana- trained” if one had maybe two Mat classes from Romana or one of her teachers back in the 90’s. It takes a little more to truely learn the Method.

    • 31. theverticalworkshop  |  August 28, 2010 at 10:23 pm

      Hi, Kerstin,

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      I’m glad that you had not experiences any of these things that I and many others have. There were some groups of apprentices who didn’t experience this…and you are proof of it. I appreciate you taking the time and energy in expressing your view.

      Your comment and question about continuing education is a tricky one for all certifying centers. It’s my opinion and observation that the many people who teach Pilates teach for many reasons. Not everyone teaches as a career. Some are teaching just to have something to do to pass the time in life or while they are figuring out what they want their career to be. Those people don’t often continue their education. They got what they think they needed and don’t believe they need much more. Then there are those who enter into Pilates as a career, indeed. Those people are often ardent students taking workshops and seminars as often as they can. Ultimately, there is little “control” any governing body can have over the teaching of Pilates…at the moment. Of course, each training program sets forth guidelines for maintaining their certificate with that program, but ultimately it doesn’t matter to the public/consumer if her teacher is still labeled as certified by that program or not. All the public cares about it, if they are even concerned and many are not, is that the teacher is certified. (We know that there are many teachers who are not certified. Some are marvelous. Some…not so much.) Then, there is the PMA who is working as the current governing body for Pilates, but there is limited public knowledge of this, so…there is still a long way to go. We can help by encouraging our fellow teachers to continue their education and remind each other that a solid teacher is always a solid student and must keep taking workshops, etc.

      Forgive my rambling!

      I also appreciate your comment of warning about “Romana-trained”. Indeed. It’s been an issue as long as I can remember. I recall Romana getting awfully upset over people saying that she was their teacher when they never went through her program or studied in-depth with her before a program existed, etc. There’s such a need for “validity” in this community that some claim connections that are not true. Again, the consumer, unfortunately, doesn’t know the difference. Those of us who were legitimately trained directly and daily by and with Romana are upset by the false statements people make, but, still, it does no harm as long as people aren’t hurting others. Alas…we can’t police the entire business or world for that matter.

      Thank you, Kerstin. I look forward to e-talking with you again and perhaps meeting in the future!
      – Shari

    • 32. Pixiecakes  |  December 17, 2012 at 6:51 pm

      Can you elaborate on your “one of her teachers back in the 90′s” comment? I was certified by Romana in 1994 after a 2.5 year apprenticeship. It was an honor to study and teach along side the Grande Dame and I am Old School through and through. It has set my teaching skills far apart from most. The pilates teachers of that era, (1st & 2nd generation) are the ones who maintain the gold standard or have left the industry due to lack of Trademark and/or all the misinformation and the progressed, diluted, corrupted – take your pick – Form(s).
      I first began doing pilates in 1985, via Ron Fletcher’s lineage, also 2 years in a Boulder Style Studio, 6 months of sessions in a Stott studio, etc. etc. I have been around and know the difference. If, big IF an individual can connect with the Classic form of pilates they realize it is the most potent and profound mindbody experience.
      Again, can’t help but wonder what your comment is based on? Where you there in the 1990’s? I think not…

      • 33. theverticalworkshop  |  December 18, 2012 at 1:16 pm

        First of all, thank you for taking time to read this blog and to feel strongly enough to comment. The passion that flow through the people of Pilates is potent.

        Still, your reply to Kerstin’s comment is pretty aggressive. Maybe it was not necessary. Please take care in this forum and elsewhere to consider what is personal and what is not. All are entitled to opinions and each person’s experience is her own.

        Thank you for being part of the discussion!

        – Shari

      • 34. Kerstin Korzekwa  |  December 18, 2012 at 1:40 pm

        I can tell you EXACTLY what I am talking about: Folks who took 2 Mat classes from a Romana trained teacher in the 90’s and then walk into my studio in 2010 claiming to be “Romana certified”.
        If you would have read my comment properly you could have figured this out yourself btw.
        The attitude you are displaying here right now is exactly why so many people think we are Pilates snobs.

  • 35. Alex  |  August 29, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Does this mean I can claim a Berkowitz Certification? ….;)

    Or Just a good Berkowitz Blogging?

    • 36. theverticalworkshop  |  August 29, 2010 at 10:40 pm

      Alex! You’re too funny!
      Are you going to the PMA conference in November in Long Beach, CA? I know it’s a long trip for you! Or when is your next trip to NYC? It’s time we worked together!
      – Shari

  • 37. Alex  |  August 30, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Are you going to the PMA conference in November in Long Beach, CA?
    I know it’s a long trip for you!
    Or when is your next trip to NYC?
    Duno! 😦
    It’s time we worked together!
    Well…..Not sure how much I can teach you, Shari!

    But I’m not fussy, I’ll give u a go….;)


  • 38. Marie Roth  |  October 14, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    I keep coming back to your blogs and I am having some trouble in my own body and I am not sure how to address it. I have a pinched nerve and spinal stenosis in C6 C7 –so much I have seen 2 specialists and a neurologist. It has affected my left side and shoulder blade. I also found out I have thorasic scoliosis at T3. I feel like pilates has really changed my life and I love it but was troubled yesterday when another neurologist and physical therapist said you should not look ever put your neck (nose toward sternum) due to the issues it creates in your neck. THey felt like pilates is great way to strength but not great for the neck. All of my neck pain started when I started pilates and that could be I was not strong enough when I first started in my core and was straining when I lifted my head. Now I feel so much stronger and able to do that but felt like I was told yesterday to not look into the Powerhouse any longer and that pilates is not great for neck injuries. Could you give me some feedback…does not have to be about my personal injury but how you address neck issues and why most physical therapists I have talked to feel pilates is not great for the cervical curve in a lifted head position.
    Also, sorry for the long post…do you know any research studies that prove pilates is beneficial for athlete’s? I have a professor who is interested in her college athletes doing pilates to strengthen core and increase flexibility but she wants research to back it up.
    Thank you for your devotion to pilates…I needed to read your blogs again today because I was so discouraged about people’s opinions about pilates yesterday.
    Marie Roth

    • 39. carolfoasia  |  July 11, 2015 at 2:29 pm

      Hi Marie, Here it is 5 years later, and I am reading a post by you after spending Tuesday morning with you! Small world! Carol

      • 40. carolfoasia  |  July 11, 2015 at 2:32 pm

        Coming back and saying I want to receive notification if you respond. So I am writing more to check the box.

  • 41. Marie Roth  |  October 14, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    A little more..I know about neck modifications…head down..and all that my manual provided. I was just surprised that many physical therapists I have encountered feels like no one (not even people with no neck issues) should look into their powerhouse but rather a little up.. I know we want to stretch the back of the neck long when we look into the powerhouse. I left feeling I could never enjoy my mat again…I love looking into my powerhouse but am being advised to keep head down, which I understand for my injury but I also felt they were strongly telling me that as an instructor I should not be having any of my clients do this as well.
    Any thoughts would be so appreciated. I look to your expertise so much,
    Marie Roth

    • 42. theverticalworkshop  |  October 14, 2010 at 10:39 pm

      Hi, Marie,
      I’m so glad you wrote. I’m so glad! I can help!

      First of all, if you need to keep your head down for your own personal physical issues (we all have physical issues which make us have to creatively modify exercises to make them right for us), then do. Absolutely.

      Next, a lot of physical therapist and others don’t know enough about Pilates to speak of it. And we must make sure we’re clear when we discuss it with them.

      What you are talking about is why I proclaim that the verbal cue in supine mat exercises “Chin to Chest” is not an appropriate cue. The cue needs to be “Curl your head and chest up, look into your abdominals” You look with your eyes. It’s a move to strengthen the “upper” abdominals and open the mid-thoracic/middle back. However, these abdominals are weak and that part of the back is tight. So, most people only life their heads and jam their chins into their chests. Indeed…this is bad. This overly stretches the posterior cervical spine and compresses the anterior cervical spine.

      That is why it is vital…VITAL…that we teach our clients and ourselves to only keep the head and chest elevated as long as the quality of movement remains. When the upper chest/upper back lowers down during and exercise and the neck is being strained…it’s gone too far. If a client cannot lift the head and chest then the client is not ready to lift up at all. In time as the abdominals strengthen and lumbar and thoracic spine get more flexible then that client will be able to lift both head and chest.

      So, with that, one must not be looking at the abominals with chin into chest even when chest is lifting well. Look with your eyes. Keep space between the chin and chest (just like in Stomach Massage on the reformer). How much space? About an apple size. The neck should be pretty free.

      What about when you go over head? Roll Over, Jackknife, Short Spine, Overhead, etc.? In those exercises, you must use your shoulder blades for support rather than the back of your neck and head and work to maintain the natural curve of your neck. Look not at your torso, but at the wall above and slightly behind you.

      Pilates is great, when taught well!

      Take care of yourself. Do the versions of exercises that are appropriate for you. Take care of your clients and make sure what you’re asking for them is what’s right for their bodies. Progress your clients appropriately. If they cannot lift their chests, then keep the head down until they can.

      Does that help? Keep asking more!

      As for beneficial for athletes? There’s a lot of info out there right now. I believe the U.S. military is adding Pilates and yoga to their routines. Don’t hold me to it, but do some internet research and I think you’ll find some quality info. If you do…would you please send links to me? You’ll find a lot of crap out there, too…so…thank goodness you are discerning!

      You’re going to be just fine, Marie. Keep getting quality therapy and keep moving!
      – Shari

  • 43. paco florido  |  November 6, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    muy bueno. estoy completamente de acuerdo

  • 44. paco florido  |  November 6, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    en la sesión que has realizado hoy en Barcelona respecto a la oposición, has demostrado realmente el significado de la esencia del método. por fín he logrado sentir esa conexiòn entre la L5-S1 en el double leg stretcht. pero es muy difícil explicar al estudiante, incluso con un nivel medio, que la separación entre esta estabilidad pequeña puede provocar cierta inseguridad en tu cuerpo, y que esta pseudo inestabilidad es contrarrestada con una mayor eficacia en el dominio del power house. Una experiencia muy muy gratificante.

    • 45. theverticalworkshop  |  November 8, 2010 at 9:19 pm


      ¡Muchas Gracias! ¡Como un maestro, sabiendo que los talleres fueron efectivos satisface muy! Espero el oído cómo continúa con este material.

      (¡Espero que eso fuera español correcto!)

      – Shari

  • 46. Ariel  |  December 2, 2010 at 11:20 am

    Hi Shari!!!

    I absolutely adore your blog!!!! I am from Argentina and have translated this post on Classical Pilates into spanish to share with all my colleagues who don´t speak english. I ask your permission to publish this translation on my own blog (obviusly quoting you)

    I find very very interesting all of the posts and hope some day I can meet you in person.

    Big hugs!


    I find very very interesting all of the posts.

    • 47. theverticalworkshop  |  December 2, 2010 at 11:28 am


      Thank you! I am grateful that you take the time to read my posts and that you’ve reached out to me to let me know!
      I would be honored to have you publish the translation of this post on your own blog. Would you put a link to my blog and/or website there? and

      It would be lovely to meet you in person! I travel a lot, but haven’t been to Argentina, yet. If you ever want, I would be pleased to come down and do workshops!

      All the best!
      I look forward to hearing from you again!
      – Shari

  • 48. Maialen  |  February 2, 2011 at 10:16 am

    I learn so much from you, even being so far!!!

    Muchas gracias!!!
    Eskerrik asko!!!

    • 49. theverticalworkshop  |  February 2, 2011 at 10:18 am


      You’re more than welcome! It is my pleasure and thrills me to know that what I write is something that you can learn from!

      I hope you’re well! And I miss you! When you were here, it felt like you lived here!

      All the best!
      – Shari

      • 50. matx  |  February 15, 2011 at 12:16 pm


        now Singing…”You’re the sunshine of my life…. Pilates teacher’s life!!
        You should think seriosly in writing a book about all this. Maybe you’re working on? Please! Your fans need it. And a dvd with your energy!

        I also felt like that when I was in NY. Let’s go to Jazz Standard tonight!

        Wish you the best too.


      • 51. theverticalworkshop  |  February 19, 2011 at 3:09 pm

        Thank you, Maialen! I’m working on some things that I think you and other teachers will really get a lot out of. Stay tuned!

        With that…The Jazz Standard…Joe’s playing 3 sets there this evening. However, I am home doing my taxes! Alas!

        I look forward to the next time we get to see each other!
        – Shari

  • […] Classical Confusion: Clarifying the Definition of Classical Pilates2010/08/02 […]

  • 53. Erika  |  October 27, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Hi Shari,

    I’m wondering…you mention that one of the most notable Romana-isms is “Flattening the lower back in supine exercises” and you suggest to keep “Neutral Pelvis in supine exercises.”

    Can you clarify this? I’ve been practicing Pilates for several months now- I’ve gone to both classical instructors and contemporary instructors and have almost always been told to flatten the entire back (including lower back) in supine exercises (the cue I most often hear is to “make sure the back is flat so no light gets through any spaces”).

    If I’m, for example, in table top position, should my low back be flat to the mat? If I raise both legs up and do leg exercises, should my low back be flat? If I’m doing The Hundred, the Roll-Up, Leg Circles, etc, should I keep my low back flat?

    Since I read this blog post, I’ve been researching whether or not keeping a flat low back is correct and I’ve gotten even more confused! Reputable websites I’ve come across instructor one to flatten the low back in, for example, abdominal exercises. Other websites (though not as reputable) instruct one to NOT flatten the low back. I’m confused!

    • 54. theverticalworkshop  |  October 30, 2011 at 4:19 pm

      Hi, Erika,

      Thank you for taking the time to consider: Is what I’m being taught in sessions and in articles correct. Being a critical thinker is essential in all aspects of our lives. It would be great if we could blindly follow all those who profess, but we cannot. That’s a shame…and then that’s life!

      With that in mind…here’s the deal (Not from my intuition, but from bio-mechanical study. Intuition is only a foundation to start with…learning from others is the next step…then studying the truth on your own…that brings the greatest clarity and confidence. But I digress…) When beginners start in Pilates, no matter how much or how little abdominal strength they have, they tend to flatten their lower backs in the effort of engaging abdominals when in a supine position (back on the mat). Why? because they primarily engage rectus abdominus who’s action is to draw the base of the sternum toward the pubis or the pubis toward the base of the sternum. That would essential create lumbar flexion…outward curve of the spine. When on the mat, that flattens the lumbar spine.

      As long as we’re not asking the lumbar spine to carry a load/weight, then that is fine for beginners who are just trying to make some sort of abdominal connection and learn the actions of each exercise. Therefore, teachers must make sure that in exercises when the legs are outstretched in the air…that they must be in table-top or straight up to the ceiling so as not to compromise the lumbar spine. Having one leg at a time on a high diagonal would be fine, but not both legs. To much load on the lumbar when it is in lumbar flexion in this manner.

      So: Beginner Versions of mat exercises where this would apply:
      The Hundred – Legs in Table Top
      Single Leg Circles – The stabilizing leg has a bent knee and its foot on the mat. The circling leg has a slightly bent knee.
      Abdominal Series –
      Single Leg Stretch – since it’s one leg at a time, the leg that is outstretched can be on a high diagonal
      Double Leg Stretch – since it’s both legs out at the same time, the legs should be nearly up to the ceiling
      Single Straight Leg Stretch – since it’s one leg at a time, the leg that is outstretched can be on a high diagonal

      Does that make sense?

      Now…as we progress into more intermediate-land…that means that the client has gained an abdominal connection in all exercises and a bit of a lift of the lumbar spine (creating space in the lower back). Now, we can start to work with “neutral pelvis” in those exercises mentioned above. Work with opposition like I had discussed in the body of the article called Neutral Pelvis and Neutral Spine: What are they and why do we care? originally posted in April 2011. Here is the link:

      Flattening the lower back on the mat while legs are outstretched is not good for your lumbar spine. We cannot ask beginners to create a neutral pelvis and spine because they do not have the strength and opposition for it, so we must protect them with appropriately positioned modified legs.

      If you have a strong abdominal connection, you ought to be working with a neutral pelvis and the natural curves of your spine. Maybe with your legs higher than you’re used to and with a lot of opposition to support that placement. Your vertebrae need to be open on all sides to support your legs. Please read that article “Neutral Pelvis…” and ask me more questions.

      Now, why doesn’t your teacher teach you like this? Because your well-meaning teacher hasn’t studied bio-mechanics and didn’t train in a program that encouraged that. Heck…I didn’t train in a program that encouraged it either, but I studied and studied because I knew that if I was to be working with bodies…I had better understand them. It took me a while to get there…but I’m glad that I did.

      And with that…what did Mr. Pilates do? He may very well have flattened lower backs. Don’t know. If he did, was he right to do so? No. It’s not good for your back when your legs are outstretched.

      Please read that other article and let me know your thoughts.

      All the best!
      – Shari

  • […] Classical Confusion: Clarifying the Definition of Classical Pilates2010/08/02 […]

  • 56. Debbie  |  March 15, 2012 at 3:29 am

    Thank you for sharing all your knowledge and insight on a great blog. As a new instructor, I am thirsty for knowledge, especially that based on thoughtful contemplation, which is what you offer!

    I have a friend struggling to complete her Classical Pilates training as she has developed significant SI joint issues over the past 18 months of initially qualifying for and then participating in a 1 year course. I think that she is almost at the point of giving up in her pain and frustration. What would you advise are the key changes in her practise she should make to help herself and overcome these issues?

    Many thanks in advance….

    • 57. theverticalworkshop  |  April 8, 2012 at 6:03 pm

      Hi, Debbie,

      I must apologize for a more-than 3 week delay in writing back to you! I’m usually quite prompt, but I was teaching in Europe for 2 weeks when you wrote, then came back to move apartments and am just catching up…I beg your forgiveness!

      It is not unusual in times of stress (and apprentice programs are very stressful) for SI joint issues to develop or re-emerge! My thoughts for your friend is that she go to a chiropractor or kinesiologist to have the physical part taken care of so she is more comfortable. Then, I suggest she ice or heat…whichever feels better for her. And roll out on a 6″ foam roller (roll her glutes and tensor fascia latae, let along her entire spine). Not too much time rolling…just a few minutes to get the blood going.

      Then I must ask which program she is in and if they practice the following actions: flatten lower back, squeeze buttocks, work in external rotation. If she does these 3 actions, she will undoubtedly incur SI trouble. This is the issue…100%. Some people don’t end up with SI trouble…or they have had it for so long from ballet or some such thing that they don’t realize a continued problem with it in Pilates that uses flattened lower backs, tremendous external rotation of the femurs and squeezing buttocks…but it is a problem, indeed.

      What should she do? Allow for the natural curve in her lower back by working with neutral pelvis in exercises like The Hundred, Single Leg Circles, Abdominal Series, Footwork, etc., work in parallel unless the exercise requires knees to open out shoulder-width and keep her buttocks relaxed rather than squeezed. All the while, keep outstretched legs higher than she is used to so that this new positioning of the pelvis doesn’t strain her back as she gets into abdominal muscles that have thus far been relatively unused. Flattening lower back is very heavy on rectus abdominus, but not much else…not much, though other abdominal muscles do work…just not much.

      Can you ask her to reach out to me…the 3 of us can discuss. Email me at

      Thank you for asking…and again I am so sorry that I didn’t write back earlier!
      – Shari

  • 58. Debbie  |  May 7, 2012 at 4:12 am

    Hi Shari

    Now I am the one apologising.. Had school holidays, then a sick child, then my friend was away blah, blah, blah…. You know how it goes. She is about to take her final exam in a few days time, but once she is done with that, I will take her through the info you have sent in detail, and then we will get back to you through email.

    Many thanks again. Stay well and we will be in touch.

  • 59. Lynn  |  July 25, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    Hi Shari:love your blog. I am a fully trained instructor in Pilates and that training came from Body Harmonics Pilates in Toronot, Canada. Our training was 6 months in length and broken down into two modules. Each one required 27 hours lecture of anatomy, biomechanics, posture and movement analysis. Each module covered 28 hours of exercise review of all levels. The first module required 35 hours of self practice, 40 hours home study. Second module 60 hours practice teaching, 40 hours home study.
    Prior to our exam a one hour teaching evaluation, 40 hours self practice , 60 hours practice teaching.
    Approx.length is 400 hours total.
    I feel because we had such extensive anatomy and biomechanics, there has never been a question in my mind about whether to use glutes or not, external or parallel leg orientation.
    If we understand anatomy, know origin/insertions, AND get to know nerve innervations, we can’t approach the Pilates exercises armed with what we need to know. It does take a lot of studying if we want to be teachers, not just another instructor.
    So I am happy to see that you ae helping to make this distinction.

    What I am wondering is if anyone has shared any information with you regarding the origins of Mr.Pilates Classical Pilates?
    I have been lucky enough to be friends with an a teacher who was trained by Moirra Merrithew of Stott Pilates. Like you Moirra ended up with herniated cervical discs because of Mr.Pilates exercises and how he taught them. That’s why she started with a contemporary approach as well. But I digress. She passed along information about the actual origins of sins exercises.
    So do you have anything that you would like to share about this? We all know there is quite a bit of yoga, but there is other as well.

  • 60. The Vertical Workshop's Pilates Teacher Blog  |  December 6, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    […] Classical Confusion: Clarifying the Definition of Classical Pilates2010/08/02 […]

  • […] my opinion, Classical Pilates offers a host of beneficial qualities to the average individual desiring to be physically fit. Yes, […]

  • 62. RICHARD  |  January 24, 2013 at 10:57 am


    • 63. theverticalworkshop  |  January 24, 2013 at 11:43 am

      Thank you, Richard, for taking the time to read this and for letting me know.
      I’ll be in London in April presenting at Pilates on Tour. Perhaps we’ll have the opportunity to meet there.
      All the best,
      – Shari

  • 64. Rosie Eisenstein  |  February 3, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    Out of curiosity, what are your thoughts about the flexion-emphasis of the classical sequence in relation to clients who have disc degeneration type issues? I have disc degeneration at L4-L5, and I’m considering training to be an instructor in a classical approach. I’ve taken classes from instructors trained in Stott, Peak, and directly by Romana, and in my experience, I benefited quite a bit from Stott’s emphasis on alternating between flexion and extension as a way of keeping things balanced. But I also see the value in classical Pilates, and I wonder how one mediates between the classical perspective and special needs clients like me who I would hope to specialize in. We understand a lot more about these problems now than when Joseph Pilates was alive. How do we integrate that information into a classical practice?

    • 65. theverticalworkshop  |  February 17, 2013 at 6:45 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to read this piece. I hope that some of my other articles have already shared my thoughts on your question, but I’m glad to write more here and then write a full article on it soon as I’ve been planning:

      As I wrote in the “Classical Confusion…” article, there is a difference between what Mr. Pilates created and what is currently known as “Classical” Pilates. Romana’s work is what is most often labeled as “Classical”. Romana’s work is only a small portion of what Mr. Pilates created and has a lot of ballet mechanics in it rather than good biomechanics.

      With that, when Romana created the first teacher training program, there was a lot of forward flexion of the spine in the exercise list. An effort to make a deeper abdominal connection and reversal of the lumbar spine being the emphasis. With that, many exercises were not included in the first training program and that has been repeated by many, many, many training programs since…nearly all of them.

      Mr. Pilates’ vocabulary of exercises in his method of Contrology was far more profound than the exercises we most commonly see today. That is a huge reason why I spend a lot of time sharing other exercises that he created in my “Archival workshops. He has a lot of spinal flexion, extension, lateral flexion and rotational exercises…and many more for the entire body. Really a tremendous vocabulary. Not super-advanced exercises…solidly intermediate. Either Romana did not know all of these exercises, didn’t value them or both.

      Of course, while making a program for apprentices who have limited prior experience and limited time to learn…choices get made. For Romana and her style and beliefs, a tremendous amount of forward flexion of the spine is in the program.

      In addition, whether Romana intended it or not, her style (and those who come from that school who have not continued their education outside of that school and well into true biomechanics) encourages a flattening of the lumbar spine which is really loaded forward flexion of the spine. So…even when there could be the natural lordotic curve of the lumbar spine…it is reversed. A shame.

      So…that is part 1 of your question.

      Part 2 – alternating between flexion and extension in the spine during the workout:
      If you work with modern biomechanics and do Mr. Pilates’ orders on the mat and reformer, you will find that you alternate between natural curves and flexion of the spine often. The more intermediate, the more full extension, lateral flexion and rotation of the spine. A wonderful massage of the spine. The more advanced…even more so. And super-advanced is remarkable manipulation of the spine.

      It’s all there…if good mechanics are applied.

      Part 3 – how do you integrate…
      So…those times when you were told to flatten your lower back into the mat or grow tall by squeezing your seat or lengthen your lower back by pulling your tailbone under…those actions are erasing your lumbar curve…and keeping you in forward flexion of the lumbar spine (if not the entire spine).

      You must learn what neutral pelvis is and the resultant curves of your spine…and start to work there for those exercises that you’re used to flattening. Read this article I wrote: Neutral Pelvis and Neutral Spine:

      I think you’ll find that incredibly helpful! Keep asking questions…I’ll continue to work to help it all make sense to you!

      Thank you, again!
      – Shari

  • […] form and function. That being said, I recently read an article posted to my new favorite blog. You can read it here. The article is written by a woman who trained directly with Romana and then further expanded her […]

  • 67. Bonnie Machuca  |  May 11, 2013 at 7:00 pm

    Wow Shari–

    I just found your blog in the most opportune time! I think of myself as a “hybrid” teacher. I’ve been classically trained with a lot of modern adaptations, then studied under a very modern Pilates mentor and taught her teacher training program for a couple years. I am now diving into more classical repertoire—from the Pilates Center of Boulder. I truly believe if you practice with Joseph Pilates intentions in mind by the way of his book, “Contrology”, you experience the “internal shower”—a full body experience. I have had trouble experiencing the full body work in some of the contemporary stuff, and have felt extremely invigorated following the classical order. I’ve never felt so strong and alive! I am having lots of growing pains teaching the order and classical work to my existing clientele. No one is in pain, they are just wiped after the session/class. Also, it is so hard for me to just follow the order while I am teaching because some of the beginning repertoire does not have flexion or lateral flexion, so I usually throw a mermaid, shoulder bridge, or swan in. I feel guilty doing this—but with my years of rehabilitation training, I believe this is extremely important! I try and teach with a keen eye and work with neutral, or a “lengthened low back”, parallel, or turned out depending on what the posture is presenting. Sometimes I find myself to be soooo confused. Your article has really clarified some of my confusion and tentative nature. Thank you! I am hoping to find others out there like me and have some partners along this journey!

    Bonnie Machuca
    PrecisionPoint Pilates

    • 68. theverticalworkshop  |  May 14, 2013 at 1:59 pm

      Hello, Bonnie,

      Thank you for reading The Pilates Teacher Blog and letting me know that it’s working for you!
      Nearly everything (if not absolutely everything) in life and Pilates is very simplistic…it’s unfortunate that people work to complicate. When something…anything…appears complicated that’s when we must seek out the components. And if we can’t do that on our own, we ask others for assistance.
      I’m thrilled that this article has clarified some points.
      I hope that you will continue to find clarity.
      Please reach out if I can assist!

      All the best,
      – Shari

  • […] nos cuenta Shari Berkowitz, instructora con formación clásica, en este artículo y cuya traducción podéis encontrarla en Fuente […]

  • […] typical classical Pilates class consists of a set series of movements that are often uncomfortable, complicated and not […]

  • 71. elizatwist  |  August 16, 2013 at 12:02 am

    I appreciate your delineation of classical Pilates instruction, it makes good sense to me and jives with my experiences of training (learning a very derivative form of Pilates first and then training with Romana). During the six or so years that I was working with Romana as much as I could, there were always so many senior teachers in our midst that I had them to answer the questions and Romana to teach in her preferred way. I often think of how few people had a compatibility with Joseph Pilates himself, and how the work is so much more accessible now because there are so many more interpretations of it. And by interpretations, I don’t mean variations. I simply mean that so many more people have learned the work for their bodies, seen the work on different bodies, and have many insights because of those experiences. That is the best part of the evolution of such a body of work. (The viruses are the bad part.) Thanks for sharing! We each are a beautiful and unique expression of Pilates!

    • 72. theverticalworkshop  |  August 16, 2013 at 12:37 pm

      Well said! Thank you!
      I appreciate your kind and very well-spoken comment here.
      Thank you for reading this and sharing your thoughts!
      All the best,
      – Shari

  • 73. Classical or Contemporary Confusion? | jpilatesblog  |  September 28, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    […] This is a very clear definition so where lies the confusion? In looking further at the different training schools it becomes apparent that there are slight variations in the method depending on the Elder as each has brought their own interpretations. For example, teaching “turn out” or external hip rotation in the majority of the exercises. This is apparently a dance influenced interpretation (Joseph Pilates once said “Dancers ruined my method”!)  and unless offered as a modification or in exercises such as “Frog”  the legs should be worked in parallel to create balance, as stated by Shari Berkowitz in her article “Classical Confusion” […]

  • 74. Kanecia Carter  |  November 10, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    THANK YOU SO MUCH! I am a Grand Canyon University Dance Education major and I am required to take Pilates. And though I have taken Pilates before I came here just to stay in shape. While it worked I was not learning it the right way. And when I took it here for the first time I learned that! Personal issues happened and I am taking it again with a my teacher Michal Kempton and I think she is a 2nd or 3rd trained classical Pilates teacher and she gave us this assignment to research the significance of the order and this helped and put so much in perspective. And I have a great deal or respect for her more so now! You guys are awesome thanks!

    Kanecia Carter

    • 75. theverticalworkshop  |  November 22, 2013 at 12:47 pm


      Thank you for reading this article and taking the time to share your thoughts and excitement! Thank you!!!

      All the best and enjoy!
      – Shari

  • […] approach to Pilates differs from the Romana Kryzanowska approach. Ironically, courtesy of this blog I now realise that it’s even more complicated than I thought – the classification […]

  • 77. Molly  |  June 23, 2014 at 12:23 am

    Hi shari, just ran into this article, are you still teaching this getting to learn the classical approach? Cannot remember your title, sorry

  • 78. Carey  |  July 21, 2014 at 12:18 am

    This information about the classical Pilates exercises as originally intended by Joseph Pilates is very enlightening. I was being instructed with the Stott approach for a while and it was not resolving my back problems that I also began questioning whether I was being taught properly. I was instructed to pull the navel into the spine while strengthening the abdominals but it was creating a curved back, which was not good for me. It was very disappointing.

    I heard that Stott pilates is saying that they have come up with the contemporary idea of placing more emphasis on a neutral spine with various exercises… such that its confusing as to what approach I am learning.
    I would prefer to learn the original classical Pilates method.

    • 79. theverticalworkshop  |  August 9, 2014 at 5:58 pm

      I think it is great to learn the Classical exercises by Joseph Pilates but with modern biomechanics. That is what I teach. It is wise to understand how the body really works and apply it to any modality.

      If you would like to learn the Classical vocabulary of exercises and method, I will gladly guide you. Please feel free to reach out to me at

      All the very best!
      – Shari

  • 80. Mary German  |  August 24, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    Thanks for the posting Shari, loved the read and will share on my pro site. thanks mg

  • 81. Caitlin Ryan  |  December 5, 2014 at 8:42 am

    Hi Shari,
    Just wanted to pop in and say hi, and THANK YOU for all the work you do. We are living in a small town in Argentina now, so all my Pilates study has moved online and your blog is a wonderful resource. I miss taking sessions and workshops with you in NYC and hope to be able to again in the future. This was a great post on what has turned into a very contentious topic. When I did my initial training, I learned Joseph Pilates exercises in his order, but because of the “brand” of training I was labeled contemporary, and taught that Classical teachers didn’t study anatomy, and couldn’t properly work with injuries or limitations in their clients. When I moved to NYC, I learned that contemporary teachers were viewed as “not really doing Pilates” and just doing exercises on the Pilates equipment and calling it Pilates. Luckily I was hired in a primarily Classical studio, and I learned working next to my Romana trained colleagues that we could learn from each other. I hope one day to do yet another teacher training from a more classical school to further round my self out. Thanks again Shari!

    • 82. theverticalworkshop  |  December 11, 2014 at 12:52 pm

      Hi, Caitlin! It’s great hearing from you! I love seeing your posts on FB!
      It pains me so much that the Pilates community is not a community yet. There are some…a strong some who recognize value in contemporary, therapeutic and classical Pilates. No matter what style one does an education on how the body really works is vital. Why? Because the body is the body. And each body is actually designed to work the same as every other. When we look at squirrels…we expect them all to do the same things, of course…because that is what they are designed as and for. It’s the same for humans. So…no matter what exercises we do…the biomechanics actions ought to be the same striving for the same sort of balance in each person.

      What I mean by it all is that we all really have to rise above the immaturity of style and rise into the maturity of healthy actions, developing greater ability and sharing great compassion!

      It’s always been a pleasure working with you! You’ve always been open and that is a dream come true to a lady like me! I look forward to as many in-person and on-line times together as we can bear over a lifetime! I’ll have more and more live-streaming webinars and classes and then recorded seminars and classes over this next year! Let’s play!

      And…you and your husband are marvelous at the world exploration! Enjoy it all!!!
      – Shari

  • 83. carolfoasia  |  July 11, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    Hi there, you wrote this post “oh so many years” ago, but I have a question about STOTT versus classical. Is STOTT really that much better for you? I keep hearing they are the “Ivy League” of instruction and method. I had a STOTT teacher in 2006 (not knowing she was one), and I also had one who was classically trained by Marni Winsor. I did not notice this HUGE difference between the two of them. I just went to a PIlates class with Marie Roth (commented above), and I did a STOTT mat workout from a DVD (my old instructor is exclusively a yoga instructor now so I cannot do a group mat class to compare) this week. Marie’s was definitely more challenging and good (I like her as an instructor), and I didn’t really care for the STOTT one. So, please help me understand more specifically what the big difference is other than classical maintain the flow and order that Pilates mapped out and STOTT consulted sport medicine people, physical therapist, etc. to come up with their self-proclaimed “Ivy league method.”

    I do not come from a dance background (other than dancing in musicals because I am a singer) and am a jock (basketball player). I used to be a lifelong back sufferer (since 7th grade) but have found a combination of Pilates, Dr. Eric Goodman, Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT), acupuncture, massage, and the Melt Method have made me pain free for quite some time now. 🙂 HELP as I am deciding about being a Pilates Instructor and do not want to do the ACE Mind Body that does not have personalized training involved with it. I am willing to pay the money to do it right! So, I need more advise. 🙂

  • 84. Pilates: An Overview – Core Degree  |  February 22, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    […] found this post to be a helpful description covering the intentions of Joseph […]

  • 85. Jen  |  February 12, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    After studying anatomy and becoming a biomechanics scientist, what specific things did you learn that really helped you improve your practice and connect to your lower abdominals/decrease your s.i. Joint pain? I have similar issues, have been practicing classical for almost a year now and I have take training for Mat beginner and intermediate yet I am still unable to properly perform intermediate exercises lowering my legs to the appropriate levels and stabilizing my pelvis. I continue to have so m I have s.i. Joint pain and a difficult time lowering my shoulders. I feel like I’m at a loss, I try to stay hopeful that I will get there but I’ve been stuck for so long and it’s so frustrating. Whenever I challenge myself I end up in pain. What advice can you give me that helped you?

    • 86. theverticalworkshop  |  February 13, 2017 at 10:13 am

      Hi, Jen,
      Thank you for having read this and then for having commented with such an important question.

      It’s not the exercises in Pilates that will do the entire job of helping a person regain balance in the body that ultimately helps a person achieve his or her physical goals. Or at least, not from The Vertical Workshop perspective. There’s a lot more that goes into it. Most people have some positive experience when starting a new exercise program because #1 they are moving or #2 they are moving in a different way. It is over time that we see if there are continual developments for the better or worse.

      One of the issues within the Pilates world and why someone like you who is working hard can’t seem to achieve her goals revolves more around which exercises you’re doing, which order you’re doing them in and most importantly what internal actions you are doing whilst “performing” the exercises. It’s more than I can write in a reply and I highly suggest that we do a few Skype sessions where I can cue you into what you need so that you can practice on your own. However, I do suggest that you read my article “Abdominals. Spine. Why? and Biotensegrity.” That will be a good place to start a solid discussion.
      You can read that article by searching the title on the sidebar or by this link:
      I suggest reading it and then emailing me at and we can work through the internal actions that are most important.

      Thank you for having reached out!
      – Shari

  • 87. Rafael  |  March 29, 2017 at 4:26 pm

    Hello! I just wanted to say that the Classical Pilates is amazing,but if Mr.s Pilates was alive today,things would not be the same. Im just very sick and tired of people saying that they are the best.that they know better. We all have something to bring to the table. We should respect and try to learn from each other. Now days everybody hs created MY METHOD! The METHOD was created by Pilates and only him. Thanks!

  • 88. Haggar  |  April 19, 2017 at 8:23 am

    Hi Shari!
    I really enjoyed reading this post! I am a classical Pilates instructor myself and I have been wondering, can you teach a classical Pilates class on ‘just’ a Reformer or ‘just’ a Mat?
    In all of my classes I teach part Reformer, part Mat and part Tower or other apparatus.
    Many studios around where I live only have a Reformer, so I guess I’m wondering if it can be called classical Pilates when there’s only one apparatus involved.
    I find it impossible to stay within the classical Joe Pilates exercises when teaching beginner (and even intermediate) classes, and the only apparatus available is a Reformer (which is the case in many of the places here) .
    Because I have a great respect for this method I try to avoid those place. I guess I’m wondering if my approach is too harsh or completely logical when it comes to teaching classical Pilates.
    Thanks 🙂

  • […] typical classical Pilates class consists of a set series of movements that are often uncomfortable, complicated and not […]

  • 90. Leanna Doyle  |  September 24, 2018 at 8:05 pm

    I love this article, thank you Shari! ❤️

  • 91. Pilates & Weight Loss, A Personal Opinion - SQUARE1PILATES  |  August 28, 2020 at 6:49 pm

    […] my opinion, Classical Pilates offers a host of beneficial qualities to the average individual desiring to be physically fit. Yes, […]


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