Privates vs. Group Classes
Privates vs. Group Classes
As Classical Pilates’ students (and that includes Pilates’ teachers) the choices between doing private sessions versus group classes is a frequent topic. In order to make a good decision on which path is for you it’s interesting to think through various reasons why you might choose one or the other or possibly both.
This is not a commentary of which is “better” but knowing your own personal goals can assist in the decision process. Vital to the process on privates vs. group classes is your overarching objective. This could range from just love a good workout to training to become a Pilates’ teacher. Whatever your goal, make sure the type of sessions support your efforts.
If you are taking the time to read this blog you are probably already invested in Pilates’ training. In this case your goal could be that of a becoming a dedicated student of the classical method. If that is true you might want to invest in private instruction at some point. This is how the method was intended and how you will be exposed to the totality of the Classical Method.
If you are new to Pilates, private sessions are a great way to begin. Why? You will get a clean start on the basics and lay a positive foundation for future learning. It lessens the chance of building poor habits that might inhibit growth and understanding.
By starting with privates you are also immediately exposed to the variety of apparatus. This allows you early on to experience the depth and breath, which encourage curiosity and creativity to the method. All of which promote longevity.
If you have special needs that can range from post injury to dealing with a chronic ailment or age related issues, privates are the ideal. Each and every lesson will be tailored to your specific needs on that day. Also the progression and pace is designed to meet your body’s demands.
In any form of exercise training a prominent factor is of course finances. Private sessions are more expensive than group. However, you can also look at it with the eyes that your money is spent specifically on you and your body and not shared with others.
Side note on Joe’s studio
From listening and training with Senior Pilates’ teachers such as Sean Gallagher, Jay Grimes, Trish Garland and Bob Liekens it’s my understanding at Joe’s studio it was all independent training. Thus, you came in to the studio and did your workout while being supervised by others. In other words different from what we know today as you and a trainer one on one.
Joe and Clara Pilates had their studio in New York City roughly from 1925 through the 60’s. Mr. Pilates died in 1967 at age 83. It was another era with a greater emphasis on self-reliance and self-discipline in one’s fitness regime. You took the responsibility to learn order, sequence etc. with experienced eyes in the room supervising the training process.
Fast forward to now most options available are either private, duets, semi-privates (3 to 4 persons) or total group sessions. Mat classes are often offered in larger group settings. Gyms settings have of course a whole other model.
So what’s the benefit to group?
The two most common spoken reasons for group instruction are price and sociability. Many individuals just adore the group setting. They love the camaraderie and sense of community it offers. It also has a little bit of healthy competition built in and can push you a bit more than the private setting.
This competitive element can be good and bad, in that you do more than maybe your body is ready for. However, in general Pilates is a pretty safe environment and most studio group settings are still small compared to the insane large numbers seen in a gym setting.
Group setting also allows for you to share the struggle with others. You might have had a down day at work but your fellow students are all upbeat, this energy can give you a needed boost at the end of the day. You can also share your victories with each other, like that first time you achieve a teaser or power through the abdominal series of five together. In addition, it mixes up ages, genders and personalities for inspiration.
It’s important to remember that a group setting means that the teacher must cater to all the individuals in the class. Elements like tempo and introduction of new exercises will be determined at a level that fits all, most often not to the most advanced or least experienced but somewhere in the middle. This ensures safety and understanding for all.
Personally speaking group gym settings can be dangerous for a few reasons,
- If dealing with an injury
- You lack basic knowledge of the method
- Have special needs the instructor will not be aware of
- The instructor lacks experience in working with diverse bodies
My advice, watch a class and or get more information before participation. Inquire about the level of experience and years of teaching from the staff. Plus, most gyms only offer mat class and this is one very small portion of the entire Classical Pilates’ method.
Side note Joe at Jacob’s Pillow
Let’s talk briefly about group mat classes. As I mentioned before Joe and Clara only taught Pilates in their studio individually. Group mat classes were recorded at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. Think about that for a moment. We are talking about a center where professional and striving to be professional dancers train. I know it personally as a young budding dancer I studied there with Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp.
This is not a usual setting for lay individuals. Joe’s group mat classes were taught to dancers who had a deep understanding of their own body in motion. Look around at a YMCA or other Pilates’ mat class in a gym setting, I think you might see something else besides professionally trained individuals. This is why you can get injured in a group setting, even if it is only a mat class.
In the classical comprehensive method exercises are taught on all apparatus. This is an integrated system which includes the mat as well as all other pieces, such as reformer, Cadillac, Wunda Chair etc. This allows for integration and understanding of exercises and their relationship to one another. Thus, it is not solely the mat.
For Pilates’ teachers
Personally I think it would be impossible to become a fully trained Pilates’ teacher without private lessons. That is why if you look at many of the certification programs they require a certain number of private lessons prior to joining. This training does not end, even once you have become certified and moreover for the rest of your “Pilates life.” It’s a never-ending education.
Becoming a Pilates’ teacher demands a combination of observation hours, self-practice and teaching practice. The apprenticeship is above and beyond your own personal training, which entails either private or group sessions or a combination of both.
Obviously it’s a big investment if your have made the decision to become certified. However, that is true of any education. Classical Pilates is a method and in order to fully comprehend the totality of the system studying is a requisite.
It’s important to remember though that exercises are given to the body in front of the teacher. As many of my previous teachers have said, “just because I gave you this exercise does not mean it is appropriate for someone else.” Or in the words of Power Pilates teacher training program, “teach the body in front of you.”
Thus, we as teachers are always teaching the body in front of us. This is why when learning the method you observe other individuals taking lessons and take your own lessons. It gives you the insight and appreciation of how the method can be adapted to meet each person’s needs, level of expertise, overarching goals in training and that day in life.
Remember doing and teaching are two different beasts. This is why it is very hard to teach something you do not understand in your own body. If as a Pilates’ teacher in training you are spending the majority of your time in group-classes be aware that the teacher’s choices are geared for “the group.”
There are advantages to both privates and group classes, and maybe the real winner is a combination of both. You might also find that you start with one and then move into the other, in either direction. Finding your own practice path that suits your goals, incorporates room for growth, is challenging and at the same time has plenty of good ole-fashioned fun is a recipe for success.
“Invest in yourself now and reap the dividends day after day after month after year.”