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Classical, clinical, rehab, cardio and bootcamp: Pilates brands explained

Put simply, Joseph Pilates taught people how to use their bodies better. His students included professional dancers, officer workers and injured people. But now there is a huge range of different approaches, all promising different things and aimed at different markets. It can be very confusing to know which type of class to choose, so we thought we’d put together a guide to help you choose.

Clinical or rehab Pilates

Some kinds of Pilates are aimed at people looking for exercise to do after an injury. Clinical or rehab Pilates often consist of mat classes that include gentle stretching and core work. Sometimes these are run by physios for their patients, and are a great way for people to learn their physical therapy exercises. In fact, very often the exercises in these classes owe more to physiotherapy than Joe Pilates.

Although some physiotherapists use Pilates or Pilates-influenced techniques, Joe’s techniques are not the product of modern clinical physiotherapy. If you are injured and you need physical therapy, then it is important that you seek advice from a qualified therapist.

This type of exercise class is very useful, but sometimes people stay in rehab classes when there is nothing wrong with them. Being unfit and experiencing some back pain (along with 80 per cent of the population) does not mean you need rehab.

If you attend classes designed for people with more serious injury, you may never leave your comfort zone, which means your body won’t change. A clinical group may be a good place to start, but if you remain in that setting when you’re not genuinely injured, there is no opportunity for progress.

Cardio or bootcamp Pilates

At the other extreme, some classes are marketed as cardio or bootcamp Pilates, promising clients a mix of aerobic and strengthening exercises. The main goal is to make people sweat and feel they’ve had a good workout, and it is often found in gyms. There are also some studios which use this model, normally featuring group reformer classes, as these are more sought after, and therefore more lucrative. 

Doing vigorous exercise is a good thing for many people, our sedentary lifestyles these days are bad for our bodies. However, when groups are large and the main goal is for people to ‘feel the burn’ what often suffers is the precision and focus that makes Pilates so special. People have different bodies; if weaknesses, old injuries or poor technique are not taken into account the result can often be more harm than good. 

Classical or authentic Pilates

Both clinical and cardio Pilates are distant relations of the technique that Joe Pilates taught. Only classical or authentic Pilates (also known as Romana’s Pilates) is true to the techniques that he pioneered in his studio in New York.

The Classical approach encompasses rehab work with very injured people to the most demanding athletic forms of exercise that most people will ever experience. Like Joe Pilates himself, classical instructors teach people to use their bodies better, wherever they start from. 

Despite bizarre claims to the contrary, classical Pilates is not stuck in the 1950s. The method continued developing during Joe’s lifetime well into the 1960s. His wife Clara continued teaching after his death alongside Romana Kryzanowska, his chosen successor. 

Some of the exercises he taught have been retired or deemed highly advanced in the decades since his death, but traditional Pilates continues to function on the basis that if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Pilates is not physiotherapy, but this unique method of conditioning the body remains popular because it has an undeniable record of making people’s bodies move, feel and look better.

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