QAQ: Are there different types of Pilates classes?  I just took a session in Kansas City and it was really different than Pilates in Los Angeles.

 A: Yes! There are almost as many different styles of Pilates as there are teachers.  In general, there are three main categories or styles:




This is where it all started, straight from the mouth of Joseph Pilates. Classical teachers stick to the exercises that we know Joe taught with as few modifications as possible. They also teach the exercises in a specific sequence and with specific transitions. Those three things: exercises, sequence and transitions – as designed by Joseph Pilates — define whether a class or session is “Classical Style Pilates.”

Things you might notice in a Classical-style Session:

  • Once you learn the basics, sessions and classes happen with a cadence and flow, like a dance performance.
  • Other than “The 100” exercise, the number of repetitions for each exercise is less than 10.
  • Many Classical teachers coach ‘Flat Spine,’ which means that you flatten your low back curve as part of some exercises.


When the manufacturers of Pilates equipment began marketing outside of the fitness world, they quickly found the physical therapy industry. Many physical therapists have devised different exercises beyond the “Classical Repertoire” to address the needs of their clients.

Good to know: not all PT’s who use Pilates equipment have been trained in a comprehensive Pilates system — one that covers how to work the entire body using Pilates equipment. I know, it seems weird — but anyone can buy & use equipment. When in doubt, specifically ask about their Pilates training.

Things you might notice in a Physical Therapy-style Session:

  • When your session is covered by insurance in the United States, you might only focus on the body part with the ‘issue.’ That’s because your insurance plan only covers that body part.
  • PT’s sometimes use different names for exercises than the names that Joseph Pilates used. My guess: they’re differentiating their intent for the exercise from what Joe might have intended. Fair enough.
  • Many PT’s use “neutral spine” as the base position for abdominal exercises. There are lots of reasons why they do or don’t make that choice. It’s a good conversation to have with your PT, so that you know what is appropriate for your body. Yup, skeletons vary quite bit, you might be a special case!


Here’s where the other two styles meet up.  Contemporary teachers typically use a mix of Classical and PT-style or ‘corrective’ exercises, sequences and transitions.  The choice of which exercises to do, what order, and how many repetitions might change daily, weekly or monthly.  Some teachers may take an exercise that Joe taught on the mat or the Cadillac and adapt it to the reformer, or vice versa.

Things you might notice in a Contemporary-style Session:

  • Much like Classical Style, sessions usually cover your entire body, not just 1-2 body parts.
  • Some teachers use the beginning of class to allow you to settle in and set-up your body mechanics. They might help you with breathing or tell you how to hold your spine or your shoulders when you’re moving.
  • Some teachers use what I’d call a ‘fitness mindset’ and teach using 3-sets of 8 repetitions, or something similar. The idea here is that ‘sets’ build more muscle mass.
  • Many Contemporary teachers study complementary disciplines, like: Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, Franklin Method, Somatic Therapy, Massage or yoga. You might see elements of these techniques blended into their Pilates classes.

WORDS TO SAY: when calling a new studio or talking to a prospective new teacher, ask,”what style of Pilates do you teach?” “Is that Classical or Contemporary, or would you use a different way of describing it?”  No worries, most Pilates teachers are proud of their background and training and love to talk about it!