How to Become a Pilates Instructor

Fitness instruction is a booming industry. Growth in jobs for trainers and instructors is much higher than average job growth: 13 percent. With more people interested in health and fitness, and looking to experts for guidance, this is a great career to get started in quickly.

Pilates instructors are specially trained to lead participants through this particular type of workout that focuses on strength, balance, flexibility and weight maintenance. To become a Pilates instructor, you’ll need to be trained, but it doesn’t take long or require a college degree.

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What is Pilates and Why Do People Do It?

Founded by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s, the exercise philosophy and practice named for him was initially popular with dancers. The method he developed for training dancers and athletes is designed to build strength and endurance, muscle balance, good posture, and to make other health and fitness improvements with low impact.

Pilates has been promoted by experts in health and wellness because it has a number of benefits. Research has shown that regular Pilates practice improves strength, especially in the core, improves stability, balance, coordination and posture, and also relieves stress.

This is a highly specialize type of exercise that requires fine-tuned movements. It can be done with body weight only, but many practitioners use equipment with names like barrels, reformers and Cadillacs. It requires knowledge and training to be able to do Pilates correctly, and even more so to guide others.

Start Practicing Pilates

The practice of Pilates is based on fitness principles, but it is unique—a specialty type of exercise. Before you can even consider becoming an instructor, you need to understand it and be a practitioner yourself. If you have had a few classes and enjoyed Pilates, that’s a great place to start. However, it will help you in training to have more experience.

Take classes with a few different instructors and try equipment-based Pilates as well as mat Pilates. You don’t need to have mastered the practice of Pilates before beginning to train as an instructor, but you do need to have some experience and degree of mastery.

Enroll in a Pilates Instructor Training Program

Once you have a better personal understanding of Pilates, and you know that you enjoy it and want to make a career out of it, you’re ready to start learning to be an instructor. Some Pilates practitioners and instructors are self-taught, but you will get much more out of learning from the experts.

A quick search will bring up a lot of choices for Pilates instructor training. Pricing, times and location may be important factors in deciding on a program, but also consider the quality of the training. Look for programs that are accredited or at least widely recognized in the industry.

The best programs offer certified trainers, a curriculum that takes at least a couple of months to complete, 500 or more hours of training and practice, and recognition from the Pilates Method Alliance (PMA), a professional association for Pilates instructors. Some good examples include:

Work with a Pilates Mentor

Pilates is best learned by doing and by expert guidance. If you complete an in-person training program, you will get plenty of hands-on time with Pilates instructors and trainers. If you choose an online program, however, you will be learning in a more limited way.

In either case, but especially the latter, it’s beneficial to find an expert to shadow or work with as part of a mentorship. Many experienced instructors are willing to take new learners under their wings and help them learn how to instruct others while also mastering Pilates.

Start with the training program you have chosen and find out if they have mentor instructors. If they do not, or if you are learning online, contact instructors at local gyms and studios. A mentor should let you observe their classes and one-on-one sessions and even assist. They will probably also be willing to observe you as you begin instructing in order to provide constructive feedback.

You may also choose to work with a mentor instructor instead of completing a formal training program. It is possible to be certified this way if you work with a reputable mentor, put in enough practice hours and can pass the certifying exam.

Earn Pilates Instructor Certification

Certification for any kind of personal trainer or fitness instructor is not technically required by law in any state. However, there are many good reasons to get certified before beginning work in this industry:

  • Pilates movements and equipment are complicated and require training and practice to do well and correctly.
  • Not being properly trained to do the movements and use the equipment can lead to injuries.
  • Gyms and studios may require certification for instructors.
  • Potential clients are more likely to choose instructors with certification.
  • Certified Pilates instructors earn a little more than non-certified instructors.
  • Certification validates your experience, knowledge and training, and sets you apart from other people less serious about professional Pilates.

Some training programs offer their own certifications, such as Stott Pilates, which is widely recognized and respected in the industry. But you can also get certified through the professional organization, the PMA. The PMA offers the National Pilates Certification Program (NPCP) for instructors to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

To qualify for the NPCP exam you must be at least 18 and have completed a comprehensive training program in Pilates. This includes 450 or more hours of practice on a mat and with the important pieces of Pilates equipment: reformer, trapeze table, wunda chair, ladder barrel, spine corrector and magic circle.

Find a Job as a Pilates Instructor

Once you have trained as an instructor, worked with master Pilates practitioners and have certification, you are ready to land a job. Pilates instructors work in a variety of health, wellness and fitness settings. You may find a job in a traditional gym, in a Pilates or yoga studio, or in a small boutique gym.

Pilates instructors are also hired by more diverse employers than you may expect. Try resorts and spas, cruise ships, retreat centers, dance studios and dance troupes, athletic teams, rehabilitation facilities, community fitness centers, physical therapy practices, senior and retirement centers, and even large corporations that provide health and wellness programs for employees.

Consider Starting Your Own Pilates Business

Another way to make a living as a Pilates instructor is to strike out on your own. Fitness careers are ideally suited to freelancing and entrepreneurship. You can work with clients in their homes or yours, by renting space in larger gyms or by opening your own studio or gym.

There is also a lot of flexibility in working this way. You may choose to be an instructor part-time while you hold down another job. This is a great way to save up for your own studio. Freelancing with clients can be challenging. Be prepared to put in a lot of hours, not only working with clients, but also with business tasks like marketing, accounting, budgeting and planning.

Find an Area of Specialty and Keep Learning

There is always room for growth and learning in the fitness industry, even in Pilates. Many training programs offer specialty courses and certifications. These allow you to deepen your understanding of Pilates generally but also to specialize and offer more to your clients. It can help expand your client base and earn more.

Some schools even offer options for the first level of training, such as comprehensive mat Pilates or equipment-based Pilates. Having both is a good idea for becoming a general instructor. Specialty courses you may find include:

  • Pilates for seniors
  • Athletic conditioning with Pilates
  • Group instruction or group equipment instruction
  • Pilates for dancers
  • Interdisciplinary studies, combining Pilates with other fitness disciplines
  • Pre- or post-natal Pilates
  • Rehabilitative Pilates

Even if you don’t choose a specialty area for continued learning, you will need to keep earning credits to maintain certification. NCPT certification requires 16 continuing education credits every two years for renewal of the credential. Those credits can be in Pilates but also courses in business development, research, industry development, or allied topics like anatomy, kinesiology or biomechanics. Some of the credits may be virtual but some must be in person.

A career as a Pilates instructor can be rewarding and fun but also a good way to earn a reliable living. Instructors in all areas of fitness are in demand as more people find value in improving their fitness and health. Pilates has been around for 100 years, and it isn’t going away. The benefits are numerous, and people will always be interested in working with expert instructors. Get trained in Pilates, learn how to be a master instructor, get certification and start looking for your first job or clients.