A Pilates instructor works with a student. Seth Joel/Getty Images
For many years, the Pilates name was held in trademark and only people who went through a very specific program could use the name Pilates. Everyone else, no matter how extensive their training, had to mitigate their title with disclaimers like “Pilates-based” or „Pilates Inspired.”
In 2000, after a four-year legal battle between Pilates instructor Sean Gallagher, who had trademarked the Pilates name, and Balanced Body, Inc. CEO Ken Endelman, the courts declared that the name „Pilates“ stood for an exercise system and could not be trademarked. This decision had significant repercussions for the entire Pilates community.
Those who do have legitimate training in the Pilates method are now free to call their work Pilates. Before the lawsuit, even those who had trained extensively with Joseph Pilates himself could not refer to their work as Pilates. In addition, many credible Pilates certification training programs are now able to legitimately state that they are teaching Pilates and graduating instructors certified to teach the Pilates method.
Now that the Pilates name is free for anyone to use, many are. There has been a dramatic rise in the number of programs claiming to offer certification in the Pilates method in as little as a weekend of study.
In turn, there are fitness instructors who, though they may be very talented in their field, take these short courses, get „certified“ and then claim to be Pilates instructors. Some may not even realize that the Pilates method is actually a very sophisticated science that requires a lot of study and experience as a student before they are qualified to teach.
The widespread release of the Pilates name also affects consumers. Sean Gallagher, who lost his bid to maintain his trademark on the Pilates name, has expressed some concerns, saying that anyone can teach whatever exercises they wish and call them „Pilates“ or the „Pilates method,“ and anyone can put the Pilates name on exercise equipment, regardless of whether it has any relation to the equipment developed by Joseph Pilates.
Sean Gallagher, who lost his bid to maintain his trademark on the name „Pilates,“ makes these points about the risks to consumers in the widespread release of the Pilates name.
While many members of the Pilates community agree with Gallagher’s concerns, some feel that the community needed to take these risks in order to make the Pilates name available to those who were teaching Pilates exercise in an authentic way. The responsibility now falls on all Pilates practitioners to maintain the integrity of the Pilates system. At this point, there is quite a lively debate going on as to how this is going to happen.
A National Pilates Method Certification Exam?
The Pilates Method Alliance (PMA), a non-profit Pilates association, has devoted considerable effort to establishing some standardization in the Pilates field. According to their mission statement:
„The Pilates Method Alliance (PMA) is the international, not-for-profit, professional association and certifying agency dedicated to the teachings of Joseph H. and Clara Pilates. Our mission is to foster community, integrity, and respect for diversity; maintain certification and continuing education standards; and promote the Pilates method of exercise.“
Although the PMA Pilates Certification Program has not been adopted worldwide, today it’s the only accredited, third-party certification program for Pilates. Many influential Pilates companies, such as Stott Pilates, Peak Pilates, and Balanced Body, are supportive of it.
How to Become a Pilates Instructor
Now that the PMA’s certification program has been in place since 2005 and proven to be a successful venture, I think it’s reasonable to expect some type of industry-wide regulation of Pilates teacher training in the years to come. If you’re already a Pilates instructor, or you are considering becoming one, stay aware of developments in the national certification exam and Pilates certification standards issues.
Ultimately your education is in your hands. It’s up to you to do the research to make sure that the training program you choose is sufficient. There are many excellent, comprehensive Pilates teacher training programs available. Most of these certification programs require at least one year of study and a significant amount of studio experience in addition to the applicant’s preparedness through prior study.