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Issues in Pilates Instructor Certification

How the Pilates Trademark Battle Changed Instructor Certification


Updated June 23, 2014

A pilates instructor helps and guides a woman as she exercises.
Niko Guido/Vetta/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 was, had to mitigate their title with disclaimers like “Pilates based” or "Pilates Inspired”. In 2000, after a four-year legal battle between Sean Gallagher (who had trademarked the Pilates name) and Ken Endelman and Balanced Body Inc., 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.

The Upside: 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.

The Downside: 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 good in their field, take these small courses, get the certification, and then claim to be teaching Pilates. Some may not even realize that the Pilates Method is a very sophisticated science that requires a lot of study and experience on the part of a practitioner before they are qualified to teach.

Sean Gallagher, who lost his bid to maintain his trademark on the name “Pilates”, makes these points about the risk to consumers in the release of the Pilates name:
  • Anyone can teach any exercises they wish and still call those exercises "Pilates" or the "Pilates Method."
  • Anyone can place the Pilates name on exercise equipment, regardless of whether it has any relation to the equipment developed by Joseph Pilates.

While most in the Pilates community agree with Gallagher’s concerns, many feel that the community had 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.

The Possibility of a National Pilates Method Certification Exam

The Pilates Method Alliance (PMA), a non-profit Pilates association, is devoting considerable effort to establishing some standardization in the Pilates field.

From the PMA mission statement:
...by launching the first industry wide certification exam for the Pilates method in the United States. The PMA has established recommended industry performance parameters guiding the practice of all PMA Certified and non-certified Pilates teachers. The PMA has established these standards to further bring professionalism to Pilates.

The PMA instructor certification exam has not been adopted industry wide, and there are still many questions to be answered about its application and implications. However, many influential Pilates companies, such as Stott Pilates, Peak Pilates, and Balanced Body, are supportive of it. I believe it is reasonable to expect some industry-wide regulation of Pilates teacher training in the years to come. If you are a Pilates instructor, or are thinking of doing a Pilates teacher training, you will want to stay aware of developments in the national certification exam and Pilates certification standards issues.*

In summary, it will be up to you to do the research and make sure that the program you choose is sufficient to the task if you are looking for a Pilates teacher certification program. There are many excellent Pilates teacher training programs available. Most Pilates instructor certification programs will require at least a year of study and a significant amount of studio experience, in addition to the applicants preparedness through previous study.

Pilates Certification Explained
Pilates Certification Basics
Review Links to Popular Pilates Certification Programs

Jonathan Urla, The Pilates Method Alliance, and Rael Isacowitz have initiated an in-depth discussion of the Pilates certification issue in the Pilates Forum. Read and comment: Certification Pros and Cons.

*Pilates.about.com will make every effort to make current information on national certification and Pilates training standards available on this site: Please see:
July 2008 update: PMA Changes Exam Requirements
Nov. 2009 update: Pilates Training Programs Dropping Term "Certification"

The Pilates Method Alliance - Position Statement:On Pilates: http://www.pilatesmethodalliance.org/whatispma.html
Pilates Inc., Pilates New York Studio: http://www.pilates-studio.com/docs/new/new.htm
Balanced Body, Pilates Trademark Lawsuit…: http://www.pilates.com/BBAPP/V/about/pilates-trademark.html

(c) 2006, Marguerite Ogle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

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