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lady looking confused
lady looking confused

First thing to say is that Joe didn’t teach Pilates group class levels, he taught people and their body’s needs,

You had an individual programme created specifically for you. You learnt it, you owned it, you failed, you tried again, you learnt something, you succeeded. It was pure simple bliss. But that’s for another blog post… you can find it here.

The creation of the Pilates method into basic, intermediate and advanced levels is more recent. Joe Pilates died in 1967 and after some too-ing and fro-ing, Romana eventually took over the running of the studio. It was Bob Liekens who helped Romana create the first teacher training programme and manual, when the idea of ‘levels’ was founded. It way a way to help trainers teach new teachers this vast method and to help them digest it all. (there are hundreds of exercises to learn if you doing full comprehensive training!)

It may be slightly artificial, but that’s not to say it’s not useful. 

The ‘levels’ we now see for group classes are a template or guide, not a competition. They don’t apply for private sessions where everything is customised for you. The levels are made up of developmental goals, of how you move, and how you understand the concepts rather than exactly what exercises you do. 

There’s no exact Pilates science to it either. Each Pilates teacher or studio may feel the content for their class levels is different to another’s idea. For us at The Pilates, we have based our class levels on things taught to us when we did our training and the concepts that were taught to them when they did their training. In essence, we are following in the footsteps of giants from great teachers before us so you are in the best hands.

Group classes are for ‘healthy bodies’

What does a healthy body mean anyway? Many of us have aches and grumbling joints, feel a bit out of shape or feeling stiffer than we’d like. But some of us have osteoporosis, recovering from postnatal issues, are pregnant, have back or neck disc issues, prolapse in pelvic floor, had a recent joint replacement or are in pain from knee or shoulder problems.

If that sounds like you, you may need Private training so click the link to read “Am I a Groupie” blog first.
Word of caution: Pilates is not rehab, despite what people may say. Pilates teachers are not medically trained to diagnose, fix or treat your problem area so you should never be given exercises specifically to fix your problem(that’s the physio’s job!)

Check the class level

We will be teaching to the level of that class which includes exercise choices, concepts and there is a certain expectation of each class of your understanding which we have included in a helpful “What to expect from this class.” For example- in the Essential class level we will be doing exercises on your front ie extension like Swan and side ie Side Kicks. If your back is bad and you have found these movements problematic, we suggest you either skip those exercises entirely or to get the most benefit to your body attend the Basic class instead to build the strength and support your body needs. In the Intermediate 1 class, we assume you can hold your legs confidently at 45 degree angle ie in the Teaser or Hundred and you can do a full Roll Up. If you are still working on legs to ceiling or tabletop or Half Roll Back, we recommend the Essential Level.

If you find yourself in the class you cannot do all exercises, just skip it!

If in doubt, leave it out

Romana’s saying
good ingredients for a chocolate cake level

Basic Level: AKA Getting the good ingredients and learning to mix the recipe for a great classic chocolate cake.

Suitable for those coming out of our Beginners Course or New Client Package, or suitable for those needing a slower pace or dealing with stability or weakness issues that require additional support.

This class uses Pre -Pilates and the first 6 classical Mat work exercises to teach the principles of the Pilates method. If this is a Mixed Apparatus Class, you will also work on the Tower/ Wall Unit with springs as resistance plus small supportive props to help you find your core, powerhouse and start giving space to your spine, such as the Magic Circle, Toe Gizmo, hand weights, weighted poles, and includes standing and wall work.

No matter how fit you are or used to exercise, you should attend Basic classes. You may be a regular at HIIT but you are a newbie to Classical Pilates and it’s different. These classes teach you the basics of the method through a series of simple and non complex, (that doesn’t mean easy!) exercises.

The aim for this level: is to find and build strength in your ‘powerhouse’, to find ‘lift’ in the body, and to even out the alignment of the torso to get stability of the pelvis and lower back (what we call the primary powerhouse). You will be introduced to the work repeatedly and start to feel the benefits of Pilates.

What to expect from this class: Feet down or knees to chest rather than legs to 45 degrees. Working with one leg rather than two. Bent legs rather than straight. Half roll back instead of Full Roll Up. You will work with strong springs to give you support and a smaller range of motion. Exercises mostly on your back with some standing work at the end. A slower flow between exercises for transitions.

a good chocolate cake class

Essential Level: AKA Nailing the classic chocolate cake recipe for success.

When your body has absorbed the basics of Pilates, you may be ready to take Essential level sessions.
Some experience is required for this level and we recommend you work at the Basic levels first if you are fit and healthy and looking to move on (although it is not mandatory.)

What makes you intermediate is not how long you have studied, but how much your body has absorbed and your mind has understood. If you cannot yet do some of the things below but you confident with your understanding otherwise, then stay at this level but skip those bits or do the basic version. If you are struggling with many exercises, go back to basics for a while longer.

This class will build on your knowledge of the classical Mat work and apparatus exercises, adding work in the Mat and Tower on the front and side laying for increased challenge and load. Barrels will be introduced. Exercises become more complex and more concepts and cueing will be introduced to the exercises you have done and loved before to squeeze the juice out of them (queue more shaking!)

This Pilates level should be worked strongly for some time to help prepare you to move into Intermediate. This is an important level and something you may stay in for several years, depending on how many times a week you practice.

The aim of this level is: to strengthen and deepen the powerhouse, working on staying lifted in the spine and finding space in the joints and ensuring the powerhouse is worked in 3D front, back and sides. Some new movement patterns are introduced for the first time e.g. extension/back bends for stretching now that strength and stability is controlled, plus other patterns already present in the basic level are deepened. We will working on introducing stamina to you with flowing exercises and transitions.

What to expect from this class: You should be able to confidently maintain 2 legs up to 90 degrees with deep abs rather than table top. You will be working towards straight legs where previously you may have used bent. Half roll backs move into 3/4 and working towards a smooth Full Roll Up. Exercises on your front like Swan (baby and prep formats for smaller back bends) and side work too from Side Kicks, to Mermaids, to Side Planks. You will learn to tidy your transitions and link exercises together for better flow and stamina work. You will start to refine your understanding and concepts, receive more challenging cues and be learning to work with the breathe much more.

experimenting with fancy chocolate cake toppings

Intermediate 1: AKA experimenting by adding ganache, sprinkles, frosting, cherries, cream. It all doesn’t matter if the cake recipe flops though so take your time!

At this level, we progress into the early intermediate work. The focus is on increasing the stamina of the powerhouse under more flow, challenge, load. More upper body exercises are introduced with the aim of working the upper back (what we call the secondary powerhouse) and connecting it more deeply with the rest of the lower body powerhouse more. This Intermediate level is where we work on flow; synchronising movement with breathe to allow the breathe to become the movement. We introduce lighter springs, less support, less base.

There is nothing to be gained by trying to rush ahead in your progress. Impatience means that you will simply not get as much from your classes as you could.

The Advanced level: AKA the skies your limit

This Pilates level is offered only in Private sessions or workshops for class attendees at this point. It is a strong workout for confident and very experienced committed practitioners where complete flow and synchronisation with the breath takes place.

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More reading: Check out the blog post- Pilates tips to be an expert

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