Mat Madness?

Mat Madness?  What you may ask is Mat Madness?   Is it a new fangled workout that includes Pilates, yoga, belly dancing and strip aerobics?  Or is it a spin off the mat work we all love and practice yet something entirely different?

Usually Mat Madness (MM) is just some sort of Pilates like class where nothing really looks like anything Joe ever taught, but close enough that most people think they are doing it right.

I first discovered MM when I was hired by a gym and they wanted me to take the class of an instructor with a big following.  “Do what she does,” the manager told me.  “They like her and it seems to work so keep on doing what she does.”  Right.

I won’t spend a lot of time outlining what was unusual with this class but suffice to say that I recognised very little.  No Hundreds, no Roll-ups, no Single Leg Circles and so on and so forth.  Let’s just say if I had taught a similar class for my certification exam, I would have failed with flying colours.  Nothing wrong with the class and the leg lifts were fun, but it wasn’t Pilates.

When I began my own class I was really excited about showing my new students what Pilates was supposed to look like.   I really believed that once they experienced true Pilates they would all be hooked and I would change the course of Pilates at this gym forever and ever.  Turned out I was wrong.

My conclusion after teaching there a few more times was that they didn’t like the more traditional style of Pilates and preferred whatever it was the other teacher was teaching.  I was seeing a trend.  Most of the students didn’t want the real deal and those who did were in the minority.  I admit that this was a tough nut for me to swallow as I was used to having great success with both my clients and classes.  I had always taught at Pilates studios where people signed up for a series of classes, started at a beginner level and then progressed to a more advanced level.  The classes were usually on the smaller side (under 12) and the students in each class were of a similar level.  It was a joy teaching mat but somewhere along the line things had changed and not, in my opinion, for the better.

The problem of MM seemed to happen more at gyms and chain yoga/Pilates studios where large class numbers were essential and teachers were under pressure to keep the classes full.

I then noticed  through various Pilates discussion groups that this was a common thread.  Well- trained instructors were not able to attract large numbers of students and were having trouble keeping jobs at gyms or yoga studios.  Many of them had to give up teaching outside of their own studio.  One classically trained instructor I know told me she had to change the way she taught so she could stay in business.  Another complained that she felt obliged to leave when they told her she had to teach a Pilates Fusion class in order to keep the numbers up.  She wasn’t willing to change so she went elsewhere.  Denee Dow of Nevada calls it ‘Walmart Pilates’ “cheap watered down versions that fits one’s budget.”

It is a possibility that traditional mat classes don’t work well in a large group class environment.  I am sure there are exceptions to this, but for the most part classically taught Pilates (or even contemporary Pilates taught as it should be) doesn’t  do well in gyms.  Perhaps the technique requires too much focus and attention and that doesn’t bode well in a large group.  The Pilates mat that we know and love may just do better in studios and with fewer students who have made the commitment to Pilates.  Mat madness may be here to stay, but that just means that we may be better off  changing the venue and not the method.

Post Author: Devra Swiger

Devra Swiger is a Pilates instructor in Orange County, California.  She first began studying Pilates in 1999 in Charlotte, NC with a Romana trained instructor.  For several years she studied under and worked for this teacher and then when on to get certified with Polestar Pilates in 2005.  She has done workshops with Ron Fletcher, Colleen Glenn,  Jennifer Kries and many others. Her training is a mix of the classical with the more contemporary.  She is also a published author. She works from her home studio in Huntington Beach. www.Ab-Pilates.com  

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