Are Private Pilates Classes Worth the Price?

You get to play with the toys in a private Pilates session.

You get to play with the toys in a private Pilates session.

Many wealthy celebrities belong to an elite inner circle. They go beyond the closed doors of the Pilates mat classes, and enter an exercise wonderland. Here, they play on apparatus with intriguing names, such as reformer, Cadillac and Wunda Chair, while their private Pilates guru guides them through the workout. The steep, private Pilates price tag does not cause sticker shock for those who can afford it, but mere mortals with modest incomes must weigh the costs and assess the value.

Private vs. Group

Debates about the benefits of private vs. group training extend to the rest of the fitness industry, so the American Council on Exercise (ACE) decided to study the issue. After reviewing numerous research studies, it reported that personal training benefits include tailor-made programs, enhanced motivation and accountability to the instructor. The ACE study did not address the fact that some people exercise for the social aspects of the group. If that description has your name on it, you might not enjoy the private Pilates experience. If you don't enjoy it, it's not worth it.

Why So Expensive?

The fitness instructor who chooses a Pilates career opts for one of the most extensive, and likewise expensive, certification plans. It requires at least 500 hours of study and costs as much as $10,000. As for the thousands of dollars she'll spend on apparatus -- don't go there. To maintain certification, she'll need costly continuing education credits each year. The high cost of private sessions gives her a prayer of seeing a return on her investment.

Assessment and Precision

Your mother told you to stand up straight. Your private Pilates instructor will tell you to press your navel toward your spine and scoop your abdominal muscles upward and inward. She'll have you visualize a string on top of your head, pulling you upward toward the sky, while your shoulders melt toward your waistline, and your knees point straight ahead like headlights of a car. Sure, you'll hear these cues in the group Pilates mat class, but they apply to everyone. Private Pilates students receive an in-depth postural alignment and muscular imbalance assessment, which guides your instructor's corrections.

Doing It Right

Some Pilates students devise clever cheating mechanisms. You might get away with that in large classes, but your private Pilates instructor knows all your tricks. Based on her initial assessment, she's wise to your muscle imbalances. Like a gypsy with a crystal ball, she predicts which muscles will get lazy, and which will attempt to dominate the exercise. She's like Mother Nature: You can't fool her. She guides you through the exercises, watches you like a hawk and helps you perform with precision, concentration and control. The cost of a private Pilates session might run as high as $150, but the ability to perfect the exercises is priceless.

Pilates As Physical Therapy

Precision, control and perfect form gains even more importance for those recovering from injuries, or for people suffering from chronic back, neck or shoulder pain. Some instructors specialize in special populations, such as pregnant women, arthritis sufferers and seniors. Many Pilates instructors are also licensed physical therapists. If your doctor recommends private Pilates sessions as a form of rehabilitation or post-rehab, you might be able to talk your insurance company into covering at least some of the costs.

Mitigating the Costs

To complete certification, Pilates instructors must take part in an apprenticeship, under the guidance of a fully certified instructor. Like hairdressing students at a beauty school, sessions with a Pilates apprentice cost less than those with a fully certified instructor. The duet, or semi-private, Pilates session provides another less expensive option. Some studios offer small-group reformer training, with groups no larger than four people. The circuit Pilates class makes use of the different pieces of equipment in the studio. A fully certified instructor might ask an apprentice to assist her in the teaching process, so the class is more personalized than the typical group session.

 

About the Author

In 1999, Lisa Mercer’s fitness, travel and skiing expertise inspired a writing career. Her books include "Open Your Heart with Winter Fitness" and "101 Women's Fitness Tips." Her articles have appeared in "Aspen Magazine," "HerSports," "32 Degrees," "Pregnancy Magazine" and "Wired." Mercer has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the City College of New York.

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