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The First Lady of Pilates
Moira Merrithew has mastered the moves

as published in Club Business International magazine, January, 2000

STOTT PILATES, based in Toronto, was founded in 1987 by the husband/wife team of Lindsay Merrithew and Moira Merrithew, and produces a wide range of equipment, manuals, videos, etc., all predicated on the principals of Joseph H. Pilates. Merrithew serves as the president of STOTT PILATES, while Merrithew is the program director of the STOTT PILATES Studio and International Certification Center, which has certified more than 1,000 instructors in the STOTT PILATES techniques. For the many other thousands who have participated in STOTT classes or made use of her educational videos, Moira Merrithew is one of the most visible embodiments of the pilates method. Recently, she spoke with CBI about pilates, her company, and a number of other topics.

CBI: How did Joseph Pilates come to develop his theories of exercise?

Moira Merrithew: Pilates had asthma as a child, which is thought to be one of the reasons for his strong emphasis on breathing. His approach was to incorporate Eastern and Western traditions – i.e., the Eastern emphasis on controlled breathing, controlled movements, and a highly focused attention, and the more Westernized approach, which tends to rely heavily on resistance. In Pilates' day, a lot of people were developing exercise techniques, and it's likely they all influenced each other. Interestingly, there's a patent dating back to the late 1880s that details an apparatus very similar to the reformer.

CBI: Has there been any solid scientific research that documents the purported benefits of pilates?

MS: There's been one small controlled study, which compared exercises performed on a reformer with ones utilizing weights and pulleys – that study concluded that the reformer delivered better benefits. There have also been some positive studies, not on pilates, specifically, but on the effects of torso stabilization, restoring the natural curves of the spine, and maintaining the pelvis in a neutral position, all of which are components of pilates-based exercise. But if you're looking for a major piece of scientific research about pilates specifically – it doesn't yet exist.

CBI: Pilates is often referred to as a mind/body form of exercise. What does it offer from a psychological perspective?

MS: Pilates helps the individual to look inward, primarily by emphasizing their breathing, which helps the mind to focus on what the body is doing. People who practice Pilates-based exercises report that their workouts leave them feeling more serene, invigorated, and self-aware.

CBI: Like so many other forms of exercise, pilates can obviously be practiced at home. Are there any advantages to pursuing it in a studio or club?

MS: It's great if people have the discipline to work out at home, but the ideal is to have the instructor with you. There's no question that pilates is best practiced in a personal-training type of environment, and that students with enjoy the best results when they have access to all of the equipment. It's important to understand that, while people tend to rave about the reformer, and while it's crucial to a pilates-based workout, it's only one part of the program. The work that's done on the mat and other equipment is also very beneficial and important. Actually, the ideal training scenario would be to complement your club workout by also working out at home.

CBI: How can pilates best be applied in a club setting?

MS: A lot of the clubs that have been successful with pilates-based programs began with a good, solid, personal training program and worked their way into pilates-based exercise. Many of them have retrofitted a squash court or some other preexisting space to create a pilates center. The beauty of this approach is that it attracts people of every age and fitness level, and, as a result, can open up markets that, previously, may not have been well-served. We also think that pilates can become an important profit center. If you look back at personal training, you realize that, for many years it wasn't taken all that seriously, but then club owners began to realize that there was a lot of money to be made with it. It's the same with pilates-style programming. Currently, about 50% of all pilates-based instruction is done in a one-on-one environment. We strongly believe that, as with personal training, the success of any pilates-based program ultimately rests with instructors – they're the people who drive this trend.

CBI: If you were to give a beginning pilates student some advice, what would it be?

MS: Students should understand that pilates is a process, with the main goal being postural correction and enhancement of athletic performance; muscle toning is a byproduct. Students should also be aware of the fact that pilates-based training never has to stop – their bodies will continue to change, and they'll never hit a limit. A good instructor will always be able to take them a little bit further.

CBI: Are there any grievances or dangers that can legitimately be laid at the foot of pilates?

MS: Because pilates is so instructor driven it's really important that prospective instructors be carefully screened. The quality of instructors can vary dramatically. Another thing that's important is to match the member's special circumstances, if any, with an instructor who's experienced in that particular area.

CBI: What do you define as your company's mission?

MS: STOTT is both an educational organization and an equipment manufacturer. We started the company 12 years ago before pilates had become a household word, and our goal has always been to provide high-quality exercise training equipment and support for people who want to get involved. People frequently don't know where to start, and we believe it's important to educate them not only about Pilates, in general, but also about how it's evolved – today, there are a variety of different approaches. That's why we refer to our program as STOTT PILATES, because, while it's based on pilates, we've done a great deal of research to refine our system of exercise.

CBI: What groups are currently certifying Pilates instructors? And are instructors still hard to find?

MS: There are a large number of people, groups, and associations that certify pilates instructors, but the educational level and quality varies dramatically. Some certification programs involve as little as 15 hours of training and don't require a practical examination; they make use of a written test to gauge the competency of instructors. We're finding that many of these people come to us later when they realize they need to know more. We have a training and certification center in Toronto, licensed training facilities in the U.S., and also offer instruction in other parts of North America and Europe. To give you a sense of what we do: our mat class instructor training is a 30-hour program; our reformer curriculum is a 60-hour (or six-weekend) program; and our advanced course, in which people learn about the use of other equipment, such as the Cadillac, chair, and barrels, is a 72-hour program. Only after a person successfully completes all of them can they become a fully certified Stott instructor. We also offer a 24-hour program for instructors who will be working with injured or special population clients. There's currently a huge demand for pilates instructors, but, unfortunately, there still aren't a large number of good, highly qualified instructors.

CBI: Do you still do any teaching yourself? Do you number many of pilates' celebrity practitioners among your clients?

MS: I've held onto a few clients, but, as our company's program director, do very little teaching today. I'm much more involved in teaching instructors and instructor-trainers; I do presentations at industry events and for fitness industry organizations; and I've also been very much involved in the production of the 21 videos that we've completed – 14 of which were for instructors. In terms of celebrities: The Cleveland Indians baseball franchise are big buyers of our equipment, and the Princess of Brunei recently purchased some of our units for her palace. Other clients include Lucy Lawless, better known as 'Zena, The Warrior Princess,' British actor/ comedian John Cleese, rock star Rod Stewart, Cirque du Soleil and a number of professional dancers.  


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