How to set up a pilates studio for the active aging

for all ages and stages, and a kinder, gen-
tler exercise for the body with the bene-
fits of strength and flexibility training.

“This method of exercise is versatile and
can be modified to suit anyone’s needs,”
says Moira Merrithew, director of
education for Toronto-based STOTT
PILATES® and a leading pilates educator.
“Pilates is perfect for the older exerciser,”
believes Merrithew, “because it helps
improve postural problems; increases core
strength, stability and peripheral mobili-
ty; helps prevent injuries; enhances func-
tional fitness as a whole; improves bal-
ance, coordination and circulation;
heightens body awareness; and is low
impact on the joints.”

Determining whether you can afford or
even want to open a pilates studio is the
first big question. From a programming such as space, instruction
and cost play a large role
in your organization’s
fitness/wellness operations,
it’s important to examine all
your options before the
implementation stage

by Lindsay G. Merrithew

Research surveys report that there has
been an increase in specialized fitness
programming for older adults over the past few years.1,2,3

As a result, more and
more owners within the active-aging
community are choosing to incorporate
pilates classes into their fitness and well-
ness programs and/or build a studio.

Why pilates? Pilates allows exercisers to
move within their limitations and can be
adapted to enhance anyone’s current perspective, the answer seems quite obvi-
ous. But from an owners’ perspective,
there are more things to consider.

Requirements for equipment studios

“Do I have the space?” is often the first
thought that comes to mind. Don’t fret;
there are some simple solutions. The
space you allot to your pilates studio can
be relatively small if you choose to have
only one or two items of equipment. In
fact, some owners opt for 200–300 sq. ft.
for one-on-one training or semi-private
classes to start. For older exercisers, it
isn’t recommended to offer equipment or
matwork programming to extremely large
groups, as these clients require more
attention and the instructor will need to
assist them more often.

To establish a designated pilates studio,
you can use as little as 400–800 sq. ft.
The 800-sq.-ft. space is approximately
the size of a racquetball court and can
comfortably accommodate a fully
equipped pilates studio, which includes:

four Reformers
two Cadillac Trapeze Tables
four Stability Chairs
two Ladder Barrels

and other accessories. (See “Glossary of
pilates equipment” on page 40 to learn
about the equipment listed above.)

A smaller 400-sq.-ft. studio can hold
approximately four Reformers, so at the
very least, you can offer programming
associated with this essential piece of
pilates equipment.

It is also important to designate a space
that is located away from distracting
rooms—such as where group exercise
classes or other leisure activities may be
held. Pilates exercisers prefer a peaceful
environment that supports a mind-body
workout, and this atmosphere should be
established with the utmost care and

Once you find the perfect space to
implement your pilates studio, you must
make sure to remain realistic about the
amount of equipment you can fit in that
area, and the type of use the equipment
will get. Choose equipment that is versa-
tile and offers maximum programming
options to keep your pilates program
fresh, challenging and adaptable to the
changing requests of your members or

Qualified instructors are key
With a designated space in your facility,
staffing is the next key to expanding your
business. It is imperative to understand
that highly skilled instructors are impor-
tant for this age group, and that special-
ized pilates-based equipment requires
proper training and programming

You now have the ability to offer pilates
career opportunities to your existing fit-
ness or wellness staff. If you recruit and
train your existing quality personal train-
ers and group exercise instructors to be
pilates instructors, they can subsidize
their current client-base and group classes
with alternative training methods and
grow their clientele.

A studio designed for private, semi-pri-
vate and group training allows several
instructors to work together in the same
space while training clients. With a
pilates studio on your premises, you can
also offer non-staff instructors part-time
or full-time positions according to the
studio’s demand.

Instructors who are looking for a career
within this life-stage category require spe-
cialized training. Although comprehen-
sive training is crucial, pilates education
doesn’t stop after certification. It is vital
to make sure that your instructors are
attending continuing education courses
and workshops. By offering training and
continuing education, you can show

What you need to
set up shop

1. The right space. Small pilates stu-
dios can start anywhere from
200–300 sq. ft. for private train-
ing or semi-private classes. Small
group Reformer training will re-
quire at least 400 sq. ft. to house
four Reformers, while a fully
equipped pilates studio will require
approximately 800 sq. ft. of space.

2. Basic pilates mat program. Mats
are easy to store and maneuver—
and may be useful for other fitness
classes as well. Matwork can be
done with a variety of light equip-
ment or props including, for
example, resistance bands and sta-
bility balls.

3. Qualified instructors. Staff your
studio with instructors who are
properly trained in pilates, and in
particular, in dealing with older
clients with potential movement
and/or mobility issues.

4. Equipment pilates. Even though
pilates equipment may look intim-
idating at first, there are several
benefits to incorporating it into
your pilates program. The equip-
ment supports and assists the
client while the person learns
the intricacies of this practice.
Equipment-based pilates also
includes more full-body work than
mat pilates, which can place more
focus on the arms and legs as
well as the core musculature.
Equipment recommendations for
first-time pilates owners include
Reformers and Stability Chairs.

5. Advice. Contact someone from the
pilates industry who knows how to
build a successful pilates business.
If you are unfamiliar with pilates
in general, or if you want to
expand your current mind-body
space, speak to a reputable busi-
ness consultant within the indus-
try for the best advice to make
your venture a success.

The Journal on Active Aging

January/February 2009


How to set up a pilates studio for
the active aging Continued from page 39

Glossary of pilates

Cadillac Trapeze Tables: A variety of
spring lengths, tensions and multiple
attachment sites allow arms and legs to
be worked independently to ensure
muscle balance and control, and allow
more three-dimensional movements in
all planes of motion.

Ladder Barrels: Designed to aid in
aligning and mobilizing the spine,
improving posture and developing bal-
ance and control, the Ladder Barrel
supports exercises for beginners or
fully conditioned exercisers.

Reformers: The most widely used
piece of pilates equipment, the
Reformer utilizes spring resistance and
a smooth gliding carriage to perform
hundreds of exercises, which can be
adapted to any fitness level.

Stability Chairs: Ideal for those who
need to stay in a seated or upright
position, the Stability Chair helps
rebalance muscles while still providing
a full-body workout and is perfect to
fit in small spaces.

those dedicated individuals who are
already helping you increase membership
or resident participation that you care
about their professional growth—which,
in turn, means organizational growth.

Highly skilled instructors can bring a
plethora of exercise variety to your facili-
ty and cater to those older adults who
may feel intimidated to try pilates.
Qualified instructors will also look out
for the safety of your members or resi-
dents, which is pertinent to the owner
and exerciser, and take care of the needs
of older clients.

Other considerations
There are some other things to consider
in setting up a pilates studio. These

40 The Journal on Active Aging

• Temperature. As with any fitness or
wellness facility, you will want to
implement a temperature that is com-
fortable for exercise.
• Flooring. Carpet is recommended for
your pilates studio for comfort reasons
and going from machine to machine,
as pilates exercise is most often per-
formed without shoes.
• Change rooms. It is highly recom-
mended that you designate specific
change rooms for pilates participants
away from the regular exercise change
rooms—simply because pilates, or any
type of mind-body fitness, creates a
relaxed atmosphere not to be inter-
rupted by the banging of weights, and
the like.
• Water. Have water available within
the pilates studio. Proper hydration is
crucial, and easy access will encourage
drinking before, during and after

A specific room is always desirable for
pilates, depending on your facility layout
or affordability of space allotment. Use
warm tones on the walls and focus on
the mind-body “feeling” throughout your
area. Finally, avoid distracting lighting or
loud music.

‘How do I start?’
Every organization’s needs are unique. In
addition, not all facilities are created
equal and common obstacles—such as
limited resources, space or budget—can
seem like barriers to organizations that
want to participate in mind-body fitness
programs, including pilates. It is impor-
tant to seek out experts in the pilates
industry who can help outline your
choices and make your decisions easier.
Consultants can provide one-on-one
expert advice on everything from staffing
and strategic marketing to equipment
and studio layout scenarios—all of which
will help you on the road to success in
no time.

Lindsay G. Merrithew is the president and
CEO of STOTT PILATES®, a leader in

the pilates industry. STOTT PILATES
offers over 100 workshops for continuing
education annually: from rehab for back
care and breast cancer, to pilates for golf
conditioning and more. Email fullsolutions for more information on
how to build a successful pilates business for
your organization, to host pilates classes or
courses, or to find out about STOTT
PILATES’ new Active For Life Program
(see below for details).


1. Thompson, W. R. (2008). Worldwide Survey
Reveals Fitness Trends for 2009. ACSM’s Health
and Fitness Journal, 12(6), 1–8, November-
December. Retrieved from

2. American Council on Exercise. (2008,
December 9). Press release: ACE Says Budget-
Friendly and Boot Camp-Style Workouts
Among Most Popular Fitness Trends in 2009.
Retrieved from

3. American Sports Data. (2005, April 12). Press
release: Older Americans are transforming land-
scape of physical fitness. (Findings from the 18th
Annual SUPERSTUDY® of Sports Participa-
tion.) Retrieved from http://www.american

STOTT PILATES® photography
© Merrithew Corporation

Active for Life workshops

STOTT PILATES continues to expand its
continuing education offerings with the
recent introduction of its new Active for
Life Program. Through this “specialty
track” program, facility owners and fit-
ness/wellness instructors can implement or
enhance a pilates program geared towards
the active-aging population. The Active
for Life Program includes workshops that
provide instruction in pilates essentials, as
well as those designed particularly for an
older audience. Some workshops include
the use of light equipment and are
designed to address the specific needs and
concerns of different age and health cate-
gories. For more information, email


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