What is Classical Pilates? [Joseph vs. Stott Pilates]

What is Classical Pilates? [Joseph vs. Stott Pilates]
What is Classical Pilates? [Joseph vs. Stott Pilates]

Pilates studios are present all over the world, and people often enroll into a certain program without actually thinking a lot about it.

However, Pilates has different “types”.

All are beneficial for our health and body, but there are some differences.

Classical Pilates is a form of Pilates created by Joseph Pilates. It is a traditional practicing method, and studios that offer these classes it are not very common. To become certified, instructors must go to a special kind of training.

If you want to know more about what is classical Pilates, classical Pilates equipment, and classical Pilates exercises, read the following chapters:

What is Classical Pilates?

So, what is classical Pilates exactly?

To answer this question, we have to go back to the Pilates origins.

This type of physical exercise was created by Joseph Pilates, in the beginning of the past century.

He believed that physical and and psychological health are connected, and that people should strengthen their bodies to live a healthy life.

The practice started in Europe, but during years, it spread all over the western world.

Pilates is still gaining popularity, and every year, more and more people decide to start practicing.

As it spread around the world, the original form started changing. Some changes were made to increase calorie burn, other to target certain muscle groups more, and that is the reason why today we have so many different types of it.

Joseph Pilates designed original exercises to help people align their bodies, strengthen muscles and do a lot of corrective exercise (like: posture correction).

He also invented a Pilates apparatus that was used to increase the effectiveness of exercises. Currently present Pilates machines are inspired by his original ones, but the design slightly changed. I will tell you more about it in the following chapters.

So the original, classical, Pilates, is the one invented by Joseph Pilates.

His idea behind it was that during practice, you have to follow a certain sequence of motion and exercises to gain the most of it. Today, those are frequently mixed with other exercise.

Those sequenced exercises were very important, and as you gained more strength, you started adding more complex and harder exercises, but in a certain order. Full range of motion and fluidity were very much appreciated.

This may seem boring, and sometimes it may be, but it is very efficient, dynamic, and requires a lot of effort.

Pilates is frequently compared to Yoga, and the classical Pilates had a lot more body-mind connections than types practiced today.

What is the Difference Between Classical and Contemporary Pilates (Joseph Pilates vs Stott Pilates)?

When talking about what is classical Pilates, we can see some obvious differences between modern version, and the traditional one.

As already mentioned, modern types were created to make it interesting to modern people, and to be honest, to attract them into a specific studio. Many people practice to lose weight and look good and not to connect their mind and body. Demands are different today, and the practice evolved.

But the good thing is that the main principle is still present.

Increasing strength, mobility and flexibility are still the main focus, but today’s classes look a bit different.

When reading and speaking about modern Pilates, you will frequently hear the term Stott Pilates.

This is a form of Pilates created in 1800 by Moira Merrithew. The main difference between this type, and traditional one, is that this one is focused on neutral posture of spine and different sequences of exercises.

However, this type is also a bit altered today. In every studio, you will find different variations.

But that is actually good, because Pilates programs can be created to fit a certain person and not everyone is the same.

But, lets get back to Stott Pilates.

The creator was a dancer who suffered an injuries and decided to practice classical Pilates to get better. She realized that neutral spine posture is important but neglected in the original Pilates form, so she officially registered her program, which gained popularity ever since.

When it comes to spine posture, in classical Pilates you will encounter imprinted spine, and flat back posture, while in Stott Pilates, spine is meant to follow natural curvature of it.

There is no wrong and right way. Both types have numerous benefits, and it is up to you to decide which one suits you better. If you have certain back issues, but you are cleared to exercise by your doctor, check your local studios and choose a program.

What Equipment is Used in Classical Pilates (if any)?

Joseph Pilates invented machines that he called an apparatus.

Among those machines, there was a forerunner of today’s reformer. It was originally called the Universal Reformer.

Among other machines, he invented Cadillac, Wunda Chair, High “Electric” Chair, Spine Corrector, Ladder Barrel and Pedi-Pole. Some of these are used today, in a slightly adjusted form.

He frequently stressed out the importance of machines and their effect on final results. During interviews, he frequently explained that without machines, the whole process would take significantly longer and the results would never be as good.

Today, Pilates Reformer is the most popular machine used in Pilates studios. Even the smaller, home versions exist. Cadillac and chairs are also very popular.

As you already know, today you will find additional props used in practice, such as stability balls, weights, bars, bands, rings and other items, which are there to create a diversity of exercises, and to target certain muscle groups even better.

These are often used in addition to machine exercise.

Those who practice at home can do certain exercises without any machine, and it is still considered to be a form of Pilates, however, classical Pilates was strongly connected to the use of machines.

The shape classical Pilates equipment and machines remained very similar to original versions, but the difference is that some have additional features to increase effectiveness, while other types have it reduced, to be smaller in size and suitable for home practice.

What are the Best Classical Pilates Exercises?

Now when you know what is classical Pilates, let’s see what are some of the best classical Pilates exercises, that are suitable for intermediate levels.

Beginners can try them too, but if they find it difficult, variations are possible.

All of these are used today, and you can do them without a reformer, or any other props,which makes them great for practice at home.


This exercise is great for balance, spinal mobility and core strengthening.

To do it, start by laying down on your back with your arms extended over the head. At the same time, lift your legs while keeping them strong and straight to a 45° angle, and lift your upper body by activating your abdominal muscles. Your arms have to be next to your body, parallel with the floor, and your palms have to face up.

If you are a beginner, stay here, hold for a while an lower again. Those which are able to do so, engage your muscles even more, and lift your legs and body even more, to form a “V” position. Keep your arms in the same position, and focus on your shoulders to keep them low. From there, lower a bit (into the first lifted position) and then lift again to a “V” position. Repeat at least 10 times.


This exercise is great for your obliques.

To perform it, lay on your back, and keep your arms extended on your sides, palms facing down, and arms on the floor.

Lift your legs up, and by engaging your muscles (this is extremely important to do in a controlled motion and not with a momentum) lift your pelvis and hips too. Move your legs in a circular motion in a way so that you start moving them to one side (lets say left) and as you make progress so that legs go in front of you again, lower your hips and pelvis, but make sure that your lower back touches the floor. Do not lower your legs very close to the floor if you can’t keep your back to the floor. As you go towards your right side, start lifting your pelvis and hips again.

Do 5 circles and switch sides.

Beginners can do this in a way that they do not lift their hips and pelvis up. If you want to make it even easier than this, bend your legs.


This exercise is great for obliques and stabilizing your shoulders.

To perform this exercise, sit sideways, legs bent on the side, feet stacked (harder) or upper foot in front of the lower one (easier). The opposite hand that will support you has to be placed in line with the hip, slightly in front of the shoulder.

Press into the hand, engage your muscles, especially core, and lift to form an arch like shape by strengthening your legs. Press into the feet to lift your hips and waist high. Slowly start lowering down to touch the floor, but not to relax completely. Lift again. Repeat 10 times.

Beginners can slightly adjust this by keeping the bottom leg bent and on the floor, without lifting it.


Classical Pilates is a bit different from the one we practice today.

You can still find traditional studios, but those are quite rare.

Both classical Pilates, and the modern, Stott, version have numerous benefits for our bodies, and use the traditional machines invented by Joseph Pilates.

Now when you know what is classical Pilates, think about trying it and see if it suits you better than the contemporary programs!

By Sina

My name is Sina, and since young age, I have been passionate about sports. This website is a result of it, and my goal is to share my experience with all of you. Read more about me ....