As a Pilates instructor who teaches both group mat, reformer and private Pilates sessions, I get a lot of questions about what the difference is between the group and private lessons. Do I need to do a private if I have XYZ issue? The reality is the biggest difference may be more than just financial. Privates are often 3-4x more expensive than group classes.
Because I get so many questions about this, I decided to break down the pros and cons of taking a group class versus a private session. I will caveat by saying that the group class size makes a huge difference in this so, in this blog post we are assuming a group class is a typical mat Pilates class capped at 15 people. The advantage of some small boutique studios is that you may get a smaller class size but, most people probably have access to a general “mat Pilates” class at a studio, Yoga studio or gym.
A little bit of history behind how Contrology (or Pilates as we know it today) was originally taught: “Contrology” as Joseph Pilates taught it was actually quite inexpensive. Clara and Joe gave each student a personalized workout to do each time they visited the gym. After, the students were expected to memorize the workout (or reference the walls which were covered in photos of Joe doing the exercises). Because each student wasn’t given private, hands on instruction every time they visited, Contrology was quite an affordable method. Think of it more like a gym membership or studio rental where you execute a preset workout than a private, hands on session (as most studios offer).
“A few well-designed movements, properly performed in a balanced sequence, are worth hours of doing sloppy calisthenics or forced contortion.”
-Less $: A group session is significantly less money. In Boston, I see most single group mat classes going for $20-$25. If you buy a pack or membership, you can access classes for as little as $7-10 a class. A group reformer class will set you back $35.
-Little to no personal attention: Due to the size of the class, teachers give direction but not instruction. Teachers simply cannot spend the time giving personalized vocal or hands on instruction to any of their students. They teach a simplified version of Pilates to a large class and just pray that you can follow along to the best of your ability. It is extremely difficult to learn “The Work” in this environment
-Access to only 1 apparatus: Mat and reformer classes limit you to being able to use only one piece of Pilates equipment. Pilates is designed to be experienced and used as a system. Unfortunately, only private sessions give you the opportunity to use all the equipment.
-Limited times: Group classes are usually scheduled early in the morning or in the early evening. If you have a particular schedule, you may not be able to make group classes.
-Personal Instruction: You are given personal, hands on instruction. If you have any injuries or special conditions (back pain, neck pain, pregnancy, breast feeding etc), it is best to avoid group classes as they likely will not be able to accommodate your issues. Group classes are not designed specifically for you but, are usually designed beforehand. It is up to you to modify the class based on your needs. If you are unaware of your needs and are new to working out, it is best to start with a few private sessions.
-Hands on Instruction: One of the most distinctive pieces of classical Pilates is the direct, hands on instruction that guides students into the right positions. A great hands on can transform an exercise for a student and can help them understand The Work at a deeper level. You are only given plenty of hands on instruction during a private session.
-Access to Pilates as a system: I start private sessions on the reformer or mat and then will bring them to other pieces of equipment based on their needs (commonly the high chair, wunda chair, pedi-pull, or ladder barrel). Again, you will really only understand Pilates if you can access all the equipment and understand the connection between all the exercises. Pilates is about developing connections in your body and in your mind.
-Faster results: Because a private session is more specific to you needs and desires, you will improvements much more quickly. Whether your goals are to get stronger or deepen your Pilates practice, you are much more likely to improve in a private setting.
-Flexible scheduling: You are able to schedule a private session by appointment so, you can usually fine the best time that works for you.
-More $$: Private sessions in Boston average at $90-110 an hour. This is about 4x the price of a group mat class or 3x the price of a group reformer class. Again, if you buy packs, usually you can get the price to as low as $80/hour but, this requires more $ upfront.
I generally recommend private sessions to all students who can swing it. It may seem like a big price to pay upfront but, we promise, that it’s worth it! As a Pilates instructor, it is so much easier to teach Contrology in a private setting with access to a full range of equipment. But, at the end of the day, it depends on your goals.