Defining the Difference Between Classical and Contemporary Pilates

Pittsburgh Pilates expert breaks down the differences in classical and contemporary practices

Lisa Pellow
Lisa Pellow
Defining the Difference Between Classical and Contemporary Pilates

The practice of Pilates has been around for decades, but it has continued to evolve into various branches. Classical and contemporary Pilates exercises are both highly beneficial to anyone but different. Classical Pilates, also known as Contrology, is derived directly from Joseph Pilates’s original work. Contemporary Pilates has been adjusted with contemporary research. According to a professional Pittsburgh Pilates instructor, find out what the main differences and benefits are to each.

Classical and Contemporary Pilates — What’s the Difference?

Defining Classical Pilates

person using a Gratz Pilates machine
Image courtesy of Gratz Pilates.

Classical Pilates is the practice of the original system of exercises invented by Joseph Pilates. This method, when taught by a comprehensively certified, classically trained instructor, can be adapted to address the needs of the body being taught by the instructor. Joseph Pilates first introduced this practice into the world in the early 20th century. At our Pilates studio in Pittsburgh, Touchstone Pilates, we emphasize stretch, strength, and control, and we follow principles designed to correct imbalances, tone and strengthen muscles and improve flexibility. In doing so, classical Pilates can prevent injuries. Joseph Pilates put together a particular flow to the exercises that classical Pilates still follows because it is designed to move the body in a full range of motion. This flow builds from beginning exercises to more complex ones as you progress, increasing your strength and flexibility. Classical Pilates holds to the following principles:

  • Concentration 
  • Control
  • Centering
  • Precision
  • Breath
  • Flow

Defining Contemporary Pilates

Person using Gratz equipment
Image courtesy of Gratz Pilates.

Contemporary Pilates is a fusion between the teachings of Joseph Pilates and contemporary research that is heavily influenced by physical therapy. Contemporary Pilates introduces exercises into the mix. There are also variations of exercises that allow the instructor to hold creativity over the class. As opposed to the organized flow of classical Pilates, this practice can vary from class to class. Below are the benefits of the method of contemporary Pilates.

  • Weight loss
  • Injury recovery
  • Mental changes like better self-esteem
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Concentration 

Which is Better — Classical or Contemporary?

Student performing Pilates at Touchstone Pilates

No two Pilates instructors will feel the same, and there is no clear-cut answer to which Pilates practice is better. Choosing a side is mainly defined by what you prefer and what you are looking to improve. For example, some instructors believe that the only ‘real’ Pilates is the one passed down by Joseph Pilates. He was years ahead of his time in terms of exercise science, and the methodology is sound and still holds up to this day. Others think that Joseph Pilates was an innovator, and he would want his practices to be improved upon with the improvement of technology and the expansion of our knowledge. Those who lean towards the contemporary side also believe that our bodies are not moving the way they were 30-60 years ago, and having no improvements in the exercises would hinder our value of Pilates techniques. 

Both practices offer benefits. In general, Pilates is an entire mind and body workout where you can gain better posture, circulation, balance, and coordination. The techniques can also allow for accelerated training and recovery periods. Exercises are performed on a mat or apparatus invented by Joseph Pilates. The apparatus is used to complete and practice a full-body workout. There are many different functional pieces of apparatus, but the main piece of apparatus is the Universal Reformer, designed to bring balance and symmetry to the muscles by using the resistance of springs against the weight of the body.  


At Touchstone Pilates, we have the only Romana’s Pilates Certified Pilates instructors in Pittsburgh and serve as the only truly classical Pilates studio in the area that provides the method initially developed by Joseph Pilates and handed down to his world-renowned protege Romana Kryzanowska. You’ll receive individual attention from a trained and certified instructor who understands how to tailor a workout specifically for your body’s needs. Contact us to get started on improving your mind and body balance.

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