Pilates around the world

Over the summer season on the French Riviera, I am blessed to welcome clients from all over the world including wild and wonderful places like Saudi Arabia, Canada, Switzerland, Brazil, Czech Republic, Turkey and beyond. I love asking clients about studios in their home countries and how Pilates is practiced.

In this blog post, I speak to four of my favourite Pilates business owners in Los Angeles, Monaco, Cape Town and London to find out how Pilates is in their city, where Pilates is headed and what inspires them most.



Describe your average client. Who enjoys Pilates in Los Angeles? 

I would say everyone enjoys Pilates in my part of the world! It seems there is a Pilates studio on every corner in the West LA area. But as a physiotherapist who specialises in Pilates-based rehabilitation, my “clients” are more often patients suffering from a specific injury or pathology that is limiting their activities.

At my wellness center we have been integrating Pilates into patient treatments for over 18 years with excellent outcomes. We use Pilates exercises and principles to help patients recover from injuries and surgery, as well as optimise function in those suffering from chronic conditions.

What is popular now at your studio/with your clients?

At my studio, private sessions are the most popular, as they have always been. We have tried offering mat and Reformer classes, but our clients love the personal attention and precision they get in the one-on-one sessions.

In your opinion, where is Pilates going?

I think Pilates will continue to grow in popularity. With people living longer and staying more active later in life; the demand for safe, effective, low impact exercise will only increase. And as we see more and more research being published in medical journals advocating the use of Pilates for injury healing and prevention, more and more people will be inspired to try it. At least that is my hope!

The Cypress Center Website
Download Samantha Wood’s Pilates for Rehabilitation



You used Pilates to recovering a nasty ankle injury. Tell us more.

I broke my ankle and was on and off crutches for eight months. I made a commitment to myself that I would do Pilates every day throughout my injury and I was in the best shape of my life, even though I couldn’t put my foot on the ground. It made me fall in love with the method all over again.

What have been your greatest challenges as an instructor/business owner?

One of the things that has challenged me is finding a space to create a studio that would be profitable. The rents in Monaco are so high that it’s hard to find anything that makes sense. My clients also travel a lot which means that there are times of the year when my work quietens down and I couldn’t afford to pay the rent of the studio. That’s the only down side of working in Monaco.

In your opinion, where is Pilates going?

I think Pilates will become more popular as more people start to see it as a smarter form of exercise than HIIT training and cross training for example. The fact that we focus on quality over quantity, on mobility coupled with strength and on form makes Pilates different and very appealing, even to those who practice other forms of exercise.

MK Pilates Website



How does it feel to be a teacher of Pilates?

I can truly say this is a dream come true for me, having a space to share my passion and hopefully inspire others to live their dream is a job that definitely does not feel like work.

Describe your average client. Who enjoys Pilates in your part of the world?

We have a wide variety of clients at our studio, but if I have to put them in boxes, I’d say we have two main groups. The first being those that are staying pain free through the Pilates method, the second being those that know Pilates is the best from of cross training for all the other activities they enjoy doing.

How has Pilates changed in Cape Town over the last five years?

It has generally become more mainstream, which is so great to see, but more specifically there are more and more studios offering group equipment classes, sometimes more directed to Pilates for fitness.

Where would you like to see Pilates in the future?

I’d like to see it become a part of every training program. Not an ‘instead of’ other movement practice, but rather ‘as well as’. Pilates should be the practice where you learn to move well, so you can keep moving in your daily life or in any other physical active you take part it. It should be a lifestyle, not a workout.

Living Life Pilates Website



What have been your greatest challenges as an instructor/business owner?

As a business owner in this industry you are so busy trying to keep everyone else well and happy that often it is challenging to look after yourself. This is something I have recently had to take stock of and remedy!

How has Pilates changed in your city over the last five years?

Well my city is London, and I think it would be hard to imagine any one discipline changing a city, but as we move into times where stress breakdown is at an all time high, more people seek out stress relief through mind focussed exercise, so Pilates definitely is changing many lives across the city.

What is popular now at your studio/with your clients?

With such a variety of clients and teachers it is hard to say what might be ‘trending’. As our group classes get more and more regular attenders we can up the ante with greater form for greater challenge. Getting a sweat on while still being technically on point is probably the most popular with our small group classes.

In your opinion, where is Pilates going?

Oh wow, Pilates, more than ever before is booming. The online world has made it accessible anywhere, anytime. However, almost like a religion, there are many different methods which become almost like denominations, all saying slightly different things around the same theme. And just like religion, we all need to accept each other and be tolerant of different beliefs and experiences and theories. However, just like religion, there are many that remain dogmatic and intolerant. The rest of us, enjoy and celebrate and explore our differences. Pilates is awesome!

The Pilates Clinic Website

3 Strengthening Exercises for the Pelvic Floor

On paper, Pilates has a great reputation for improving the strength of the pelvic floor muscles, especially in women post-child birth and in older populations. But in practice, I believe the pelvic floor (PF) is an area of the body that attracts the least interest in Pilates sessions.

As teachers, we seldom focus on the PF during training because:

  • They’re not a group of muscles people can see
  • They’re not as sexy as the six pack (rectus abdominis) or as easy to train as the corset (transverse abdominis)
  • Admittedly, it is an ‘awkward’ area of the body to cue if a teacher and client do not know each other well

Similarly, clients don’t feel they’re getting a good workout if a session focuses strictly on the PF. Often clients struggle to keep up with the technical PF cues, while remembering to breathe and move correctly at the same time.

Truth be told, without pelvic floor (PF) strength and control, abdominal training cannot be called ‘functional’. Have you ever wet yourself or leaked urine when you sneeze or do a star jump or go for a run? This could be a sign your pelvic floor needs more attention.

The pelvic floor (PF) is like a ‘hammock’ or sling of muscles that support the pelvic organs. Their main function is to:

  • assist with continence
  • facilitate child birth
  • improve sexual function
  • maintain intra-abdominal pressure

The general rule of thumb with the pelvic floor is to: exhale contract + inhale release

The contraction should feel like you’re holding in a big wee and a big poo at the same time (although you can isolate both front and back of the PF). Like any other healthy muscle in the body, one should be able to both fully contract and fully release the pelvic floor.

For women returning from child-birth, it’s best to check with your doctor before starting any pelvic floor recovery program. Keep in mind that PF recovery is key to returning to physical activity after pregnancy.

Remember to empty your bladder before doing any work with your pelvic floor. In supine work, keep the abdominals only lightly contracted with no squeezing of the glutes and other global muscles.

Here are three exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor. Repeat each 5-10 times.



  1. Inhale fully release the PF
  2. Exhale fully contract only the front of the PF like you’re holding in a wee
  3. Inhale fully release
  4. Exhale fully contract only the back of the PF like you’re holding in a poo
  5. Inhale fully release
  6. Exhale fully contract both front and back of the PF
  7. Inhale fully release
  8. Repeat


Hold a plank on your knees, keep your abdominal connections in place without hollowing your lower back. Knees are just behind the hips, hands are just wider than the shoulders.
  1. Inhale through your nose and expand the rib cage around your bra strap area (front, back and sides) and fully release the PF
  2. Exhale through your mouth, fully emptying the lungs while contracting the PF
  3. Repeat


Imagine you are going up an elevator: floor 1, floor 2, floor 3, floor 4 and then back down again: floor 4, floor 3, floor 2, floor 1

Start with the breathing:
Inhale, inhale, inhale, inhale then exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale

Then add in the pelvic floor at the same time:

  1. Deep inhale to prepare
  2. Exhale (contract to 1), exhale (contract to 2), exhale (contract to 3), exhale (fully contract to 4)
  3. Inhale (maintain at 4), inhale (release to 3), inhale (release to 2), inhale (fully release)
  4. Repeat

Advanced (with a magic circle/ball between your knees):

  1. Deep inhale to prepare
  2. Exhale (contract to 1 + squeeze), exhale (contract to 2 + squeeze more), exhale (contract to 3 + squeeze a little more), exhale (fully contract to 4 + big squeeze)
  3. Inhale (maintain at 4 + big squeeze), inhale (release to 3 + squeeze a little less), inhale (release to 2 + squeeze less), inhale (fully release PF + circle)
  4. Repeat

CREW Pilates offer both pre- and post-natal abdominal and pelvic floor sessions in Antibes, France. Visit our website for more information on Pilates for women’s health.

4 Reasons to Practice Pilates and Yoga

Joseph Pilates drew on many different movement practices to develop what he called ‘Contrology’ or Pilates as we know it today. Some of these included body building and martial arts. He also studied the principles of yoga.

I can imagine starting Pilates and yoga at the same time could be quite intimidating for a new client to both practices but for more experienced movers, I feel Pilates and yoga are wonderfully complementary.

CREW Pilates is happy to have teamed up with Noona Ayres from Revitalize who now offers regular Hatha, Yin and Pre-natal yoga sessions at The Studio in Antibes. Noona has built a fantastic reputation over the 17 years she’s been on the Cote d’Azur sharing her love of yoga and Reiki.

Here are our four reasons we believe Pilates and yoga go well together:


CREW PILATES – Joseph Pilates believed that bad posture and inefficient breathing were the cause of ill health. By just breathing correctly, we can greatly improve abdominal connection, lower our stress levels and live healthier lives. Correct breathing and pelvic floor activation are also synonymous and great ways to prepare for child birth.

REVITALIZE – Pranayama or breathing practice is one of the foundations of a yoga practice. Prana, or life force energy, primarily comes into the body via the breath. In yoga we learn different ways to breathe so that we can calm the nervous system and stimulate the energy body in different ways. The mind can control the breath; however with focus on the breath we can also change our state of mind.


CREW PILATES – Put very simply, a healthy muscle is one that is equally strong and stretched. I feel Pilates is often too focused on muscle strength and ‘go, go, go’ with not enough focus on muscle relaxation.

REVITALIZE – It’s all about balance. Hatha yoga is two things: Ha and tha meaning ‘effort’ and ‘release’. Finding the optimum balance of applied effort and applied ease in each posture improves the flow of energy to the whole system.


CREW PILATES – In my time sharing Pilates, I have come across many clients who experience physical injury or pain after emotional events like divorce, loss or stress. This has made me realise how the mind and body are closely linked. For me, Pilates is a thinking person’s exercise. It’s about discovering how the mind and body can work together to heal, to move and to establish new patterns of living.

REVITALIZE – In yoga, the breath is seen as the bridge or gateway between body and mind. Using the breath and the different sensations we experience in our practice as a focus point, the mind is less likely to wander. Once we start to learn to turn our attention inwards our whole experience on the yoga mat begins to change, bringing about a state of stillness, presence and calm, often leading to a deeper sense of self-acceptance.


CREW PILATES – I believe it is important to introduce different movement practices to the body and not get used to moving in the same way and doing the same thing, over and over again. I often encourage my clients to take up various sports like running, cycling or swimming, Cross Fit or yoga to challenge their existing movement patterns and learn new things.

REVITALIZE – For me, it’s about exploring all the different ways in which our body can move. Beginner’s mind is very important in yoga practice so that we stay fresh to each different experience and sensation in the postures as well as in the transitions between postures. It’s easy to slip into ‘autopilot’ once the body knows the asanas, and with beginner’s mind it helps us to come back to the senses and into presence rather than staying in our habitual thinking patterns.

To find out more:

CREW Pilates:

Bianca Ljungberg



Noona Ayres


5 questions to ask your Pilates teacher

It’s always amazed me how many people go into Pilates or fitness instruction as a career, assuming there’s quick money to be made or that it’s an easy career to break into. Add slick websites and sexy promotional material on platforms like Instagram and Facebook, and clients are quickly charmed into attending sessions.

I’ve been practicing Pilates for 12-years now and have certainly trained with my fair share of incredible, inspiring instructors from around the world who are continual students of the work and philosophies of Joseph Pilates.

Avoid the fly-by-night instructors and cheap imitations by ensuring your instructor genuinely knows their stuff:

1. What are your qualifications and where have you studied?

Pilates is an unregulated form of exercise, meaning you don’t need a special qualification to teach it. With countless schools around the block, it’s hard to know which is which. In my opinion, you shouldn’t be teaching Pilates without at least a 500-hour qualification made up of teaching, observation and personal practice time. If your instructor is advertising sessions for pre- or post-natal or injuries, make sure they have additional courses in these fields or even better, come from a background in physiotherapy or human movement sciences.

2. How much teaching experience do you have?

Malcolm Gladwell said it takes 10,000 hours to become a master of your craft. Studying to become a Pilates practitioner is only the beginning of the journey. Most of what instructors learn, is from pure hard work and hundreds of hours in the studio. No two bodies are the same and it takes a trained eye to know what clients need. To reach 10,000 hours, an instructor should be teaching at least 30-hours a week for 6.5 years!

3. Who is your instructor and how often do you work with them?

The best instructors are those who practice what they teach. Your instructor should regularly be training under and working alongside practitioners who are as good, if not better, than your own instructor. They should be striving to become better in their own practice and picking up new ideas as they go. Some of the ‘big names’ in the international Pilates scene are often on websites/videos like Pilates Anytime.

4. Are you a member of any professional organisations like the Pilates Method Alliance?

Because the industry is so unregulated when it comes to teaching, it is always comforting to know that your instructor is a member of a Pilates community where professionals knowledge share and support each other.

5. Do other health professionals recommend your work?

The proof is in the pudding. If a good sports massage therapist, physiotherapist, osteopath or doctor recommends your Pilates instructor, you know there is quality in their work.

8 Mat Stretches for Runners

If you’re a keen runner, I’d highly recommend this stretching routine which can be achieved in 10-minutes. For me, there’s no hard and fast rule on what works when it comes to stretching. Play around! Change your back/pelvis positioning, breathe in the stretch, stay still, wiggle… get a feel for what works in your own body.

1. Seated hamstring/adductor stretch. Hold for 30-40 seconds. Change sides.


2. Supine hamstring stretch using the magic circle. Hold for 30-40 seconds. Change sides. Can use a towel if no magic circle is available. Variation: ‘Twist’ the ankle and turn the big toe towards you for a stretch of the outer leg (tibialis anterior)


3. Rest position with oblique/fascia stretch. Walk the hand of the stretching side away from you to deepen the stretch. Five deep breaths on each side.


4. Kneeling quadricep stretch. Hold for 30-40 seconds keeping the pelvis in posterior. Change sides.


5. Quadricep stretch (variation). Hold for 30-40 seconds. Change sides. Only do this stretch if you have good balance.


6. Foot stretch. Put the weight of your sit bones into the feet. Avoid if you have any previous foot/ankle injuries.


7. Calf/hamstring stretch. ‘Walk on the spot’ making sure to ground the heel of stretching leg. Aim for a flattened back.


8. Lower back stretch. Standing roll down.


5 Swiss Ball Exercises for Mothers

My little girl turned 6-months old last week and as much as I’ve loved this journey, I’ve also learned a few truths about how motherhood really challenges good posture. Added to all the lifting, bending, carrying (Mila is now over 8kgs) and household chores, I have also been breastfeeding which means hours and hours of a hunched over, flexed spine. Certainly nothing Pilates can’t fix…

…Follow these five easy Swiss Ball exercises to improve spinal mobility and give your back a well-deserved breather.

Upper back opener
Lateral flexion/Mermaid




Pilates and my journey through pregnancy

After walking many of my own clients through their fertility, pregnancy and postnatal journeys, I fell pregnant with our first child in January 2017. I had an uncomplicated, joyous pregnancy and learned so much about my own Pilates practice through many hours of self discovery and sessions with my own trainer, Brazilian Pilates instructor and physiotherapist Fernanda Lozier.

After spending my time reading and speaking to many different women, I opted for a home birth at our home in Biot, France, where our daughter Mila Olivia was born naturally on 15 September 2017. She came at 38.5 weeks and weighed a healthy 4060 grams. My labor was truly the most empowering experience of my whole life, equally physical, emotional and spiritual. Here are 12 photos profiling Pilates and my journey through pregnancy.

First trimester: The beauty of leading an active lifestyle before I fell pregnant meant that I could enjoy the advanced Pilates repertoire throughout my first trimester. Here I played around with a full version of ‘swan dive’ on the reformer, an exercise that can load the lower back if not performed correctly.


15 weeks pregnant: As the incredible nausea of the first trimester lifted, I had a distinct and renewed energy going into my second trimester. It was winter in France and unfortunately I picked up a nasty flu/bronchitis which stayed for a few weeks. I felt 15-minutes of light work on my mat everyday was enough to keep me centered and in a positive mind space. This stretch helped ease tension in my upper back which had started to take strain from the weight of my bigger breasts.


16 weeks pregnant: I have always loved practicing Pilates outdoors in the sunshine. This photo was taken on holiday in Provence at a quaint bed & breakfast. By 17 weeks, I had started to ‘show’ — a little, happy bump of sorts. I felt I should enjoy the more advanced repertoire while I still could so chose to play around with a ‘side bend’ on the mat.


17 weeks pregnant: By this time, I could feel and see my abdominal definition slowly disappearing; the scale also showed 3.5 kgs up from my pre-pregnancy weight. I also had a strong feeling to stretch, stretch, stretch my abdominals which I did with this delicious ‘side bend’ on the wunda chair (a great stretch for the obliques) and many cat stretches to stretch out my rectus abdominus (six pack muscle).


21 weeks pregnant: Looking back, all I seemed to do in my second trimester was stretch and strengthen my obliques with side over-type exercises, this one on the Clara step barrel. After labor, I really questioned Pilates/fitness practitioners who encourage pregnant women to stop completely with abdominal work. In natural labor, I needed every drop of my abdominals, especially my transverse abdominus to aid with deep breathing, assist with the stronger contractions and essentially move my baby further down the birth canal.


22 weeks pregnant: I remember this training session so clearly… it was the time I felt at my absolute best over my pregnancy; healthy, full of energy and radiant. I was also walking 5-8km everyday with our labrador doggie, achieving the same mileage as I had before my pregnancy. This was also the special time I started to feel our little one move, which really added to my feelings of amazement and wonder.


24 weeks pregnant: ‘Back support’ at La Brague river/forest where I went walking most days. A great way to articulate and stretch the lower spine without lying on your back. At the time, it was chaos in my professional life: we were moving CREW Pilates into a new studio with a busy studio over the summer months and 6-7 hours of teaching a day. I made sure to put my own Pilates practice first.


27 weeks pregnant: This photo of a ‘modified front support’ was taken at the Chateau des Alpilles Provence where we went away for two glorious nights to celebrate my mom’s 60th birthday. The photo does not show it but I was terribly stressed with lots going on both personally and professionally. I made a deliberate decision to use this time as a turning point and let all go. Stress management is truly one of the most important skills to develop over pregnancy and labor.


29 weeks pregnant: We were finally moved into the new studio and taking things a little easier. I had picked up 6.4kgs by 29 weeks pregnant and had felt a definite slump in my energy levels. Also at this time, I had picked up a problem with bad veins around my pubic area, which persisted throughout the later weeks of my pregnancy. This meant squats and any pelvic weight-bearing exercises were contraindicated.


30 weeks pregnant: My midwife Alex Ballada recommended this puppy stretch as a way to relieve the pressure in my pelvic floor. On top of my regular Pilates and walking routine, I started to swim in the ocean every evening. It cooled me down in the peak summer heat and also helped relieve the pressure in my legs and feet. I truly loved the sense of weightlessness in the water. Water also helped me with pain relief during labor.
33 weeks pregnant: By this point, movement had become awkward and I felt increasingly heavy and very pregnant. Here I was doing ‘pelvic curls’ on the wunda chair, an exercise that is often contraindicated in Pilates literature, as it puts a woman on her back (supine) and risks the development of supine hypotension. I listened to my own body though and stopped whenever I felt an exercise no longer served me.


36 weeks pregnant: This was my last proper practice before I went off to give birth. I remember asking one of my teachers once, “When must a pregnant woman stop her Pilates training?” To which she answered, “A woman will just know.” This session, I just knew. It felt difficult getting into certain exercises and I just felt heavy, tired and over it. Still, I managed a smile in the very elegant ‘mermaid’ on the reformer.

Bianca Ljungberg is owner and lead instructor at CREW Pilates, a boutique Pilates studio based in Antibes, France. She is qualified with Body Arts and Science International (BASI), a leading Pilates academy which pushes its students to become masters in the art and science of human movement. For more information about sessions for pregnancy and beyond, please get in touch by email to crewpilates@gmail.com