SP Studios

Getting to Know: James Mangahas, Studio Pilates

You’ve seen him on the TV screens. Perhaps you’ve done a class with him, or if you’re very lucky, you’ve been in a class he instructed. We asked Studio Pilates Master Instructor and Program Designer, James Mangahas, to share how he first got involved with Studio Pilates and what makes him so passionate about the work he does.

Tell us about how you first discovered Reformer Pilates. 

I first discovered Reformer Pilates when I met Jade and Tanya, the founders of Studio Pilates. Jade put me through a workout so that I could feel what a good Reformer Class felt like. Coming from an active background, I was a little shocked when I immediately started to struggle mightily and felt muscles burn in every single part of my body. I’ve been totally converted ever since that day.

What made you decide to work in this space?

I had been working in a physiotherapy clinic for some time and was constantly finding that my clients were responding much better to exercise in comparison to traditional forms of manual therapy. I decided that I wanted to purely focus on exercise and move away from any hands-on treatment. 

What’s the first step in putting together a Studio Pilates Reformer class? 

The first step in putting together a class is to know what the end goal is – do you want to create a workout that challenges the abs, or one that focuses on improving posture? Having a goal in mind allows you to choose particular exercises, and sequence them in a way that best helps to achieve this goal. 

There’s nothing worse than going to a class and performing a bunch of unrelated exercises, as this does not stimulate the muscles enough to produce the desired change. 

You’re trained as a physiotherapist. How do you bring this scientific, analytical approach to class programming?

There are some basic rules that one has to follow when programming a class. 

First, is to do no harm. We need to choose exercises that are safe to perform, with low risk of injury or pain. Exercise should be done to improve your life, so if the exercise you do ends up hurting you, then the exercise is no good. Our classes only have exercises that place the body in mechanically safe positions where the muscles can work their best. 

Secondly, muscles only respond and change when there is enough stimulus to force them to change. This is why our classes are layered in a way that a specific muscle gets targeted for an extended period of time – to accumulate enough fatigue and to ‘tell’ it to get stronger. Without this type of sequencing, it is much, much harder to get the results that you want. 

What aspect of the Studio Pilates method are you most passionate about and why? 

I’m most passionate about our focus on using the correct training methods. We choose exercises not because they look fancy, but because they provide the best possible results for our clients. We sequence the exercises so that we can get stronger, not for the novelty of making something difficult. 

Exercise needs to be simple but effective, and I truly believe that Studio Pilates is exactly that.

Give us your #1 tip for keeping fit.

The most important thing is to be consistent over a long period of time. Even if you can only get to class 1-2 times a week, you will get results just as long as you stick with it, and make it part of your lifestyle. Someone who comes to class 1-2 times a week over six months will have better results than someone who comes twice a day for three weeks, then never comes again for another six months. 

Consistency in your training means you can have a break for 2 to 4 weeks without it undoing all your hard work – so you can vacation guilt-free. 

What is your favourite SP exercise or program? Why?

My favourite exercise is Long Stretch Push Ups! It’s such an efficient exercise – great for the abs and arms, but also teaches you how to use all of your shoulder blade muscles. Plus it looks pretty cool.

What is the best feedback you’ve ever received from clients?

Any feedback is great, as it allows me to improve my teaching. But if I were to pick a specific moment, it was when a client told me that Pilates has helped her be able to play with her kids without pain. It reminded me that exercise can enhance your life way more than just for aesthetic purposes, and it was just so nice to hear someone enjoying the results of their hard work.

What makes a Studio Pilates workout unique? What makes it different from other Pilates workouts?

Studio Pilates workouts are intense, but with a strong purpose. Sometimes fitness classes are sequenced to just be difficult – to be intense for the sake of being intense. I believe this is the fastest way not only to hurt yourself, but to become burned out and end up hating exercise.

When we put together a Studio Pilates class, we want people to work out and be pushed to their limit, but to also work toward a goal – to get stronger, to be more mobile, or have more energy. We want you to achieve gains that you can be proud and that shows off all of your hard work. 

You’re responsible for training all the instructors in the network – what key things are you focused on?

The main thing I am focused on when writing and reviewing the training programs is how to provide students with the most comprehensive understanding of the Pilates exercises, in a way that is easy to learn. The human body is super complex, and it can be really difficult to understand how it should react to exercise. 

Right now, we are focused on using all the different forms of technology available to us, to show instructors the best and most efficient ways of being able to correct clients and help them get the most out of their classes. Although there are many ways to achieve the same result, over the years – and the thousands of clients we have seen – we’ve learned there are definitely better ways to do things. We are trying our best to show our instructors the methods which make the class experience the most enjoyable.

How often do you do Pilates yourself? What other training/exercise do you do to supplement your workouts?

I come to class at least three times a week, more if I can fit them in – sometimes classes are too full! I have been training in BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) 3-4 times a week for the past 12 years and recently added some kickboxing to get any aggression out! I also do some strength and conditioning to fill in any other time I have available. 

I try to find something to do every day to keep my body moving.