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Business Spotlight: Full Stretch

Fitness trainer Shelley Hampton marks 30 years in business practicing Pilates

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Shelley Hampton was a fitness instructor before Pilates became popularized in mainstream culture.

She started her Pilates certification process in 1992. It was fortunate timing, she says, as the method caught on among athletes, dancers and actors.

“That’s how Pilates came out of the closet,” Hampton says.

She’s been operating Shape Shifters Pilates since then and recently celebrated 30 years in business.

But the exercise has been around much longer. The practice dates to the 1920s, when German emigrants Joseph and Clara Pilates brought their unique exercise workouts to New York, according to the Pilates Foundation. The method, called “contrology” for the way it conditioned the body through controlled movements, was adopted among the ballet community early on.

Think of repetitive, low-impact exercises like leg lifts, toe taps and side bends on a mat or with equipment that combines deep breathing and stretching to boost core strength, balance and mobility.

“Pilates is a rehabilitative form of exercise,” Hampton says. “They fall in love with it because it creates a longer, leaner look of the body.”

But it didn’t take hold on a large scale until the 1990s, when it was called a fad, and then went mainstream in the 2000s, according to a 2015 article in New York Magazine, titled, “The Pilatespocalypse.” It was a time when Pilates went head-to-head with “boutique fitness” – the boom of spin classes, barre workouts, CrossFit and the steady Zen of yoga.

Hampton has ridden the waves as the industry ebbed and flowed with culture and competition.

Today, some 12 million people practice Pilates, according to the Pilates Foundation.

According to market research by IBISWorld, which tracks Pilates and yoga together, the two industries represent a $10 billion market size in the United States and the number of studios is expected to grow 2.6% this year to nearly 42,000. That’s up from a modest 1% annualized market growth since 2018.

When Hampton started in the business, she recalls there being only 5,000 students.

“Everyone started talking about it. We were the first studio to open in Springfield,” Hampton says.

She’s worked with entertainers from Branson, Los Angeles and Nashville, Tennessee, players from the Springfield Cardinals baseball and Lasers tennis teams, professional golfers and seniors. But her bread and butter was working with corporations to improve employee health and reduce company insurance claims. Springfield ReManufacturing Corp., and its dozen plants or so, was a mainstay. The result, she says: The company’s back injury claims went from 90% of all claims down to 6%.

“You kind of work your way out of your job. If you’re successful, you get those numbers under control, and they don’t need you anymore,” Hampton says.

She also designed corporate back safety programs for Precious Moments and Bass Pro Shops.

Shape Shifters and the Minor League Baseball Double-A Cardinals had an eight-year run where local players had the option to receive Pilates training, says Dan Reiter, vice president and general manager for the Springfield Cardinals.

“Some reasons were for strength, flexibility, injury recovery, injury prevention and for some it was a way to keep their bodies in balance,” he says via email. “If you think of either a hitting or pitching motion, it utilizes one side of the body more than the other, so some players countered that with Pilates.”

Reiter says Pilates was a supplement to the work of the team’s own strength coach and trainer. The relationship ended with the 2020 pandemic-canceled season, Reiter says, and the partnership hasn’t resumed.

Hampton characterizes the COVID-19 year as “horrible,” but she’s built business back up to $150,000 a year in revenue. Shape Shifters’ annual revenue peaked around $225,000, she says, before the 2008 Great Recession.

“I have the business down to a fine science,” she says, noting all training is scheduled – no drop-ins.

As Shape Shifters’ lone employee, Hampton holds group classes, ranging $15-$22, and private sessions for $68-$75. She sells packages, too.

Physicians and chiropractors have become steady referral sources, she says.

“That’s kind of a beautiful marriage. They get them back in line, and my job is to teach the muscles to hold them that way,” Hampton says.

Hampton has been certified over the years through Polestar Education, Pilates Method Alliance, Fletcher Pilates and Stott Pilates, budgeting $3,000-$6,000 for her continuing education. This month, she spent 40 hours training in Miami with Polestar. Her certification track is in rehabilitation Pilates.

She says most clients come in the door with issues to correct.

“Pilates comes up on the radar as a safe and sound way to condition the body, help back problems and recreate a better movement strategy,” Hampton says.

During her career, Hampton estimates she’s seen 60 fitness facilities come and go.

“I don’t really consider a lot of competition to be an issue. It’s all helpful. The more Pilates studios, the better. I believe we should be teaching Pilates in the school systems – far less orthopedic problems. It would be a huge help.”

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