Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed pilates expert and podcaster Raphael Bender about his podcast, Pilates Elephants. He explores what inspired him to start podcasting, what it helps him accomplish, and the creative process that goes into making it.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
My name is Raphael Bender and I am the founder of the now-international online Pilates Education program, Breathe Education. I live in Melbourne, Australia and I’m an exercise physiologist. I’ve been married for 20 years and we have one daughter who is almost 15. I was a musician through my 20s and 30s, and I’ve always been fascinated by music and recording gear.
How and why did you start podcasting?
My co-host Cloe Bunter and I were talking on the phone one day, raving about one or another ridiculous pseudoscientific misconception that was rife in the Pilates industry, and I just thought, we should start to record these conversations and start a podcast. More people in our industry need to hear this stuff!
As the thought came to my mind, I said it out loud to Cloe and she agreed. Within a few days, we had recorded our first episode, and it was a blast.
Together we have some pretty strong views about the science and critical thinking behind Pilates and exercise in general. We champion ‘fearless movement’ and feel strongly that many other Pilates instructors in the world are privately questioning or wanting to challenge some of the existing notions and teachings within the sector.
There is a lot of ‘dogma’ still prevalent in the Pilates world, and we suspect that there are many out there wanting or thinking to challenge this ancient practice, but may feel that they are unable to for multiple reasons, such as peer pressure to fit in, to agree with existing teachings or fear that their challenges will be rejected.
We basically use Pilates Elephants as a platform to say what a lot of people may already be thinking, and to share it fearlessly.
The other side of it, of course, is that we are both Pilates teachers. We teach Pilates practice, anatomy and business. And on the podcast we get to share those things too. We get to share our knowledge and teach things we think our audience will find interesting and helpful, to in turn support them on their own Pilates journey – whether they practice or teach it.
Over time, our mission has evolved to giving our listeners science-based tools to become better, more effective, more successful and happier movement professionals.
What is your current podcast called, and how did you come up with the name?
It’s called Pilates Elephants because it is about addressing the elephants in the room in Pilates. The things that everyone is thinking about, but too afraid to mention because of the taboos.
What platforms can we find Pilates Elephants on?
What is Pilates Elephants about?
We disentangle the myths of the movement world from reality, we talk about awkward topics like body shaming, body image and the grey areas around social media. We also interview guests, such as Nick Hannah, Cory Sterling and XXX – we aim for a wide range of business professionals, industry experts and Pilates luminaries. If it can make you a better, happier, more successful and more effective Pilates instructor, we will cover it. We even use our community as inspiration for new talking topics.
If there is a specific or occurring issue that reveals itself through a Facebook Q&A session, or an interesting query from a student, we will look to include it in an episode to ensure our content is hitting the mark, or a mark, for every episode.
Do you host Pilates Elephants alone, or have guest hosts/partners?
I co-host with Cloe Bunter, and our air-time is pretty evenly split between ourselves and our guest, if we have one. Sometimes we will interview a guest together and sometimes we do interviews alone, especially if the guest is international and has an out-there time zone. Being based in Australia this often happens! I am an early riser so if our guest is chatting with us from the USA or the UK, I take these interviews.
Cloe and I have a great balance in that she is an active instructor and teacher trainer on the ground, and so she hears a lot of worries and concerns. I am very much in the business and science behind the exercise; so we find that our opinions are very different, which opens the conversation up wide for debate. We cover a lot of ground in each episode which gets our listeners thinking.
Do you edit Pilates Elephants or have someone who does it for you?
There is virtually no editing. We are very real and very raw (swearing, arguing – the works) and all that is required really is to add the top and tail skits to each episode, and normalising the volume.
The podcast format has naturally evolved over time. We are now more accustomed to what pace works, and adding in structure such as adding in a ‘setting the scene’ section up front where we introduce the episode and what will be discussed. We record this after the episode in case we go off-piste! And to make sure it’s accurate before listeners tune in.
We also record each episode as a video, which lives on the Pilates Elephants website. This is great for putting faces to names. As the Breathe Education platform is 100% virtual, this is pivotal to building a strong and trusted relationship with our students, as becoming a Pilates Instructor, as with any esteemed education program, is a personal journey and unique to each student. Knowing who you’re working with, alongside, and learning from is crucial.
Do you script Pilates Elephants, or just chat as you go?
Most of the time we have a topic in mind before we start recording, and we just freestyle it. Sometimes we even change our idea of what the topic should be partway into the episode. We are all about being real and raw. If we were a band we’d be the rolling stones, or Nirvana. So, no scripts.
If we’re going to cover a particular topic from a scientific perspective I’ll do some general research beforehand, and have a few scientific papers to reference any key and interesting points during the episode – but it is never scripted. Just a pile of (digital) notes, and brain waves.
How has Pilates Elephants changed or developed since you began?
As we have grown we have definitely become more organised. We have refined our style due to our audience’s tastes and responses, and in turn have become more popular and (I would like to think) professional. We have a full production team, good quality tech-gear, editors and a PR team to help us to grow.
At the beginning it was literally just Cloe and I on the phone having a rant, with me recording the conversation and uploading it 30 minutes afterwards.
Now we’ve got a system that allows us to have 10 episodes recorded in advance, a process for writing up show notes and even a set-up process in place for our guests. We send them a microphone ahead of the conversation, and a thank you hamper afterwards. But at the core, it’s still Clow and I just having one of our chats about a topic we care deeply about.
What are your biggest challenges with Pilates Elephants?
We’ve had a few technical issues with show notes disappearing, and plenty of challenges with remote recording. We have been recording every week in lockdown, for the last 8 months, and as a result we both now have a full HD setup at home. Our A/V tech expert, Josh, is always online with us when we record to keep things running smoothly, but we have never had anything major go wrong.
We never, ever have any trouble coming up with talking topics. There are a million more things we want to talk about – we will never get through them all! Probably the biggest challenge we face is making space for the podcast in our busy weeks.
Having done all the tech and organising myself at the start, it is so much easier to focus and bring my best self to the recording, now that we have an amazing team putting together all the tech and scheduling it all, and liaising with our guests. All Cloe and I have to do is rock up and talk, which is heaven.
What are your favourite podcasts to listen to?
Some of my favourite podcasts would be:
- Waking Up with Sam Harris
- Conversations with Coleman
- The History of Rome with Mike Duncan
- History of the Second World War with Wesley Livesay
- BBC History Extra
- You are not so smart
- The Health Report
How and where do you promote Pilates Elephants?
I like to post 5 days a week on Instagram and I finish every post with a link to the podcast. You can also find it in my own Instagram @the_rapahelbender Linktree, as well as the Breathe Education Instagram page. Cloe will regularly shout out to the podcast via her own channels, too.
We have an agency partner called Predictive ROI who have been awesome in helping us to navigate the promotion of Pilates Elephants. They have taught us how to create a transcript for each episode and optimise it for SEO, and then how to post snippets of the podcast on social media. We also post all the full-length videos to our YouTube Channel
Do you earn money from Pilates Elephants, or is it a hobby?
The Pilates Elephants podcast has no direct revenue stream. We made the decision pretty early on that we didn’t want to monetise the podcast by taking on advertisers, due to our ‘raw and real’ ethos. We feel it is important to us and our listeners that we feel completely free to say whatever we want, without question from anyone else.
We do use the podcast to promote our training and education programs. As these are run online, we use the podcast as a call to action to visit the website, and suss us out. We have had quite a few listeners reach out and enrol to study with us as a result, but we have never made a cent from the podcast directly.
What’s something you never expected about podcasting? What have you learned that surprised you?
Even though we loved the conversations we were having, and how good it felt to speak freely about certain topics, it still came as a surprise when the podcast took off, and how much it resonated.
We are now at over 100,000 downloads, with just north of 2000 downloads per episode! We didn’t expect that… We thought that our opinions would be too controversial or that we’d transgress too many taboos. It turns out there were tens of thousands of people out there thinking about and wanting to discuss exactly the same things that we were
What is the first piece of advice you would give to anyone inspired to start podcasting?
Do it today. Don’t wait for it to be the right time, or until you have the right gear, or the perfect idea. Just go ahead and talk about something you’re passionate about. And be yourself.
And, finally, are you proud of what you’re accomplishing with your podcast? Is it worth the effort?
F*ck yes. Sorry… Too raw?
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
About Breathe Education:
Breathe Education helps people who love Pilates quit their nine to five and start a personally and financially rewarding new career as a confident, scientifically literate Pilates instructor. Since its launch in Australia in 2009, the global Pilates education company has trained over 3,000 graduates across the USA, Australia, UAE and the Philippines. Breathe Education is the world’s first completely online educational offering, which means there’s no equipment or franchises for sale – just 100% education. Breathe Education is the fastest-growing Pilates education company in the world, with 100% year on year growth since 2016. Its revenues currently sit at AUD$5.5M, with 36 full-time team members across the globe.
About Raphael Bender, CEO, Breathe Education:
In 2006, Raphael started a Pilates and yoga studio in Melbourne’s CBD called Breathe Wellbeing. At the time, it was Australia’s largest specialist yoga and Pilates studio. After he began training Pilates instructors for the studio, Raphael saw a huge opportunity to help people transform into a better version of themselves. This realisation eventually paved the way for Breathe Education, which is now the most popular pilates training program in Australia. Raphael has a Masters degree in Clinical Exercise Physiology (Rehabilitation), a Bachelor degree in Exercise and Sports Science, a Diploma of Pilates Movement Therapy and completed the STOTT PILATES full instructor trainer certification. He’s also the host of the Pilates Elephants podcast, along with his co-host Cloe Bunter.