Successful Pilates Teachers

I follow a Twitter feed by Dr. Oz, called Life Advice (TM) (@ozlifeadvice). He tweeted recently about the six habits of successful people. It struck me that his thoughts, while pertinent as always, could very closely relate to what makes a successful Pilates teacher.

  1. Wake Up Early. Oh yes, we all know that in this business of fitness, that we must be available when our clients want to work out. And most of them want to work out either before work or after work. Hence the “wake up early” advice. I’ve done my time with the 6am and 7am clients, as I’m sure most of you have too. As painful as it can be (especially if you’re not a morning person), it goes a long way to building long-lasting relationships with your clients.
  2. Talk Less. Please. Teach with clarity, and don’t over-explain or justify why you’re doing what you’re doing. If a client wants to know, great, let them know. Be succinct and to the point. Especially beware if you have a client that likes to chat. Don’t fall down into that rabbit hole, because it’s a long and sometimes painful climb out. Yes, get to know your client, be interested in their life outside the pilates studio, but don’t turn your pilates session into a therapy session. Sooner or later it will backfire on you. Trust me.
  3. Stay Laser Focused. Pay attention to your client(s). Make them feel special. I always try to turn the tables, and imagine how I would feel if my teacher was looking at their phone, checking the time, chatting to another teacher, or any selection of things other than paying attention to me, during my workout. Bleh. I probably wouldn’t come back. And I would tell other people not to bother going either.
  4. Don’t Waste Time. (see above). Your clients come to you for 55-60 minutes, hopefully at least once a week, maybe twice. If you’re lucky, three times a week. But some can’t even commit to a regular schedule. Maybe they travel frequently, have a busy home life, or other activities that take precedence. So make the most of your time together. Choose meaningful workouts for your client, not just the fun, new stuff you learned at a workshop last weekend. Be thoughtful and compassionate. Teach your clients what THEY need to be doing, not what you want them to do.
  5. Live Healthy. As Pilates teachers, our clients look to us, and want to emulate, the things we do. I wish I had a nickel for every client who asked me “how many times a week do YOU do pilates?” (*gulp*). Take care of yourself, know the work personally in your body that you are asking your clients to do, even at the most basic level. Eat good food. Drink plenty of water. Keep the company of good people. Sleep well.
  6. Ignore Nonsense. Most of today’s nonsense is (sorry to say) rooted in social media. It’s a valuable communication tool, but also a time-sucking demon. Give yourself permission to spend a reasonable amount of time every day, connecting to those that are important to you, and yes, go ahead and watch a silly cat video if it makes you smile, but avoid the dark traps of negativity and resentment. Your soul with thank you.

Strive to be the best you can be, the most successful version of yourself you can be. It’s really simple, and easy, when you get right down to it.

Stop. Look. Listen.

Running errands the other day, I was in a hurry. Of course (and this never fails), I get behind a slow poke.  Stopping fully at the intersections (what??). Looking right, left, then right again before turning (c’mon, you’re killin’ me!). Slowing down across the one-way bridge (hurry up, I have places to be!). So instead of getting irritated, I took it as a sign. Let’s say, a “STOP” sign. There must be a reason this guy is in front of me, right? Maybe I need to look at my behavior and see what might need to be adjusted.

And then that got me thinking about how this relates to Pilates. And teaching clients. Real bodies, with real issues. Real issues that change from day-to-day, from week-to-week. Injuries, surgeries, even just little miseries that you wake up with from time to time. A head cold, a stomach flu, allergies. Our clients show up, and these are undeniable things that happen. So how do we handle them, in our Pilates realm?

STOP. Okay this could mean many, many things. But the first thing I want it to mean is, “STOP diagnosing.” You are not a doctor, a physical therapist, an osteopath, or any other type of health care professional. You are a Pilates teacher. So now, STOP and look at the body in front of you. What does your client need to do TODAY (sorry for the all caps, but this is important!). Not what do you want them to do, or what you think they should be capable of doing, but what do they NEED to do, in this moment and in this lesson? Maybe you think it should be airplane and standing arm springs and wunda chair. And they come in feeling like crap, full of lethargy, but happy to be there and they just want to move. So you move them. Sensibly, intelligently, safely. Which brings me to the second point.

LOOK. Where is your client today – physically, mentally, emotionally? Like the driver who looks right, then left, then right again before turning. Look at your client from the front, look from the sides, look from the back. See that right shoulder, hiked up to the ear? See that the heels never quite stay together? See how one hip is always a little crooked? Use your eyes, look at the body in front of you, and do what needs to be done within the pilates repertoire. There is plenty to choose from. If you are a good teacher, you will take that extra breath, tell yourself to calm down, not rush, and do what your client needs. Often when we teach many hours, back to back, we stop looking at our clients. Try to treat every client that is in front of you as the very first client of the day. Avoid tuning out, going into auto-pilot. And that brings me to my third point.

LISTEN. No really, Listen. Close your mouth, open your mind, tap into your patience (remember that slowpoke who was crawling over the one-lane bridge?). When your client tells you something feels funny, or even when they tell you something feels awesome, listen to them. Try not to brush it off, make an excuse, or even worse, make something up. Validate your client’s concerns, and where they are physically in their body. It’s simple, just gather information. No need to swap stories or spend ten minutes getting the pinkie toes in “just the right spot”. Let the client move intelligently, listen to what they have to say about their movement experience, and continue to listen. Go back to “LOOK” and treat every client like they are the first one of the day.

Three simple words. Stop. Look. Listen. But powerful and oh-so-important when teaching this fabulous movement method we know as Pilates. Just like the slow driver in front of me, I always marvel that each client I see teaches me something new, gives me a reason to pause, and figure out what it is I can do that will best serve them.




Begin at the Beginning

been working on my core

I know, it seems kind of obvious, right?

But it’s not always so. Especially in today’s dog-eat-dog, get-there-first, always-be-the-best world. People don’t want to start at the beginning. They want to jump in with both feet, and in no time flat, have that awesome job, the latest model car, the brightest kids, the sparkling and envious life.

Whew, all that talk just makes me tired.

I teach pilates. I also teach teachers to teach pilates. I have “regular” clients from all walks of life, and I have clients who are teachers. The regular clients come for a workout and truly love pilates. The teachers come to enrich their personal practice, but also to inspire their teaching to other clients.

One thing they all have in common is that they started at the beginning. What does that mean exactly?
Well, despite any previous experience(s) with pilates or other fitness/wellness modalities, despite any injuries or special conditions, and despite any pre-conceived ideas about “what pilates is” (and believe me, there are a bunch of those), they all started at the beginning.

The foundational work of classical pilates cannot be overstated. It reminds us that there is a method to the madness. There is a reason for the order of the exercises. There is understanding in the progressions from one place to the next.

In my training, we always start on the mat. There are no distractions, no springs, no straps, nothing to get in the way of what the body is truly capable of. Then, we go to the reformer. Very basic stuff, introducing movement with resistance, and some flexion and extension through the major joints. Then we move to the Cadillac for more stabilizing work and a bit of strengthening. Next up is the High Chair, definitely for strengthening and reinforcing good movement patterns from what we learned on the Reformer. Then we finish with good alignment against the wall, and walk away feeling taller and more lifted.

Yes, we move around the studio a lot, but I want my new clients to feel as much across the board and across multiple apparatus as possible. I want them to have a movement experience at the very basic level. And yes, it will be a workout.

Who will you teach these beginnings to? What types of clients start here? Trick question. All of them.

“I’ve never done pilates before.” This client can be an absolute Godsend, or they can be your worst nightmare (usually it’s the first). They may have some ideas about pilates, they may have heard some things about how it’s really good for “the core”, they may think they need to be flexible. Bah. Start at the beginning. Promote a solid foundation and a clear understanding of what it means to have the “abs in and up”. Teach that just because we call it “beginning” doesn’t mean that it’s easy. It’s a selection of exercises, designed to increase stability and to open chronically tight areas (lower back and hamstrings, anyone?). This foundational work will help them progress more quickly and become better students over the long haul.

“I’ve been doing pilates for-EVER.” Hmm. This one is tricky. They’re a new client to you, you’re a new teacher to them. You may or may not know or understand the type of pilates they have been doing “for-EVER”. They may or may not understand the type of pilates you teach. This could be a disaster. I always explain that since we’re new to each other, I like to start with some foundation work (try not to use the word beginner because they will certainly tell you they are not beginners). Then depending on how that goes, as your session progresses, you can decide (or not) to add more in. The last thing you want to do (for your own sanity) is to plop them into an intermediate-level workout, only to discover they are not ready or prepared, despite their self-proclaimed history with the method.

“I’ve done lots of other types of workouts, how hard can this be?” Oh boy. This one is full of potholes, and throws up some red flags. They do Cross Fit, they do barre, they do TRX, they do yoga, they do boxing, or they do _________ (fill in the blank). Or all of the above! This client is not going to be happy doing a beginning workout. No matter how you describe or explain it to them. And you are going to be SO tempted to throw all your tricks at them. Don’t. Please Resist. Stick to your guns. Remember (again!) that just because it’s “beginner” doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park. And also realize that this type of client, because they do other things, or many other things, may not have the staying power that pilates really demands. That’s okay. Give them an honest experience without all the bells and whistles. Because if they decide to stick with it, they’ll become better students with a good strong foundation.

“I can’t do pilates, I’m injured.” Well, this certainly depends on the type of injury. But in my experience, most people – unless they are in pain – can do pilates. Pilates is rehabilitative in nature. When Joe taught his clients, no two workouts were the same. He taught to the body in front of him. So with an injury, we look at the body in front of us, we teach what makes sense, and we teach to the healthy parts of that body. This client can still get a wonderful movement experience, and chances are, they’ll feel better after the session. Please do remember, however, that as a Pilates teacher, you are not a doctor or physical therapist, so teach within your expertise. If you don’t know how to handle something, then admit it. The last thing you want to do is make someone’s situation worse.

So please, stick to your foundational work with new clients, and teach them the importance of learning the intricacies of this fabulous method. They will become better students in the long run, and your patience and perseverance as a teacher will be rewarded. If you’re not sure, do a beginner workout in your own body. Feel the simplicity and the beauty of the movements at their most basic level. Then you can teach from that place.