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.

Levelling Up

“Show me your bookshelf, or the courses you take, or the questions you ask, and I’ll have a hint as to how much you care about levelling up.” (Seth Godin)

First of all, if you don’t already follow Seth Godin, go do it now. The man is brilliant, not just about business, and the business of business, but also many other important life issues. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll see plenty of his quotes, I’m an absolute fan.

So what does “Levelling Up” mean? In this context, exactly what he says. Look at the books on your bookshelf. Do they reflect your current interests? Topics that are near and dear to your heart? Do you actually pick them up, read them, refer back to them?

When I finished my comprehensive pilates teacher training, my teacher (a very wise woman) said to our group, “Don’t go home and put your manual on the shelf. You will need it now more than ever. Just because your training is ‘finished’, doesn’t mean that your learning is.” And in the months and years following, teaching real clients, and also on my journey as a teacher trainer, I have used that same quote over and over again. Because it really is true. Even now, for me 15 years later, I am constantly referring back to my manual, and using it as a guideline when questions arise.

To further that thought, what DOES happen after you finish your teacher training? What courses do you take? What conferences do you attend? This is the make-or-break point for most pilates teachers. You teach, day-in and day-out. You get into your little groove, your way of doing things that work for your studio or clientele. You forget things. You get stale, bored, wonder why your clients aren’t making any progress.

The good news is, there is an abundance of information out there to further your education (that’s also the bad news, so buyer beware!). There are online sites with videos from well-respected and creative teachers. There are conferences all over the country. And if you love to travel, there are conferences all over the world. Go to them. Enrich yourself, come back to your students with a refreshed, energized attitude and see what happens.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Specifically “why?”. Not in a judgmental, or threatening way, but in a curious, I-want-to-know-more way. Go to those conferences, but don’t just sit there taking notes. Ask questions of the presenter. Volunteer to be a body on demonstrations. Engage with other participants. Sometimes I think this is where the real learning occurs, when you surround yourself with like-minded individuals, and can learn and share with one another.

This is what it means to level up. It’s really about staying current, staying fresh, continuing your education, and bringing your teaching to it’s best level. I have a good friend, who also happens to be a pilates teacher, and she told me that she tries to spend at least 15 minutes a day either reading a pilates book, watching a pilates video, or checking out what’s new on the pilates Facebook groups she follows. What a fabulous idea! Try it, and see what a powerful impact it can make, not just on your teaching, but on your entire outlook towards your clients and your studio.

Go ahead. Level Up.


Good vs. Perfect

As I watch the Summer Olympics in Rio, I am constantly amazed by the strength, focus and determination exhibited by the athletes – both young and old. They come from all over the world to compete against the best of the best, to earn the Gold. I’ve heard time and again that so-and-so “settled for” Silver or Bronze. And it made me wonder what message this sends to us everyday people, the run-of-the-mill joggers, swimmers, yoga and yes, even pilates practitioners. Are we letting “Perfect” get in the way of “Good”? And is there something wrong with just being “Good”?

In my pilates journeys – as a student, then a teacher, and now a teacher trainer – the one thing that has stuck with me is that pilates is a practice. No matter what path you’re on – it’s an ever-evolving discovery of what your body can (and sometimes can’t) do. I believe in focusing on the good, welcoming the good, encouraging the good. Perfection is over-rated, and often, not ever really “perfect”.

The majority of my clients are, for the most part, striving to be good. Sometimes they struggle. Life gets in the way. Sleep, diet, other exercise play a role in how we feel and what we bring to the pilates workout. Every day is different, and every day I strive to find that one good thing that can be celebrated, instead of all the other not-so-good things that can be picked apart. Yes, it’s important to know what you need to work on, what your homework is. But it shouldn’t overshadow that some (or more!) of what you do is always good.

In the very first pilates teacher training weekends that I teach, I always tell my new group of (very nervous) teachers-to-be, “I don’t expect you to be perfect. I expect you to listen to the feedback you’re given, be safe, and know the order. Make some progress from the first day to the last day.” In other words, just be good. Just do your best, because after all, isn’t that good? Some teachers get so caught up in doing everything down to the letter, and get so worked up into a frenzy over the smallest words/details/phrases, that it takes the enjoyment out of teaching (it also bores and sometimes discourages the students who work with them). We become teachers to share this fabulous method called pilates. The best teachers are good. They know their stuff, they might make a mis-step here or there, but they can recover. They are motivating, enthusiastic, and fun to be around. They’re good.

Allowing yourself to be good can take the pressure off. You know that you’ve given it your best shot. You celebrate the good that is happening today. Maybe tomorrow (who knows?), more good will happen. Maybe not. But who cares? As long as you strive to be good, what else is there? Let go of the idea of perfection and be your best self. Be good.

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.




On Being an Advanced Student

Mention the word “advanced” to most pilates practitioners, and you’ll get two responses:

One: “Oh no, not for me, that stuff is crazy!”

Or, two: “Bring it on!”

But what does it really mean to be an advanced student? Careful before you answer. Because if you said “someone who does the advanced work”, think again.

First, let’s look at what exactly comprises the advanced repertoire. For most classical pilates programs, it’s not exactly Joe’s full order, as he taught it. Along the way, some things got taken out. The headstands. The balance control step offs. The big backbends. Exercises deemed too dangerous.

Side Note: that stuff is either referred to as “super advanced” or “archival”. Either description definitely makes one pause. But I digress.

So… “Advanced”. On the mat, it would include all the overhead exercises – rollover, corkscrew, jackknife, boomerang, control balance. Ditto for the reformer, plus exercises that continue to challenge a person’s balance, strength, flexibility, and yes, stamina.

But does simply practicing these exercises make you “advanced”? Again, be careful before you answer.


Case in Point #1. A new client comes to me: woman, mid-50’s, very active, healthy, been doing pilates “forever!”, and (as she told me) her former teacher considered her “advanced”. Okay, I said, “let’s do a little intermediate-level work and see where we are.” The mat I chose was basic, but she needed the strap for rollup. Okay, I do too sometimes. No biggie. But when we got on the reformer, it was a disaster. She didn’t know any of the exercise names. She banged the carriage and rushed through the setup. She had NEVER been on the long box (pulling straps, backstroke, teaser – never done them). She had Never. Done. Elephant. She did not listen to me. Of course midway through this debacle (for me) I realized her former teacher’s description of “advanced” and mine were completely different. And this woman (while very nice), had been given this label without really understanding what it meant.

Of course the exercises are not the be-all, end-all, so here is my…

Second Case in Point: I observed a one-on-one session, taught by a very well renowned and respected teacher, instructing another teacher as the student. The student: extensive movement background, very healthy and fit, capable of performing anything the teacher would have chosen to give her. Not too widely different from the woman above. So what did he choose? Beginner System. The very basic exercises one learns first on the reformer. And the student? She worked like crazy as the teacher demanded she perfect every last detail and nuance of every simple exercise in the system. But more importantly, she did other things. She listened to instructions and followed them, to the best of her ability. She knew the names of the exercises. She did not whine about wanting to do this-that-or-the-other-more-exciting-thing. She got an amazing workout and had an enlightening experience. She learned something new about the most basic exercises of the work.

So then, what makes an “advanced” student? Attitude. Humility. Respect. Understanding. An Open Mind. A Desire to Learn. Knowing the Fundamentals.

The exercises are important, to an extent. Yes, some of the advanced/super-advanced/archival work is fun, exciting, amazing to watch. As Pilates Teachers, we should all know them, to keep the work alive.

But labeling students by exercises is misleading, and quite frankly, does the student a disservice. It is more important for you – as a Teacher – to teach the student the way they approach the repertoire is almost more important than the work itself. Teach the exercises (as appropriate), but also teach a respect for the exercises.

Some students will get this, and love it, and you will love them for it. Some will have no interest in the finer points and be happy just staying where they are. That’s okay, we’re just glad they’re still doing pilates.

So consider dropping your labels and start adding more quality to the content you teach. Recognize who is ready to “advance” and who needs a little more time. Tell them the exercises are nothing more than that. Yes, some are harder than others, but it’s not a contest. Be a true teacher, look past the labels, and you will make your job so much more than just throwing out a bunch of exercises to entertain or get through a session.

And maybe one day, regardless of what exercises your students are doing, they will all be “advanced”. And your Teaching will be, as well.

Congrats, you’re a Pilates Teacher. Now what?

You put in all the apprentice hours at the studio. You studied, worked out every day, and taught friends, family, and complete strangers for next to nothing. You were tested, evaluated, questioned, and tested again. Now, finally, you have your teaching certificate and your long journey is over. Or is it?

To keep yourself sane during this exciting transition to full-fledged teacher, here are some things to remember as you venture into the pilates world:

  • Keep the Manual Handy! What? After lugging that huge manual around for months and perhaps years, you can’t put it down yet? No. Absolutely not. Your real learning begins NOW, and now is when you will need that manual the most. Okay, maybe you don’t have to carry it with you everywhere you go, but absolutely know where it is at all times, and more importantly – don’t be afraid to use it! After all, there are hundreds of exercises in there, some of which (okay probably a lot) you might not teach that often, and your manual is going to help you stay on top of things. And if it’s a really good manual, it also has anatomy charts, guidelines on teaching special populations, and breath, cueing, and touch recommendations for every client under the sun.
  • Find a Mentor. If your studio hasn’t already done so, look for a teacher with solid experience (5+ years). It could be the senior instructor you’re taking lessons from, or another teacher that you admire and want to emulate. When issues arise with a certain client or class, it’s helpful to have someone to check in with. Get a seasoned professional’s unique point of view and learn different techniques that come with real-time experience.
  • You CAN Say It… “I Don’t Know”. Often, new teachers are given a lot of different clients and classes, with a wide array of people and varying physical issues and conditions. After all, you’re trying to get as many teaching hours in as possible, right? You want to help them. You want to share this fabulous method with them. And like any good teacher, you want to be able to answer any and all questions thrown your way. But remember this: You don’t have all the answers. And you are not a medical professional. So when your favorite client starts complaining about this pain or that ache, be compassionate. Be sensitive. But never diagnose. Don’t be afraid to stay “I don’t know, but I will look into it and in the meantime, maybe you should check with your doctor.” The least helpful thing you can do is to tell a client they have XYZ condition when you may only be guessing or speculating.
  • Continue to Practice Pilates! A common pitfall for most new teachers is falling off the pilates wagon. Remember all those teaching hours you’re trying to accumulate? Next thing you know, you’re teaching 30 hours a week and doing pilates 0 hours a week! Be sure to save some time for yourself, for your own lessons or classes, to keep the work fresh in your own body. After all, you can only teach what you know, right? Self work-outs are fine if that’s all you can manage, but going to another teacher for true, objective instruction is the best.
  • Educate Yourself. I know, you’ve just spent the last year doing that very thing. But your learning should never end. Let me repeat: Your learning should never end! Maintain your current certification by taking continuing education credits with your certifying organization. But also venture outside of your group and take from other renowned teachers. Many popular and prominent teachers travel around the world looking to teach people just like you. Go to conferences and conventions and continue to broaden your pilates horizons!
  • Have Fun! Yes, fun. Because if you don’t enjoy what you do, why are you doing it? Remember to never take things too personally. Understand that your clients have bad days (just like you), get stuck in traffic (just like you), have a poor night’s sleep (just like you), and they can bring a lot of that into their sessions and classes. Stay focused, and try not to react. Be positive, encouraging, and uplifting. The place from which you come will be felt. Now go forth and share the pilates love!