BECOMING A GREAT PILATES TEACHER
If you are reading this article it’s likely you are already a good Pilates teacher, part of a professional organization and interested in enhancing what you do. You will have had the best education possible, learned the repertoire on your own body, practiced on friends and family, and gained teaching skills. You must also be passionate about Pilates and have a desire to help people get the best from their bodies and stay healthy.
But it takes a bit more to be a great teacher. A great Pilates teacher is inspirational. They teach Pilates and also help people transform their bodies. They are 100% focused on their clients and always want the best for them. Great teachers often have a large and loyal following of clients and colleagues who want to learn from them and share the Pilates journey with them. And they are always learning, generously sharing their skills, knowledge and experience. Following are some of the things I have learned from spending time with great Pilates teachers.
From the moment your client walks in the door, clear your mind and focus on them. Stop what you are doing and give them your full consideration. They are paying for your time and deserve to be the centre of your attention. Observe the client as they enter the studio. Are they limping, do they look fatigued or energized, what is their posture like, are they smiling or frowning? You can often tell what a client needs on that day by how they look.
Then, listen to what they have to say. The first question I always ask is “how is your body?” That gives the client the chance to tell me if their back, shoulder or knee hurts, or if they did boot camp the day before and their quads are sore. It also gives a clue to their attitude. If they say “not bad”, or “OK” that is a lot different to “terrific” or “ready to work hard.”
During the class keep watching and listening. Last week I watched a client having trouble with leg alignment on the Caddy. When I asked her what the problem was, she remembered that she forgot to tell me, that she fell off her horse on the weekend.
An effective warm-up is as important as any other part of the Pilates hour. The warm-up should wake up the body and introduce it to many of the movements it will be doing during the session, including flexion, extension, lateral work and breathing.
This is also your opportunity to attend to the client’s specific needs, remembering what you saw or heard at the start of class. This also allows you to assess the problem and decide if you need to change their program.
As a Pilates teacher you have to keep your body flexible, and you also have to keep your mind and teaching methods flexible. You may have programmed an advanced class, then the client comes in with a sore back. You have to be flexible enough to change everything, making sure they still get a full body workout that is safe, effective, good for their body, challenging enough to make it worthwhile, and helpful so they leave the studio feeling better than when they arrived. And be creative. If an exercise is not working, feel free to modify it so you get the best results for your client.
To be a great teacher you have to love your clients as if they were your kids or pets. You can’t play favourites and you have to have endless patience.
Have you ever had that client that can’t remember anything? Cultivate patience. Sometimes when clients enter the studio they just want to empty their mind and be told what to do. They don’t want to think or make decisions. It’s up to you, as a great teacher,
to patiently give them instructions, patiently remind them of the starting position, the breathing, the alignment, etc. They will get it, someday.
Clever cueing can make the difference between getting precise, controlled movement from your client, or just a blank faced confused stare. Just like people learn from watching, doing or listening, cues come in three types; verbal, tactile and visual. And with all types of cues, use imagery, like “feel magnets at your knees” to improve the clients understanding of the exercise.
Tactile cueing is often the most efficient. It’s easier to gently lower a shoulder, elongate a leg, or lift a breastbone while the client is doing the work, than to stop them to explain what is necessary. However, in this time of social distancing it’s not always possible.
It’s more important than ever now, to make verbal cues as efficient and effective as they can be. Start by eliminating unneeded words. Instead of saying, “would you please lengthen the top leg for me”, just say “lengthen your top leg.” And use positive language - “keep your knees together” instead of ”don’t let your knees come apart”
Visual cues can range from gestures, like opening your arms wide, to full demonstrations. Often adding a visual cue when explaining an exercise, helps to teach it. Demonstrations are good for the client who learns by doing. They often want to jump in and do the movement, without listening to the specifics. If you demonstrate the exercise, then ask them to do it, they will have more success.
You can’t teach something you don’t know well. Always keep learning and refining your teaching skills. This may be in the form of courses, videos, books or self practice. Being committed to your learning means you can offer more well informed and interesting classes to your participants, and keep things more interesting for yourself. It also gives you the opportunity to observe other great teachers.
Make sure you maintain your own Pilates practice! Being clear on the exercises as you do them will make you clearer when you are teaching, and you will look like the absolute pro that you are when you demonstrate them. This is the time to understand the movement on your own body, to learn the intention behind the exercise, and the strategies involved to do it well. It is also the time to enjoy doing Pilates, to keep yourself fit and flexible.
When teachers share a laugh or a smile with clients, it helps them feel more comfortable and open to learning. Using humour brings enthusiasm, positive feelings, and optimism to the class. Every teacher’s goal is to be effective in the classroom and inspire students to be engaged and eager to learn. Moreover, laughing is good for the abdominals, and enhances rapport between teachers and clients.
Be proud that you are a Pilates professional and act the part. Turn up to work on time, prepared, well groomed, with a positive attitude. Keep all personal problems out of the studio. Make sure all client notes and paperwork are legible, precise and complete. Ensure that all your requirements such as insurance, first aid and continuing education credits are up to date. Whether you work for yourself or for someone else, be fastidious in all that you do. And remember, you are the boss of your studio or your class. You set the pace, you control the clients, you make the rules.
No one else can do what you do as well as you can. Embrace all your quirks and idiosyncrasies and enjoy every moment of being a Pilates teacher. No matter how much you may love another teacher’s style, they aren’t you! It’s great collaborating with and getting inspiration from other instructors but never compare. Be yourself and embrace your individual style. There is nothing better than a genuine and authentic personality. There is only one you – own it. Smile and have fun because you have chosen a great profession.
Cheers, Geri Taylor
Thanks for reading this. If you have any thoughts about what else should be on this list, please let me know.