Pilates Teaching Tips 4
This is the fourth in a series of articles by BASI principal instructor Theo van der Riet dealing with Pilates teaching techniques and concepts.
The first client I ever had failed to return after her first lesson.
It was not a pleasant experience, but it certainly made me think. Was it Pilates she didn’t want to return to or was it me? It didn’t take me long to conclude that it couldn’t have been Pilates; how could anyone not like Pilates?
So, it must have been me. Specifically, it must have been my eagerness (shared by many young and inexperienced instructors) to do too much too soon. After completing a teacher training course and having learned a vast repertoire, we often can’t wait to share what we’ve learned with our new clients. We’re over-enthusiastic and we overwhelm our clients with information.
Don’t try teach everything you have learned on the first day. Clients find their way to Pilates for a wide variety of reasons, but they all want to move. So get them moving; you’ll have ample opportunity in the future to impress them with your knowledge.
Here are some guidelines for constructing an effective first class for injury-free individuals:
Roll down – Assess posture and evaluate movement, but try not to go into too much technical detail at this stage. You could easily get stuck on a topic and the hour will be up before you know it.
Breathing – Mention the importance of breathing in Pilates and introduce lateral breathing, but try not to make too much of it in the first lesson. The goal is to get clients to understand the importance of breathing; it is a lot less critical at this stage whether the breathing patterns are on cue. It is sufficient that they are breathing and that it is not causing tension.
Neutral pelvis – Briefly introduce neutral pelvis and mention its benefits, but don’t expect the client to grasp it in the first lesson. There is more than enough time to work on this concept in later lessons, when they understand more and know what to expect.
Abdominal recruitment – Yes, mention Transversus Abdominis and the importance of ‘hollowing’ or ‘scooping’. Keep it simple and use images to convey the information.
Mat Warm-up – As you progress through the basic warm-up sequence, repeat the previous instructions in order to reinforce the information. The basic warm-up exercises will also give you a great deal of information about the client’s abilities, strengths and weaknesses. Use these exercises to evaluate your client, without her knowing about it.
All of the above should take no more than 30 minutes. After that, I personally like to introduce the equipment, especially the Reformer. Most new clients are very intrigued by the equipment and it really does add interest to their first class. I have found that many beginners have the impression that the equipment is for advanced movers only; it’s good to get rid of that misconception immediately.
Leg and Foot work – Introduce only a few positions initially; the time available in a normal class is not sufficient for the full series. Evaluate the foot-ankle-knee alignment of your clients when going through the different positions.
Abdominal work – Begin with the Hundreds prep with no resistance or on the mat.
Hip work – If your client has good body awareness and can control movement, try the Frog on the Reformer or Cadillac. Whether to introduce hip work is usually a very subjective choice and will depend on the client.
Stretches – In the first class, introduce a hamstring stretch with a theraband and explain that stretching is a very important part of your Pilates class. Keep it simple, but effective.
Arm work – If you are fortunate to have access to the Avalon Arm chair, you can begin with Chest Expansion and Hug a Tree.
Lateral flexion – Side Leg Lifts on the mat is a great choice here as so many people are exceptionally weak in this area.
Back extension – End the class with basic Back Extension on the mat. This way you ‘open’ the chest and they feel elongated and tall when leaving the class.
If you go through the class, I think you’ll see that the main concepts were discussed and the client got a lot of moving done. Simultaneously, you reinforced the concepts as you moved through repertoire.
There will be more than enough time in subsequent lessons to establish the basics and to slowly progress through the repertoire and fundamental concepts. Repetition of the fundamental exercises will lead to deeper and deeper levels of the work and many layers of understanding.
Your client will not leave the studio feeling overwhelmed. I’m pretty sure that your client will understand the benefits of the method and, of great importance, feel that she can do it. Unlike my first client, she will come back.
Have fun teaching.
Theo van der Riet – Botha
BASI Pilates™ Principal Instructor