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.

 

 

 

From Point A to Point B… Progressions

I’m filming a progressions workshop next week, and the subject got me to thinking.

There are progressions, and then there are progressions (try to keep up). First of all, there are progressions of an exercise from one place to another, not just on one apparatus, but also across many.

Then there are progressions that help your client improve in certain areas. Both of these are important to know, and to understand.

Let’s take an exercise like Pull-Ups on the Wunda Chair. A real doozy, on a good day, and one of the first places your clients get to experience going upside down, against gravity. So we do it first facing front, both hands on the chair, both feet on the pedal. But then this becomes “manageable”. So then we say, “okay, let’s try with just one foot on the pedal!”. Umm, what? Changing the center of balance, decreasing the point of contact from four to three. That becomes manageable, so then we decide to try it with one arm only. Whoa! Changing the center of balance yet again, and continuing to decrease the point of contact (really where we need it the most!) by removing one hand. Yikes. Gulp. So a few weeks/months/years go by and then we turn it to the side, adding a twist. Our beloved Front Pull-Up has just morphed into a monster to be tamed! Sideways, you say? One leg? One arm? Bring it on.

So there you have a lovely little progression of ONE exercise on ONE piece of apparatus into MANY ways to torture challenge your client.

Oh yes, speaking of our client. How do we pick and choose the right exercises to help them make a progression? From Point A to Point B. From Beginner to Intermediate. From Intermediate to Advanced. And in-between. And beyond.

The most common mistake Pilates teachers make with progressions is just adding more exercises. And this is especially problematic when the client might not be ready for a new exercise. Maybe the client is still working on Exercise #1. Doesn’t really need to be confused by Exercise #2. Remember your job as a Pilates teacher is not to entertain your clients with bright, new shiny things every session (trust me on this one). Continuity and consistency are key. As a favorite teacher of mine says, “Do not go horizontal with your teaching. Go vertical.” Go deeper into the exercises and be sure that your client understands the basics of the movement. And not just the basics, but can perform and move in the exercise with control. The last thing this client needs is MORE EXERCISES.

They need time to fine-tune the ones they already know. The ones they’re currently working on. Some clients will need a LOT of time. Some will need less. That’s where your skillz (yes I just said that) as a Pilates teacher come into play. Talk with your client, and understand their fitness goals. Understand how they learn, how they move, how they process information. Remember, you are not there to entertain. You are there to teach. To have your client move safely, understand the work, and know why they’re doing what they’re doing, before you add new exercises.

In my training, we progress by looking at four components – stability, stretch, strength, and stamina. What does your client need to work on? What exercise can you give them that will help them work on that component? Keep your matwork and reformer work basic. Go to your other apparatus (Wunda Chair, High Chair, Cadillac, Barrels). From there, make a decision and stick with it. Stick with it. Stick with it. Be consistent in your sessions, from one day/week to the next. Continue to work on the ins and outs of that exercise. Trust me, your client will not get bored. With consistency, they will master that exercise, and then be ready to move on to another one.

And that my friends, is true progression. Try it, and let me know how it works for you.