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.

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.








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!