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Top Five Teaching Tools for New Instructors

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Maria Leone, Owner of Bodyline Pilates StudioBy Maria Leone, owner, Bodyline Pilates Studio

The first six months of teaching Pilates professionally are often the most difficult. No matter how thoroughly each new teacher prepares, there is no way for rookies to be ready for every situation they will encounter. What a new teacher often fails to realize is that clients will expect much more from you once you pass from an apprentice or teacher in training to a certified instructor. The experienced clients will be comparing your session to previous workouts. They will be looking for a workout which makes the old repertoire feel new, as well as a feeling of progression. Those new to Pilates will expect a workout that challenges them physically even though they are beginners.

Unfortunately, this is a rite of passage for all new teachers. No matter how long you’ve trained or how many workshops you’ve taken, nothing can take the place of applying your knowledge to real live clients. I have had a staff of five to 12 trainers for over 10 years. The success of my business has been partly dependent on the ability to assimilate new teachers quickly and effortlessly.  

Here are my top five tips that will help new Pilates instructors teach safely and intelligently:      

1. Use Props as Tools, not Crutches.
I know that a new is struggling teacher if I see her give a prop to every client for every exercise. If you place balls and rings in various positions and cue to squeeze, yes, your clients will feel something, for sure. They may even think and feel like they are getting “worked out.” Anybody can teach that way. This approach may appear Pilates-like, but it is not how I like to train teachers. Props. Bands, balls, etc. can be extremely useful and do give clients a deeper experience when used discriminately, but they should be used to enhance a client’s awareness and connection to her body, not replace it.  Your goal as a teacher should be to give your clients a workout they can feel that is not dependent on the use of props. Clients should be focused on moving their bodies from the inside out not just squeezing an external prop. I do believe that most clients need to at least break a sweat during their sessions. A good teacher can do this just by teaching a modified hundred with correct upper-body placement.   

2. Balance Flexion with Stabilization, Extension and Rotation.
Green teachers tend to teach sessions that overly emphasize flexion. While many clients would benefit the most from stabilization, it’s easier to get clients to feel their abdominals while rolling up and down than it is to teach them a leg circle. Likewise it is easier for clients to feel the engagement of their glutes and hamstrings while performing an articulated bridge than it is for them to find the same connection during footwork. Balance should be your mantra, so be sure to teach stabilization, extension and rotation in as many planes as possible. 

3. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat.
Green teachers tend to bombard their clients with different exercises each session. This way the client perceives the workout as “hard” and doesn’t get bored. Unfortunately, this approach rarely results in a balanced body for the client.  The client’s form and body connection do not improve, and the trainer’s own growth is stunted. Instead of gaining more insight on how to really teach, trainers like this become “exercise junkies,” running from place to place to learn as many exercises as possible. This prevents them from really understanding the essence of Pilates. Do not forget that Pilates is a mind-body discipline. Repeating exercises with clients for many weeks teaches them correct form and how to deepen their mind-body connection while moving. With good breath and flow, Pilates can become a moving meditation. If you are merely counting repetitions for clients and dazzling them with new exercises, you have become their choreographer rather than their Pilates teacher.

 4.  Be Authoritative and Friendly.
The most important quality that a new teacher must have is confidence. Clients judge their teachers by how they present themselves with their body language, voice and overall energy. No matter how talented a teacher is, a client will assume she is inexperienced if her overall vibe isn’t confident and inspirational. You must take charge of the session from beginning to end with your voice, pacing  and body language. There have been many times in my studio when a client wasn’t interested in a particular trainer because she appeared unsure of herself.

Making a personal connection to a client right away will have a big effect on whether that client chooses to continue with you. Clients want to like you as a person aside from just liking your teaching skills. Be friendly, but don’t use your teaching to make friends. Sessions will quickly become big chat sessions and fitness goals will not be attained. Your clients may expect you to do them more favors rather than honoring your time as a professional. Don’t allow the boundaries to become blurry. After years of teaching, I have many clients that I am close to, but I keep my personal life separate from my work as much as possible.    

5. Keep Yourself Engaged.
Everyone experiences burnout at some point. Burnout tends to happen faster when you teach alone, too often, in stifling environments or in workplaces where there is no one to mentor you. You must find ways to keep yourself interested in what you are teaching. As soon as you lose interest so will your clients. I don’t recommend teaching more than five clients in a row without at least a 30-minute break. Booking eight clients in a day should be your maximum, assuming at least one of will cancel or be a no show. An ideal work week would be no more than 30 hours of teaching. If you are currently teaching more than that, ask yourself how much time you end up chatting with your clients; if it’s a lot, it’s probably because you are burnt out.

There are many ways to stay fresh. Look for a professional Reformer class in your area. Attend a professional workshop once or twice a year. Make an effort to read trade and fitness magazines. Try something new—yoga, tae kwon do, swimming, etc.—it will give your teaching a different perspective. Sometimes it is hard to invest time and energy into this aspect of your career, but you must if you want longevity. After 18 years I am still finding better, more efficient ways to teach, and Pilates is still interesting to me.


Maria Leone, owner of Bodyline Pilates Studio in Beverly Hills, Calif., has been teaching Pilates since 1989. She is certified through the PhysicalMind Institute, as well as the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and is an accredited IDEA Master Trainer, in addition to a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do. Maria has her own video/DVD series, Pilates on the Go. 


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Posted on Wednesday, February 13, 2008 at 10:04PM by Registered CommenterAmy Leibrock in , | Comments6 Comments | References12 References

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Reader Comments (6)

As the Education Director of Equilibrium, Michigan's only licensed STOTTPILATES training studio I found this article brilliant in articulating all of the pitfalls of new, and some seasoned instructors. I plan to print this and distribute it today.
In an effort to respond to some of these challenges, a few years ago we initiated our Pure STOTTPILATES matwork classes to distinguish them from our studio classes that routinely use props, variations, and a fusion of exercise disciplines. Pure Classes are always taught by our fully trained apprentice teachers who need to complete teaching hours before they take their exam. We recently added Pure Reformer classes. We encourage everyone, from beginners to seasoned clients, to attend these classes because as you say so well, if you are working deeply you don't need a circle and a triad ball to feel your abs! These classes also express our commitment to the beauty and utility of pilates taught in a choreographed workout, focusing on form and breath and emphasizing the mind-body connection.
I suspect that in the age of high speed internet we are guilty of reacting to the publics need for quick results and solutions. More on that later.
February 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Hodari
Such good advice! I've been teaching full-time now for a year and I see some of what I'm doing in the scenarios above. I guess I'm getting a little burned out because 1) I'm usually teaching alone in the studio, 2) she books pretty heavily, 3) I've been working with clients who have been coming there for 10 years and 4) they sometimes use their session as a social hour and I fall into the same pattern. I've promised myself to take a professional level Reformer class at my training school and to crack open my manuals more often!
February 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLuAnn Klein
In a perfect world a 30 hour work week would be a dream. Reality is you need to pay the bills. Statistics show an average surgeon can see approx 16,000 patients a year and will perform 8 to 12 surgeries per day. Loving what you do makes the day fly by and the more you know about what you do keeps it fresh. I tend not to mind the 10 hour days.
February 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStacey Driesbach
This is a really well-written article because it is authoritative AND friendly. Clients want confident assistance, not a lecture about the teacher's certification choice. It is always about the client.
February 26, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjoan breibart

Yes, yes, yes! My group reformer classes at Nike work on 1 class format per month, with a jumpboard variation the first 2 weeks and a non-jumpboard variation the last 2 weeks. This gives enough time for people to really work on their exercises and keeps me from getting tempted into going off on a tangent. The next month, not everything changes --- some sequences might stay the same, some might add a variation, some rotate in or out of the format.

December 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChristine Binnendyk

Great article...thanks. I am so impressed with the information that I am getting from this website.

A few comments: I am not a big prop user and I sometimes use a small ball between the knees when I first start working with a client. I remember working with a woman once who always used props. She took one of my classes and helped herself to a prop without me suggesting it. I was confused and asked her why and she really didn't have an answer. I think she was just taught that props are good no matter what.

Also, to me a perfect class/session works the client in flexion, extension and rotation. Of course there always seems to be more of the former, but I make sure to do some of the latter as well.

Wow! 30 hours a week seems like a lot. I've always been a small studio and a busy week for me is 20 client sessions and maybe a few classes. I must not be advertising in the right places so maybe someone can write the next article on better marketing ideas.

Lastly, burn-out can be a big problem for people like me who work alone. My new year resolution (other than the usual...less wine, more water etc.) is to sign up for reformer classes with John Garey in Long Beach. I always do two big conventions or continuing ed classes, but I feel a regular weekly work-out will do me good...even with my revenues down this past year.

Happy new year everyone! Looking forward to more good info.

January 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDevra Swiger

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