Class programming is an integral part of teaching Pilates. Today we explore different ways to build a class, different tools to use, and some of my favorite strategies for developing an awesome class plan. Tune in!
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[00:00:00] Welcome to Pilates Teachers' Manual, your guide to becoming a great Pilates teacher. I'm Olivia, and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and the Pilates community on Instagram at @pilatesteachersmanual and visit buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts to support the show. Today's chapter starts now.
[00:00:57] Hello, hello everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. [00:01:00] Today's episode is all about class programming strategies and looking at lots of different ways you can think about structuring your class and meeting what are common client values in terms of what kind of class they like to see.
[00:01:20] So when I'm talking about what clients value. This is definitely in my experience, working in studios and working one on one with clients. And that's this idea that clients appreciate when you challenge them, when you offer some things that they don't nail a hundred percent perfectly, they have something to work on and work toward. That the class flows together really smoothly. You might hear clients say, oh my gosh, this, you know, the class went so quickly. I feel like I just got here and it's over. It's already been an hour. That the workout itself touched all the [00:02:00] body parts, that the spine moved in all directions so that they get that overall feel good, full body, uh, workout sensation. So those are kind of the assumption I'm making of what kind of things you would want to incorporate into your class program so that your clients would have that type of experience after taking a class with you.
[00:02:21] There are so many different ways to program. I'm going to really dive into about three of them, but don't by any means, think that this is an exhaustive list. If you have another way that you think about programming and it works for you, that's amazing because the bottom line is it has to work for you. It can be the best strategy in the world, but if it doesn't click with your brain, then it's not really the best strategy in the world for you, is it?
[00:02:45] The ones that I'm gonna look at in detail are programming by piece of equipment, programming by body part, and programming by body position. And those are all [00:03:00] ways to program that I've experimented with. And I definitely have a personal favorite that I'll share as well. And just some overall strategies in terms of how much time you're spending programming, what kind of tools you use to program? And, uh, just some suggestions on things you may wanna try if you're feeling kind of stuck in a programming rut.
[00:03:22] I'd say the first way that I started programming and it's not on the list because I don't think it's the best way to program, but it was a hundred percent trial and error where I would just write stuff down and then I would try it out.
[00:03:34] And so if I was teaching a, you know, 55 minute, I would be probably spending more than 55 minutes, just doing the thing and trying to see what worked. It's effective. It definitely helps you kind of get your structure together and play with things. Um, but it's also very time consuming and very exhausting if you're teaching more than a couple classes a week, you can't be spending hours and hours and hours and [00:04:00] hours practicing everything that you're gonna teach. When you start teaching 10, 15, 20 classes, you know, in a week, that's a lot.
[00:04:08] When you're programming for a piece of equipment, you might be teaching a themed class. Like I'm actually gonna be teaching an equipment themed Masterclass series for Breathe Education, starting in July, where I'll be looking at the original mat repertoire, but adding a foam roller to it. So when I program for this class series, I'm not gonna be thinking as much about body position, body part, it's really gonna be, how do I get the foam roller to be part of this exercise in a bunch of fun and cool ways, right?
[00:04:46] So maybe you teach at a studio where you only have access to a reformer, and so people come in for straight up reformer Pilates. You want to make sure that the exercises you choose are gonna fit with that piece of equipment. [00:05:00] Same thing, I've worked at studios that have small stability balls or have hand weights, or they have a TRX or a tower. So you might be choosing your exercises based on the fact that you have to use three different pieces of equipment. So you might program in blocks. I've got a reformer block, I've got a TRX block, I've got a chair block or something like that. In which case, that is a totally valid way to program. I would say that the flow piece of it, the transitions between exercises and between pieces of equipment is still something to think about. But if your primary objective is to check off using those pieces of equipment programming in chunks, based on the piece of equipment you're using is a totally valid thing to do.
[00:05:48] When I taught at Club Pilates, Club Pilates has lots of different toys for you to play with when you do. Uh, your reformer Pilates. It's got a TRX and a springboard and a magic circle and a jump [00:06:00] board and the stability ball and hand weights and a mat and a chair. So there's almost like so, so many things you can do, maybe even too many things you can do. So by limiting it and what I would do when I would program for, you know, weeks of classes, when I was teaching 12 to 16 classes, I would say, okay, this week we're doing TRX and chair. And I would make sure that my equipment blocks when I was programming would be, have a chair block and have a TRX block, and then of course the reformer block as well. And that was my 50 minute class.
[00:06:34] Another way to think about your programming is to program by body part. And this is actually how I learned to program. And that was that my class would have a warmup at the beginning, usually some footwork and bridging sort of situation. And then I would have an arm exercise series, a leg exercise series, something in the side body, something in the front body, the back [00:07:00] body, and a full body exercise as like a pinnacle and then a cool down series of sorts. So you could definitely look at your program like that. Like, did I do arms, did I do legs? Did I do front and back body? And that's another way that you can check off all of your things.
[00:07:19] And even within that structure, you can be really flexible, but you can say, you know, this is how I think about my class program. As I wanna make sure- this is like how my brain works and this is how I program. I think that can be really helpful because I know that some Pilates exercises, especially mat Pilates can be really arm light because we're doing so much stuff with our legs and our torsos in mat Pilates. I'm not saying there's no arms in mat Pilates, but there's less arms in mat Pilates. So if you knew that that was true and you didn't want it to be true in your class, you'd wanna make sure that you have some arm focused activities. And that's awesome as well. [00:08:00]
[00:08:00] The way that I program now, for the most part, both when I'm planning classes ahead of time, but also when I am programming on the fly and I just come into the class and I see who's there. And then we go on a wild adventure of my own choosing in the moment, is I really like to program by body position.
[00:08:21] It's really nice in mat Pilates because the world is your oyster. It's really an open book. You can go in any direction and really flow from any exercise to any other exercise, pretty smoothly. It's a little tricky to get onto your stomach sometimes, but it's definitely doable through quadruped or through lying on your side. So you can make this really smooth flowing program. There's nothing blocking you.
[00:08:46] Reformer programming is a little bit more requiring of effort because not only are you in a body position, you also have a spring setting. So then the equipment's coming in as well. And if we want it to flow smoothly, we [00:09:00] really wanna minimize those changes. That's very likely that your client is not gonna tell you, oh my gosh, I loved how few exercise equipment changes there were in your class. They probably won't say that, but they might say, oh my gosh, that class flowed so awesome. And you'd be like, yeah, yeah, it did because I minimized my equipment changes.
[00:09:19] So when you're programming based on body position, you pick a starting body position where you want everyone to start, could be standing. It could be a four point kneel. Those are my go-to starting positions. And we do some stuff in that body position. We do probably three to five exercises. The same way you would do three to five exercises for your arm block, the same way you would do three to five exercises in your chair block, but you do it in this body position.
[00:09:45] What I like about the body position instead of the body part is you can work multiple body parts in the same body position. So if we were doing some standing lunging squatting thing, we add hand weights, it can suddenly be like a super intense arm [00:10:00] series if we wanted it to be, right. So it's nice that you can stay in that same position. You're not having to transition, but you can do multiple things while you're there. Not to say that you can't do that in any other type of programming, but the way my brain is currently functioning, this makes a lot of sense to me.
[00:10:17] So maybe if we're standing, we come down to kneeling, we come to a high kneel or a quadruped and then we'll do some cat and cows and we'll thread some needles and we'll do some bird dog, and it's just really open from there.
[00:10:32] I also really like teaching by body position because it helps me check off the different body parts as well. Like if we're lying on our stomach, it's very likely that we're gonna be working the back of our body and our swans and our one leg kicks and double kicks. If we're lying on our side, it's very likely we're gonna be working our side body. We might be working some arms. If we're doing some side plank. If we're lying on our back, we'll definitely be working that [00:11:00] frontline and our a hundred and our series of five, but we can also work our back line and do some shoulder bridge as well.
[00:11:06] So lots of ways to do it. No one way is superior can depend on the class you're teaching. So this Master class series I'm teaching with the foam roller, I'm thinking about it as an equipment based class and I'm programming it that way. My go to is to go by body position. And so that's just kind of what works for me. And if you hadn't considered programming a different way and you don't love the way you program currently just kinda wanted to share those options.
[00:11:34] Coming up after the break, I'm gonna share some tips that are really handy to have just in your back pocket, regardless of how you program and, yeah, just some, some other neat stuff. That's coming up next.
[00:11:55] Hi there. I hope you're enjoying today's chapter so far. There's great stuff coming up [00:12:00] after the break, too. Be sure to subscribe wherever you're listening and visit buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts to support the show. There, you can make a one time donation or become a member for as little as $5 a month.
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[00:12:51] Some ways that you can work through the brainstorming process of your programming, kind of depends on [00:13:00] how you like to see information. I'm a big writing person. So I would write note cards or I have like a teaching notebook where I would write down all of my programs and that worked for me.
[00:13:12] If you're a more visual learner, it might be helpful to have cards with the exercises written on them. I know people like Leslie Logan have their own deck of cards as well that have all the exercises with pictures and then you can physically move them around in the space and then see how you wanna group your exercises together. I've been known to take notes on my phone or when I'm teaching virtually I have a big whiteboard that I'll write down what is coming next so that I can hit all the things that I want to hit.
[00:13:43] It might be helpful when you're just getting started to have like a super duper brainstorm session where you go through all of the exercises that, you know, and group them into categories of body, position of body, part that is working and [00:14:00] they're gonna be in multiple. And what piece of equipment or what the equipment setting is for reformer exercises.
[00:14:08] And just make these massive lists of, this is everything I can do lying on my back on two full springs on the reformer. And then you'll sort of start to see clusters emerge, where you're working in that body position, doing a bunch of exercises, a bunch of layers, or build ups to exercises in that body.
[00:14:31] And sometimes just finding those common themes can be really helpful in terms of what stuff you start to see go together really nicely in your programming. Some of my tips as well are to find common transitions that you'll be able to thread between your clusters of exercises, however you're organizing them.
[00:14:52] Whether you are doing a roll up to seated on the reformer, or if that's unaccessible for everyone, maybe roll to your side, [00:15:00] press yourself up to seated for reformer transitions. I love rolling back or rolling, like a ball on the mat to get you from seated to supine or supine to seated. I love rock and roll up to standing when you're on the mat. Would not always recommend that on the reformer, a little bit more moving pieces.
[00:15:21] But once you have those transitions, you can start to get from lying on your back to standing really nicely. And it becomes a little bit of its own exercise as well. I think it's also important, like when you're listing your exercises and when you're programming that you don't need to have incredibly fancy, complicated flowery exercises, all the time, forever. That the simplest exercises taught clearly with options and variations for your students to make a choice about where they wanna go, how far they wanna go. [00:16:00] Things like that. That is so valuable.
[00:16:02] That is as valuable, if not more valuable, than a really confusing, complicated series that you're not really sure about when you're teaching, like your clients know that. Your students know. So practicing, practicing, talking through the exercises. Practicing, maybe feeling the exercise in your body is really helpful.
[00:16:24] I just don't want you to be teaching 30 classes and thinking that you have to do 30 classes, like you can reuse your programs. And I would say that that is another huge point, is that if you know, you've got this really great supine cluster on the mat and it's a super burner and your clients have told you that they love it, like save it, don't say, oh, well, that was nice, and then try to come up with a new one. You can use that, maybe change out one of the exercises or change the option or add a prop, but you can keep the program that you've made.
[00:16:58] So once you have these clusters [00:17:00] where you're in different body positions or you're working different body parts, you can then mix and match them. So that the clusters that you have could probably be the program that you're teaching for months, like many months, more than one month, like you can mix and match and it'll feel different because even though you think about Pilates a hundred percent of the time, or at least a hundred percent of the time when you're teaching, I hope your clients are only thinking about it for the 60 minutes that they're in your class. And then they have a whole week of life that happens that has nothing to do with Pilates. And then they come back and see you.
[00:17:35] So like I don't, I went through a phase where I was like, oh, footwork. So boring. Everyone does footwork all the time. They must be so bored. I have to come up with creative, new things that aren't footwork. No, like clients really enjoy lying down and settling in. And that rhythmic movement of the carriage. You don't need to reinvent the wheel. There's a reason why we still use wheels. So footwork is fine and you can spice it up [00:18:00] in ways you can add props, you can change the springs. But don't throw the baby out with the bath water when you're changing your programming. Reuse those programs, because the more you teach the same program or the same cluster of exercises, the more confident and more comfortable you get with it.
[00:18:16] And then you can do those on the fly programming changes because you know it like the back of your hand. And that literally comes through practice and there's no shortcut. So if you're in the notebook stage or the, you know, having exercise cards and rearranging exercise cards to do your programs, that's totally fine. And it's not like you have to leave that behind. If that works for you, like, please, please, please do it. It doesn't matter how you like to program, if it works for you and makes sense to you and your clients are enjoying it.
[00:18:50] Class programming is one of those things that we work on continuously throughout our career as a Pilates teacher. So the thoughts that I've shared with you [00:19:00] is really just a window into where I am in my personal teaching journey. This is the stuff that is really clicking for me and working for me. I hope that there were a few tips that help you along wherever you are in your teaching journey. And yeah. Just know that it's okay to evolve, to change for you to change your mind about things and to try different things.
[00:19:23] So all's well there. I really hope that if you have a chance to check out my masterclass series at breathe, it's gonna be a huge party and just like a plug for this, because I'm really excited to be teaching a group class that people can actually go to. Cuz most of the time I'm doing one-on-one. This group class, it's gonna be Wednesdays at 1:00 PM central, which is Chicago time. It's 4:00 AM in Australia. Sorry, early bird Aussies. And it's 7:00 PM, I believe in the UK. It's gonna be an absolute hoot. It's foam roller, especially the long foam roller is what we're gonna be playing [00:20:00] with with our mat exercises.
[00:20:01] And the cool thing about the masterclass series is. I teach the class like a teacher, like I'm talking to other teachers. So you'll see some of my thoughts about programming and why I chose certain options. There's like a Q and a at the end. It's super cool. I'll link in the show notes where you can sign up it's wildly inexpensive. And I hope that you give it a try. I think it's like 19 us dollars a month and 25 Australian dollars a month for unlimited classes. You'll get to take four with me at that price and also have access to all of these replays and all of these other trainers. So I did wanna put a plug in for that because I'm super excited about it. And I'll probably share about it a little more on the podcast as well.
[00:20:44] Big thank you to all my supporters on buy me a coffee. It's been so awesome chatting with you. The June newsletter will be out soon with, uh, more times to hang out and sneak peek into upcoming episodes, which is always kind of fun to know what's gonna happen before [00:21:00] it happens. I hope you have a great couple weeks and I'll talk to you again soon.
[00:21:12] Thanks for listening to this week's chapter of Pilates Teachers' Manual, your guide to becoming a great Pilates teacher. Check out the podcast Instagram at @pilatesteachersmanual, and be sure to subscribe wherever you listen. For more Pilates goodness, check out my other podcast Pilates Students Manual, available everywhere you listen to podcasts.
[00:21:35] The adventure continues. Until next time.