There are several skill sets involved in teaching Pilates. Today we explore the art of knowing what to teach and how you might go about programming your classes towards a peak exercise, by body part, and by piece of equipment. I also give you a little sneak peek into how I programmed my Monday night classes at Club Pilates this week. Tune in!
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[00:00:00] Welcome to Pilates Teacher's 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.
[00:00:56] Hello. Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. [00:01:00] Today's episode comes out of a coffee chat from last month in which I was chatting with someone about knowing what to teach when you're programming your class. Like how do you decide what you're going to teach? How do you organize what you're going to teach and what do you teach? So I think that that's a fantastic question and I want to dive into it. So that's what we're going to be talking about today. We're just going to explore that and I'll share with you a little peek into how I think about organizing classes and how I decide what to teach.
[00:01:35] But of course, this is totally unique to me and also the way I've thought about programming and the way I've put my classes together has changed over time and over how I teach in different places that may have different class formats or may have different structures that are kind of built into those classes versus, you know, private clients and that programming is a little bit different. [00:02:00] But today we're going to be looking at group class programming in particular, because I think Because there's so much to teach in Pilates, because there's so much that you could do on every single piece of equipment, let alone the mat where you have infinite possibilities of where you can go, picking and choosing where you want to go is a bit of an art form like teaching is as well. Let's kind of see what goes into that.
[00:02:26] The first disclaimer I want to throw out there is that there's no right or wrong way to program. I think there are some ways that are better or easier or more efficient when it comes to programming, but what I really want you to take away from this is that you can't teach the wrong thing.
[00:02:46] All movement is excellent, and the service you're providing for your clients or your students and holding them accountable and providing opportunities for them to explore movement and to exercise and meet physical activity guidelines, you're [00:03:00] already doing great. Just baseline awesome. That's where we're starting from. Everything else is a bit of a cherry on top of the sundae of our class.
[00:03:09] Now, some people do have conditions that may have contraindicated exercises. Things like, you know, we're avoiding supine when we're pregnant at a certain point in pregnancy. Or things like osteoporosis, avoiding loaded flexion. So you do want to keep those things in the back of your mind, and you do want to have kind of on the back burner, some options that you might give if it was a loaded flexion exercise, or if you were going to be having footwork lying on your back on the reformer, like, do you have a wedge or a jump board, or is there another way that you could do footwork so that your pregnant client could participate, things like that.
[00:03:47] Also, some clients have beliefs and preferences. I had a client once who refused to bridge and said it was extremely painful and they didn't want to bridge. Of course when we get to [00:04:00] bridging in a group class, I want to be able to give them another option, or at least know that they're just going to sit that one out, right? So we're honoring our clients where they are not just in terms of medical conditions. You know, there are clients who are afraid of standing on the Bosu or balance challenges or something. So we want to honor those things as well. That's also going into our program.
[00:04:24] So when I'm sitting down to decide what I'm going to teach for an evening, there are a few things that are going through the back of my mind that are part of this programming process. First and foremost is what I'm asking people to do safe? Are we moving our spine in all directions? Are we using all the equipment that we need to for the class format that you're teaching? And then the last thing I think about is am I creating a positive and inclusive environment where people can challenge themselves? So, while I'm programming, those are the things [00:05:00] that I'm also asking myself about my program as I'm putting it together.
[00:05:04] First, of course, safety. Is it safe? If we're doing something that is involving a balance challenge or we're doing something that's a little bit more precarious on the reformer or things like we're standing on top of the chair, I want to ask myself if that's what I want to do, do I have ways that I'm building up to that, that gives people a chance to explore the same movement, but in a less precarious way.
[00:05:32] So if you think of like going up front on the chair, you're standing on top of the chair, lunging down, it's the same as standing leg press. So maybe I want to start there so that people always have an option where there is a foot on the ground, so if they don't want to take it to that more precarious thing, they have an option. They can still participate in the class.
[00:05:52] So if I'm going to be teaching an exercise that has that kind of component in it, am I giving layers? Does [00:06:00] everyone have something that they can do? Is there a clear entry plan? Because sometimes getting into the exercise is harder than the exercise. I'm talking about snake in particular, because that's what I've been doing in my classes. Um, so do we have an entry plan to get into the exercise? Do we have an exit plan if, you know, we get exhausted? Do we have a way to safely get out of the exercise as well?
[00:06:24] We can address, you know, contraindicated exercises or client preferences within this question that we're asking ourself. For example, we talked about loaded flexion osteoporosis. If I was going to do something like round back on short box series where we're doing a C curve rock back in space and your client with osteoporosis says, Hey, I'm trying to avoid flexion. You could say, Hmm, if I know that that's going to happen, maybe I start teaching flat back first so that anyone who wants to continue doing flat back, or if they had osteoporosis [00:07:00] and they're avoiding round back, they could keep going.
[00:07:02] So that's just something that's like in the back of my head that if I know there's exercises that will be beneficial to some people, but maybe some people won't enjoy it, is there an option for that person to do as well? Also, when you teach something that everyone can do first, no one feels singled out if they can't do the next thing. They feel comfortable, confident continuing where they're at, and everyone gets to move the whole time, which I think is really important in group classes as well.
[00:07:29] Secondly, are we moving our spines in all directions? Now I think this is something that's kind of cool and super unique to Pilates and that is some forms of exercise are repetitive movements and that's the exercise. So runners are going to run, so their legs are going to do the same thing when they're running. Swimmers are swimming, so their body is going to be in the same position while they're swimming. Golfers are going to do their golf swing with the same side over and over again when they play around at [00:08:00] golf.
[00:08:00] So Pilates lets us move in all directions, and so I want to make sure that within my class plan that I'm getting forward bending, backward bending, side bending, rotation in every single class. One way that I incorporate moving the spine in all directions, especially in mat- Reformer, you have to get a little bit creative in the warmup- but for mat Pilates, you can start anywhere. You can do anything, at least in contemporary Pilates, you can go wherever you want. So I like to start in a four point kneel or standing when I'm doing mat exercises, because then I can get all of the cat cow movements, side bending movements, rotation movements in, and It's in the first five minutes and we're just kind of moving and grooving and kind of feeling things out. So I love to do that.
[00:08:47] Um, I also love four point kneels and standing as a way to start class because people who are new to class can see what the teacher's doing and can see what other people are doing. Like, don't get me wrong, I love the reformer. I love starting lying [00:09:00] down and I love footwork, but it's really difficult for new people to kind of see what's going on. And so in that way, it's kind of tough when we're getting warmed up and doing things.
[00:09:12] Thirdly, am I working in multiple body positions? Because this is another thing that's kind of unique to Pilates, and that's that we can find a very similar exercise, sometimes the same exercise, definitely the same shapes in different body positions. So we do it seated. We do it lying on our front. We do it lying on our back. We do it lying on our side. We're kneeling, we're standing. And because it's unique to Pilates, I always want to make sure that we get to take advantage. It's great because people get to explore those shapes with different relations to gravity, with different load on different limbs.
[00:09:47] So if you think of, you know, lying on your back with your, legs long and your arms stretched to the ceiling, that feels very different than being in a plank, which is the exact same position, but upside down. So that's another really fun thing to explore. [00:10:00]
[00:10:00] Of course, there's no hard or fast rules in Pilates, but I think at least three different body positions in a class and probably spending at least five to seven minutes in each body position is a good jumping off point because the transitions between exercises, the equipment changes, the changing what equipment that you're on, all of that takes time in your class. And the people who don't know what our class plan is, so the people who are doing the class, don't know what's coming next. So they tend to move through those transitions a little bit slower than we do if we're practicing our class or practice teaching our class. So I always try to minimize those transitions. Also thinking about transitions and thinking about what is the path of least resistance for getting people from one body position to another body position. That's important as well.
[00:10:57] If you're teaching an equipment class, thinking [00:11:00] about your props and your equipment is also going to help you devise a class plan. So I teach at Club Pilates on Monday nights. And at Club Pilates, we teach on the reformer and then two other pieces of equipment. So we've got a springboard, we've got the BOSU, the chair, magic circle, we've got a jump board, we've got a foam roller, we've got a stability ball, uh, we want to make sure that we're using.
[00:11:27] So I want to make sure that I'm checking that box when I'm programming for classes that are going to be at that studio. I'm sure other studios have other, maybe not rules, but strong suggestions about what pieces of equipment to use or props, things like that. So if I know what pieces of equipment I'm using, I can think about how I want to get there and what I want to do on those pieces of equipment.
[00:11:47] If you aren't sure about, you know, choosing a prop, of course you can just pick one and be like, you know what? We haven't used the magic circle in a while. And then ask yourself, what can I do with the magic circle? And suddenly you've got a little cluster of [00:12:00] exercises that are the magic circle exercises. And that's fine. That's perfect. That's awesome.
[00:12:04] As far as making the class positive and challenging, but doable, but still challenging, I always want to offer options and evolutions of each exercise that are a little bit past people's comfort zone. I want them to be pushing themselves a little bit to attempt to go there.
[00:12:24] I think exercise is one of the few places where we can try things and not be perfect at them. It's not like your job where if you make mistakes, there's massive consequences. If it doesn't work out in Pilates, like everything is still fine. You get to try next time. And I think giving people those goals to work towards, even if they're not consciously like, Ooh, I want to be able to co that crazy one arm thing, but there's something about having something that you can't quite do yet, but you're motivated to try to do. So I always want to give that option that goes a little bit further so people know where they could [00:13:00] go and they can kind of measure their own progress towards that goal as well.
[00:13:06] I also want people to succeed. So if I'm building up to a peak exercise, I want to make sure that I've given them the tools they need to execute that exercise. They've practiced different pieces of it and they now have the opportunity to put it together into one, more complex, challenging exercise. But I want them to be able to do it. So I don't want to teach a whole class and then be like, do this totally other random thing that's super hard. And it's like, okay, but I want you to be able to do it, so I want to help you get there.
[00:13:35] Coming up after the break, I'm going to do a little bit of a deep dive into how I might program a reformer class at Club Pilates. Again, just my way of doing it. Some questions I ask myself and what I'm thinking about. So stay tuned. That's coming up next.
[00:13:56] Hi there. I hope you're enjoying today's chapter so far. [00:14:00] There's great stuff coming up 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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[00:14:53] In addition to asking myself those four questions of, you know, is it safe or are we moving the spine in all [00:15:00] directions? Are we using different body positions? Am I hitting my equipment goals? And if I created a challenging and engaging class for everyone, uh, let's talk about how I would do that for a specific class. So I'll tell you about a class that I taught earlier this week at Club Pilates.
[00:15:17] That was a 1. 5 class. So that's their intermediate class. In addition to lying and sitting on the reformer, we do a lot of kneeling and kind of balance challenging unilateral stuff on the reformer as well. When I was planning this class, Club Pilates has a structure and they always start with footwork, bridging, and abs on the reformer first, usually supine.
[00:15:38] And then they do some planking and they kind of go off from there. You got to hit arms, legs, front body, back body, side body, full body, and then a little cool down at the end. So Club Pilates has a structure. And so within that structure, you can kind of play. The intermediate class has been working on snake. We've been doing snake from the floor. We've built up to doing snake on the platform a little bit, which is [00:16:00] so cool.
[00:16:01] So when I was planning this class block, I'm thinking to myself, okay. The peak exercise or the really difficult thing that we're building up to is snake. So what are the pieces of snake? How can I weave them in to the rest of the class so we have this nice cohesive theme? So snake has a big back bend with straight legs. So maybe we do footwork pretty regularly. I don't do anything super duper fancy, but when we get to bridging, I emphasize doing bridges with the legs straight, because that's something that they're going to find in snake. There it'll be the other way around, but it's that same kind of backbend. I want their body to be used to backbending.
[00:16:42] There's also a pike that happens in snake. So maybe when we get to planking on the reformer, I want to throw some pikes in there as well, because that's how we close the carriage when we do snake. So, okay. So now I know a little bit about what I want to do for some abs or for some plank stuff as well. [00:17:00]
[00:17:00] Again, my thought process, very much how I'm thinking about the class. I know I'm going to start with footwork. We're lying down on the reformer. We'll do bridging with that straight leg emphasis because I think that'll tie in nicely with snake. Maybe we'll roll up and change our springs and do some supine arms with abs. It's not super snake related, but it's fine. It doesn't have to be. And since we changed our springs already, maybe we put those straps back and we do a body position change still on the reformer, but come to hands on the footbar and knees on the carriage and do some plank series stuff where we get to work into those pikes.
[00:17:37] So, we'll do some long stretch with our knees down, option to lift our knees, maybe we'll do some down stretch in that juicy back bend, we'll do up stretch, we've got those pikes in our up stretch, and now what I'm thinking is, okay, we were lying on our back, we've been on our hands and knees for a second, maybe we want to get off of our hands, because I know wrists can be a limiting factor in [00:18:00] planking exercises. Snake is a planking exercise, so let's change it up a little bit.
[00:18:04] So let's go somewhere else. Let's go to the chair. There's a standing leg press that you can do on the chair. You can do it in a crossover. We do that exact same crossover in snake. So maybe that's what I want to do on the chair. It's a body position change. We get to stand, we get to work on our balance, and there's a tie in to snake, so it kind of fits in this program. Maybe I give options to do some stuff with hand weights as well, so they get to do a little bit more arms if they'd like.
[00:18:33] And since we're already at the chair, we don't have to change springs necessarily. We can just put the weights down and do hands on the pedal, standing cat, practice our back bend there for a standing swan, perhaps maybe we do some side bends or we do some twists. Again, we can change where we are relative to the pedal pretty easily and work on that.
[00:18:54] And so now I'm thinking, all right, we've been at the chair for a while. Let's go back to the reformer. [00:19:00] I feel like we've hit all the pieces for snake. Let's put it together. We'll probably start on the floor so everyone has an option that feels not so precarious. We work on the plank. We work on the back bend. We have the option to do it from the platform. And maybe before we go and do it on the other side, we pause kneeling in the middle with our knees against the shoulder pads, we can use the straps here, very likely the same spring setting, we can do some kneeling chest expansion, we could do some rows, some bow and arrows, some pulling arm exercises, because all of the arm exercises we've done so far have been pushing, and plank's a big pushing exercise, so we get to pull some things and then we go to the other side.
[00:19:41] So now we're on the other side of the reformer. We get snake on the other side as well. So I could be sassy and say, all right, so I used free weights and the chair and the reformer, so I'm done. We can do feet and straps on the reformer as a little bit of a cool down and a little bit of a leg stretch and relax at the end.[00:20:00]
[00:20:00] If that's not going to cut it, then maybe we do feet and straps on the springboard, which is, you know, a nice, easy peasy thing that we can do. And then we'll get a figure four stretch for all that standing on one leg business, and you're good to go. There's your class.
[00:20:16] So that is how I would plan a class if there was a peak exercise in my mind that I was like, we're working up to this exercise. You can do that by simply picking a difficult exercise that you want people to work on break it into pieces What are your arms doing? What are your legs doing? What shapes are you making? What choreography changes are happening within this exercise and then how can we work on that on other pieces of equipment and other body positions? And then we just put it back together for a grand finale?
[00:20:50] As I said, you want people to succeed so you want to give them the tools they need for that exercise and the support they need to, at the very least, [00:21:00] attempt the exercise. They don't have to do it perfectly, but you want them to be confident enough to give it a try. That's one way to program, programming up to that peak.
[00:21:09] You could also program by equipment. If you have to use three different pieces of equipment because you teach a Club Pilates. Awesome. Here's your reformer block. Here's your springboard block. Here's your chair block. And you do various exercises on each of those pieces of equipment, and that's how you program.
[00:21:25] What am I going to do on the chair? What am I going to do on the reformer? What am I going to do at the springboard? Asking yourself those same questions about safety, moving the spine, and changing body positions as well, so we aren't just doing one thing the whole time.
[00:21:39] You could also program by body part. You could program, okay, this is my leg section, this is my arm section, this is my front body, back body, side body, full body section. That's fine. If that's how you think about exercises and you want to kind of group it like that, that's fine too.
[00:21:57] My recommendation to you is that you take the path [00:22:00] of least resistance for yourself when it comes to programming. You actually want to take as little time as possible programming your class. You don't get paid to plan your classes and to practice your classes. And you definitely want to keep unpaid labor to a minimum. So you want to know what works for you, find a system that makes sense for you, and then use that to create programs.
[00:22:26] Also, I think if you teach what's interesting to you, the people you're teaching get interested as well, and then you also like what you're teaching. Like don't teach the exercises that you can't stand. I mean, maybe teach them occasionally, but like, teach things that you enjoy teaching and explore topics of interest.
[00:22:47] As I've said, there's no wrong thing to teach, and just teaching and leading this exercise class is fantastic for your clients, for your students. You hold them accountable. They're [00:23:00] there. They're doing something amazing for themselves and their health. They're working towards meeting physical activity guidelines. They're getting stronger. They're getting more flexible. They're building coordination and confidence and building self efficacy. Pilates is literally a win win win for everybody. Whatever you choose to teach is fantastic.
[00:23:20] And if you have too many ideas for one class, save it for another class, save it for the next time you teach that class, you know, tell people that, you know, this is what we're exploring. We're exploring it over the next week too, because like, that's why Pilates is fun to teach for years and years and years, because there's always more to explore. So I hope that helped you kind of peek into my brain and see how I think about programming and how I plan what to teach and how I know what to teach.
[00:23:49] This was such a great question, CC. Thank you so much for asking it and thank you so much for joining this project and becoming a member on Buy Me a Coffee. That's awesome. [00:24:00] I'm looking forward to our July coffee chats. Can't wait to connect and have more of these awesome conversations about awesome Pilates things.
[00:24:08] I hope you have a great couple of weeks and I'll talk to you again soon.
[00:24:19] Thanks for listening to this week's chapter of Pilates Teacher's 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. The adventure continues. Until next time.