Do you want to teach in a more positive way, but aren't sure where to start? This episode is all about framing our cues, thoughts, and expectations more positively while we teach a Pilates class. We outline three categories of Pilates students who aren't doing what you asked in class, and offer actionable strategies for working with each of them. The impact our words have on our clients goes beyond an individual exercise or class, so staying mindful and choosing to frame what we say more positively has a lasting impact. 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.
[00:00:56] Hello. Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the [00:01:00] podcast. Today on the show, we'll be building on the previous episode about the words that we use as teachers and the way we talk about exercises or sensations that clients are experiencing, or the way we talk about our clients and their ability to do things has really far reaching consequences.
[00:01:21] We can use our words in a very positive way to help clients expect a positive outcome to normalize sensations that they might feel in their body and to empower them to move confidently, or we can make them feel not so great. We can make people feel singled out or like they're broken or bad at things or that something they're doing is going to hurt them.
[00:01:45] And when we prime our clients to think that something bad is going to happen, that they're going to feel pain or that they're going to injure themselves, just the way our brain works, we find what we're looking for. And if we're [00:02:00] looking for pain, we tend to find pain, even if what we're doing is not a cause of pain, even if what we're doing, like in Pilates, which is super duper safe, is not going to cause injury. If we think we're going to be injured, we are likely to feel injured.
[00:02:19] Saying things while we're teaching like, don't do that, or don't slam the carriage, or don't go so fast, or no, not like that. Those are really unhelpful things to say in a class. It's the easiest thing to say if you see something happening and you want something else to happen, but it doesn't help the client change what they're doing to match your expectation and your desire for the movement.
[00:02:47] If a teacher said something like that to me in class, I might have a mini internal panic and that I'm doing something wrong. I might feel singled out and embarrassed. And I also still don't know [00:03:00] what the teacher would like me to do instead.
[00:03:03] You can't not do something, but you can do something else. It's very much like don't think about an elephant. As soon as you say that, you're immediately thinking about an elephant because that's what the person said and your brain latches onto it. But if I tell you to think about a giraffe with its incredibly strong neck and the way that giraffes like fling their heads at each other and like neck whiplash when they're fighting for dominance in the wild, it's really easy to think about that and not think about an elephant. Why would you think about an elephant when I'm telling you to think about giraffes instead?
[00:03:43] In Pilates, I don't want my clients to think about or focus on or pay attention to what I don't want them to do. So instead I talk about what I do want them to do and let whatever I'm trying to change in their movement shift organically as [00:04:00] they focus on doing that something else.
[00:04:03] I also love this because there's less internal panic about doing something wrong for the client because you haven't said anything is wrong. You're just asking them to try moving in a different way or doing something in a different way, but there's no judgment about being good or bad or right or wrong. That's not really a game that we need to play in Pilates, and it just really doesn't need to enter into the equation.
[00:04:29] What we say matters and the words we choose matters and we don't have to say the unhelpful thing that doesn't give us the outcome that we want. It's a waste of breath. It's a waste of time. It's a waste of energy. We just don't need to say it at all. We can say something else, something that has a greater positive impact for our client and for us because they're doing what we say.
[00:04:55] Moreover, we want our clients to come back and keep practicing and keep learning [00:05:00] and keep growing in their Pilates practice. Clients won't come back if, whether it's intentional or unintentional, they feel like they're bad at Pilates or that something is wrong with them. It just doesn't feel good. Why would they want to pay more money to have that feeling?
[00:05:18] Even when we give clients negative feedback, i. e. we want them to do something different than what they're doing, we can still frame it in a positive way. Framing an idea in a positive term is something that you can do and practice just like you practice cueing back rowing, just like you practice, you know, teaching a flow of exercises.
[00:05:40] The way I think about it is what do I want the client to do? What is the outcome that I'm looking for? What is the task? What is the shape and what are they already doing that's correct that we can build on? Then that's what I spend my time [00:06:00] talking about. When I focus my cues on what I don't want, I get a result that I don't want. So I'm going to do something else. That's what I've learned through teaching Pilates.
[00:06:11] I think most, if not all, of our students and clients want to do what we're asking them to do. If they aren't doing what we're asking them to do, it's not malicious and it's certainly not a personal attack against us. I say that because sometimes we can take things personally. We can get frustrated when people aren't doing what we ask, but it's really not about us at all.
[00:06:36] In my experience, clients who aren't doing what we ask of them fall into three distinct categories. They're either, one, confused about what we're asking them to do, two, they don't know how to do what we're asking them to do. Or three, they genuinely think that they're already doing it, but in our eyes, they [00:07:00] aren't.
[00:07:01] If our clients are confused about what we're instructing them to do, that is 100 percent on us. As teachers, we need to be clear in what we say. We need to be clear in our cues, clear about the task that we're presenting our clients with. If we say something that is ambiguous, we tend to get ambiguous results. So if clients didn't know what we meant by what we said, we need to clarify and tell them in a more clear way, in a different way, what we want.
[00:07:33] For example, in footwork, I might say to start, press the carriage out as far as you can and bring the carriage back in to tap the bumper. That is a pretty simple setup for footwork. It will get most people moving and grooving. If clients are moving really quickly or slamming into the bumper, And I decide that I want to change that behavior -because not all behavior needs to be changed [00:08:00] on the spot immediately- but if I decide that that is something I would like to make a correction about, I want to frame it positively. What do I want them to do? Not what are they already doing if it's not what I want them to do, but what do I want them to do? I want them to move a little bit more slowly and I want them to not slam the carriage.
[00:08:24] So I might say, Can you touch the bumper so softly that your neighbor can't hear it? I might say, take your whole inhalation to press the carriage out, and your whole exhalation to bring the carriage in. I might say, can you press the carriage out for a four count? So it's out, two, three, four, bring it in, two. Three, four, all of those cues give our clients something to do that's more clear. That's emphasizing what I want out of the movement [00:09:00] and it ignores what I don't want.
[00:09:04] Sometimes clients want to do the thing, but they don't know how to do the thing. As teachers, this is our time to shine. Clients not knowing how to do the thing is part of why we have this awesome job teaching Pilates that we have. It's difficult for me to understand why sometimes teachers get really frustrated about clients not knowing what to do, because it's our job to teach them, to break down the thing that we want into pieces they understand that they're able to replicate and give back to us.
[00:09:38] Planking anywhere, on the mat, on the reformer, wherever you are, is a great example of this because holding a plank is not intuitive. Where your hips are, if your tailbone is tucked, how puffed up your upper back is, where your shoulders are relative to your wrist, none of that is something that you know just from existing, right? It's something that you [00:10:00] have to find and practice, and it's very difficult to find it until you know where it is.
[00:10:06] So if I was teaching a plank and I wanted to emphasize the location of their shoulders, I wanted their shoulders to be over their wrists as they plank, sometimes when people set up for planks, their hands are ahead of their shoulders. And let's say I'm prioritizing shoulders over wrists today. What I might do is set people up in a four point kneel where their shoulders are over their wrists and they're looking at one spot on the floor. I might ask them to stretch one leg behind them so they're in three quarters of a plank shape and make sure that they're still looking at that same spot on the floor.
[00:10:40] Then when they step their second leg back, I'll double check. Are you looking at the same spot on the floor? This is shoulders over wrists. It helps the clients see and feel for themselves. Okay. This is what the teacher means when they tell me to stack my shoulders over my wrists.
[00:10:57] Finding the right spot for your hips, [00:11:00] the tilt of the tailbone, the right amount of puffed up-ness in your upper back. That might happen in this class, but it might happen in a later class. But if I was working on shoulders over wrists in this class. And the clients are giving me shoulders over wrists. That's fantastic. That's amazing. That's what I wanted. And that's worth praising. The serotonin boost from the praise we give our clients also helps them remember that shoulder placement for next time so that that's their new default and they can add on from there. We're playing the long game in Pilates. We have time to work on things over weeks, over months. We don't have to nail every single bit of it in one class.
[00:11:46] Coming up after the break, I'll tell you a little bit more about that third category when people think they're doing what you asked of them, but they are not in fact doing that as well as some takeaways, some [00:12:00] personal experience, both in my own body and teaching on why that's important. That's coming up next.
[00:12:10] Hi there. I hope you're enjoying today's chapter so far. 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.
[00:12:30] Membership comes with some awesome perks, including a shout out in the next episode, a monthly newsletter, a monthly zoom call with me, and more. You can also visit links.OliviaBioni.com/affiliates to check out some sweet deals on products. Now back to the show.[00:13:00]
[00:13:08] For that third category of people, the people who think that they're already doing what you asked of them, but they're not quite doing it the way you want or expect or desire or whatever. I love this category because a lot of times I fall into this category where I'm absolutely certain that I'm doing exactly what the teacher asked. And it turns out that my interpretation of what was happening is not exactly what the teacher wanted, but the good intentions are definitely there. And a lot of times the body awareness and the ability is there, but there could be a little bit of a disconnect.
[00:13:47] So sometimes when clients think that they're already doing what you've asked them to do when you provide additional or clarifying cues, they might ignore them because they don't think that you're talking to them. [00:14:00] In their mind, they're already doing the thing. So whatever clarifying cues you're giving are not for them. They're for someone who doesn't know what they're doing, right?
[00:14:10] I think any strap pulling exercise on the reformer is a good example. Because whether your clients are sitting on the box facing the pulleys, or lying on the long box facing the pulleys, or kneeling facing the pulleys, or seated doing back rowing, A common thing that clients do when we're pulling straps is they'll pull them a little too forcefully, lose tension in the straps, kind of catch some airtime, and then there's that jerk when the spring catches up with them and they kind of land from that airtime.
[00:14:40] There is a safety concern here because if they were to do that in a high kneeling position, it would be easier to lose their balance and they might fall forward into the well. Usually when we're facing the pulleys, the instinct is to sit back on the heels, which would be fine, but if they get in a habit of [00:15:00] doing that and then they're high kneeling facing the foot bar, um, if that same loss of tension and then catching tension gets them off guard, they could fall forward into the springs, which is a source of Pilates nightmares, I think.
[00:15:15] But if, as the teacher, I said, pull the straps back to the foot bar, assuming they're facing the pulleys, they are pulling the straps back to the foot bar. You know, I wasn't specific about slowly or even speed or whatever. So they are doing what I asked. They're pulling the straps back towards the foot bar.
[00:15:34] So my first point here in terms of setting our clients up for success is to anticipate that that's something that might happen. This is something that happens a lot. I would not be surprised if a few people in class started pulling the straps and doing that. Because I'm anticipating that, I might start everyone in a low kneel if I was eventually going to progress to a high kneeling exercise, just to make sure that everyone is [00:16:00] keeping that even tension on their straps, then I might offer a high kneel once I know that they're understanding what I want by pulling the straps.
[00:16:11] To encourage them to keep even tension in the straps regardless of what body position they were in as they were pulling them, I might say, Imagine you're pulling the straps through molasses. I might say, can you pull back for four three two one, and slowly release forward for four three two one, very much like how I cued footwork. The spring tension may also be too light for the person if it is so easy that they're just yanking like crazy and maybe asking them to slow down in that positive way is not connecting with them. Maybe add another spring, add a half spring and see if that's a more appropriate tension for the person. I might ask them to move their straps at the same speed throughout the movement, so there's no spot where they're moving faster or slower, but always the same speed. [00:17:00] But there's endless ways to suggest an alternative way of moving that doesn't make the client feel bad about themselves or think that they're doing something bad or wrong.
[00:17:13] If they were low kneeling facing the pulleys in particular, I might lean in towards that quote, wrong unquote way of doing pulling straps. I might ask everyone to pull the straps very ballistically. Can you get as much airtime as possible? And let them do that for several repetitions. Let themselves get tired out a little bit and then say, now we're going to pull the straps a little bit differently. And then say anything about molasses or a count of four or same speed throughout.
[00:17:48] I love teaching that way because then you're showing people two different ways of doing the same exercise without a hierarchy, without saying that someone is wrong, and [00:18:00] you kind of lean into what the class is already giving you back. You're kind of adapting to what you're seeing.
[00:18:06] A couple of other points I mentioned at the start, how we talk about sensations and how we talk about our clients to our clients are both huge things.
[00:18:15] The way we talk about sensations, normalizing the fact that some positions feel uncomfortable, that there is some discomfort in exercise. I've never once done the ab series and thought, wow, this is such a comfortable thing that I'm currently doing. Like it's challenging and we can normalize the fact that when we do challenging things, we can have uncomfortable sensations.
[00:18:38] There's of course a difference between intolerable discomfort and run of the mill "my neck muscles are tired when I'm doing a chest lift" discomfort. Encouraging our clients to push themselves through tolerable discomfort to get to the other side is awesome and will [00:19:00] serve our clients beyond our Pilates classes. All sensations we feel are feedback and it's our body telling us things about what we're doing and what it's not telling us is good or bad. It's just giving us information where we're tired, maybe what's working, uh, things like that.
[00:19:19] How we talk to our clients about themselves is really big. So when a client comes up to me and says, Oh, I have a bad knee, I have arthritis, I have a disc bulge, I have a stenosis. I always thank them for sharing that information, but I don't buy into the, well, now I can't do anything in class narrative that sometimes clients try to give you. What I will ask them, is there any movement or exercise that's off the table for them? For whatever reason, it's something that does not feel right in their body. And then I'll ask them if there's anything I can do to help them be more comfortable in class. Would a knee pad help? Would propping up the headrest help? Any of those [00:20:00] little things I can do.
[00:20:01] I then reassure them that a Pilates class is going to be absolutely excellent for them. And I'm not lying to them. A Pilates class is going to be absolutely excellent for them. And I reassure them that I'll keep an eye on them during class. I'll check in with them and some of the exercises and variations that I'll be offering will be a great fit for them.
[00:20:24] That goes a long way towards building that therapeutic alliance, helping your client feel seen and heard, but not letting, perhaps, their fear of movement be the baseline. If I'm totally calm, cool, and collected and reassuring them that it's going to be okay, it goes a long way to make them feel like, Hey, you know, this might actually be okay. Maybe I can give this a try.
[00:20:48] Last thing, just to reiterate, our clients don't need to get every exercise perfect immediately, forever. That's not the goal of Pilates is to do a flawless [00:21:00] performance. That's not it. It's a process. And if we take time to celebrate their individual progress towards their goal, the personal journey over the eventual outcome of doing the exercise, our clients will be down to come on this ride with us and explore a little bit and see what happens and not feel so tied down to perfection.
[00:21:24] They won't expect that they're going to get everything right all the time. And they're not going to be worried that we're expecting them to get everything right all the time. We help instill a growth mindset for our clients, which will potentially shape the way they talk about themselves to themselves and the way they think about Pilates as a process as a journey, not as one single moment and of perfection in time.
[00:21:52] As always, a huge thank you to all my supporters on Buy Me a Coffee. I appreciate your contributions to this project and [00:22:00] really being part of the project. The questions you ask, the conversations we have in coffee chats are a great inspiration to me as I continue to record this podcast. And I really appreciate your support and your collaboration.
[00:22:18] I hope you have a great couple of weeks and I'll talk to you again soon.
[00:22:29] 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. The adventure continues. Until next time.