Working with first-time Pilates students can be daunting, exciting, frustrating, and inspiring, often all at the same time. Check out these tips to working with brand new Pilates students and learn what you can do to make them feel safe and welcome in your class.
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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.
Hello, hello everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. [00:01:00] I really hope you had a chance to listen to my interview here on Pilates Teachers' Manual and on Pilates Students' Manual as well with Sonja R. Price Herbert. She shared some amazing advice for teachers and some really great perspectives on Pilates and the Pilates world. If you haven't listened to it, it is long, but it's definitely worth it. Please check it out.
Today I'm going to be discussing something that was talked about a bit in a Zoom Meeting with my supporters on Buy Me A Coffee, and that was about working with people who it's their first time doing Pilates, or Pilates virgins. So today's episode is all about tips for working with people who are brand new to Pilates.
First thing, and I would argue the most important thing, when you are working with someone who's brand new to Pilates is remember that [00:02:00] everyone was brand new to Pilates at some point. And while it can be really gratifying and really fun as a teacher to teach people who already know how Pilates works and moves, and you can, you know, cue things a little bit less because they already have a foundation of understanding about the exercise. When you're working with people who are brand new, they don't have necessarily that experience and that years or months, or whatever of practice to really draw on.
Know that every amazing teacher that you've had, who really inspired you to progress with Pilates for yourself, and maybe even become a teacher, that they also worked with you when you had no idea what was going on way back in the day, and this is really your chance to pay it forward. And the patience and the perseverance and the [00:03:00] compassion that you have for these new students is going to give them the same opportunity to move with Pilates and love Pilates that you had.
Patience is definitely key. New people, and this is nothing against them obviously, they're new, but new people don't understand the principles of Pilates or sometimes the speed at which we're moving or the control, like they're not going to have it just yet. Pilates is really different from other forms of exercise. So if you have someone coming to you who has a sport background or a dance background or a gym, like working out at the gym background, Pilates is going to be really different. And their frame of reference may not be there.
That means you're going to have to go really slow and [00:04:00] explain things that maybe in other classes you might take for granted. And like really break things down, even demonstrate exercises because especially with the equipment, like it can be really out there.
Demonstration- maybe not necessarily of every exercise, I don't want you to have to do the entire class with them necessarily- but it can be really helpful in terms of getting them in the right body position, especially when they are, you know, really lost. It can be really overwhelming when you're getting started. If you're teaching a mat class and it's really fast paced, like in something like that, demonstration can help them in terms of just following along.
Knowing that Rome wasn't built in a day, that Pilates is really a complex exercise system. And you want to be able to support people when they're just getting started. Over time, of course, you're going to want to demonstrate less, for your own [00:05:00] wellbeing as well as your students building autonomy and all of that, building those connections. But again, we're talking about first timers and I would say that your priority is making them feel welcome in your space and feel safe. And demonstration can be something that creates that environment for people.
We do want to break things down when we're teaching. Even things that we think are really obvious things like how do you get onto the reformer for footwork? We may not cue that in our classes. In a lot of classes that I teach people will just come in and get on the reformer and just be ready for footwork. I don't have to tell them anything. But if you are a new person, you know, things like you usually sit like in the center of the carriage and then when you try to lie back down, the shoulder blocks hit you, you know, like you want to cue like scooch all the way forward towards the springs. I usually cue lying on your side and then rolling to your [00:06:00] back as a way, cause then you can use your hands to kind of break your fall if maybe you don't have the abdominal connection to do the roll down to the headrest. Right?
So you want to be really specific and really clear and cue through those transitions, especially. Not just the exercises, but how do we get from exercise to exercise? Where are the straps on the reformer? Where is the foot bar? How does the headrest work? How do I get the straps on my feet? You know, if your cue to put the straps on your feet is "Put your straps on your feet," for someone who doesn't know what the straps are, where they are, or how to do any of that, you know, we want to give them some help and some support. Really don't take anything for granted. Give your students, you know, every opportunity to succeed. That can be done through that really specific queuing.
Pilates has a really steep learning curve. And you want to give lots of [00:07:00] positive reinforcement, lots of those supporting cues, that you're being clear, but not being patronizing that, you know, you're very matter of fact, like this is how we're going to do things. And you're able to offer assistance, additional assistance, when needed.
When we're offering corrections to students, and this is something that Pilates teachers do that I think is really valuable and in some ways, sets Pilates apart from other forms of exercise. And that you're not coming, working out, and then leaving, and the teacher is just leading a class, but you're really, as a teacher, engaging with your students, you're watching your students, you're giving them feedback and offering corrections so that they can work, whether in a little bit more refined way or paying attention to their alignment, to where they're initiating the movement all of those things.
When I think [00:08:00] about the continuing education course that I did, What You Say Matters, talking about this bandwidth feedback reduction schedule, and that's talking about talking less, but saying more important things. But when someone is just getting started talking less may not be an option. So when I'm talking about breaking things down and really clearly cuing through the transitions, when someone is just getting started, the exercise may not be performed in a way that you may say on the surface is correct.
If you're doing something like footwork, I see a lot of initiating where they're kind of pressing, instead of thinking about initiating the movement from the center, you're pressing from your knees, your legs are kind of popping straight. You're riding the springs in, you're not controlling the movement, things like that.
But in the bandwidth feedback reduction schedule, what you're going to do is give [00:09:00] those new people a wider bandwidth. So you're not going to correct every single thing because when someone is just doing an exercise for the first time, when they're figuring out how their body moves and does the thing that you're asking it to do, there's going to be a lot of, you know, quote unquote mistakes.
As a teacher, of course, we want to correct their form, their alignment, their initiation, and offer ways for them to grow. But when someone's just getting started, you want to really pick your spots and really think about what the core of the exercise is or what is like the key thing that you want them to accomplish in the exercise and then only offer corrections on that one thing. Because if a brand new person comes in and you start correcting everything that they're doing, it's going to be really overwhelming for them and overwhelming for you. You're going to feel frustrated. They're going to feel, you know, more confused and [00:10:00] less happy to be there, I'd say.
So you really want to find this balance of seeing them, offering help, offering corrections, but also letting them feel successful. And you can do that by really choosing what you want to correct. You have to let stuff go and you already know that if you teach group classes for anything, that you're not going to be able to correct every person's every thing.
And that's okay because there's no time limit on Pilates. You will ideally have lots of time to work with this person by giving them a wider bandwidth and letting them move more and correcting them a little bit less or choosing what you're going to correct them on, ideally, you're setting the stage for this relationship to continue. And you'll be able to offer corrections on more things as they begin to master the things that you're [00:11:00] offering them.
Coming up after the break, I'm going to share a little bit more about how motor learning theory can really help you when you're working with new people, address how to work with people who are brand new in private sessions. And also helping you let go of some of the pressure you might be feeling by working with brand new people. That's coming up next.
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.
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Continuing to build on this idea of giving your brand new students a little bit wider bandwidth, letting them get away with more things. Not because you didn't see it. Not because anything else other than they're brand new and you're focusing on what you're refining with them.
From motor learning theory, I've learned that students learn more and really assimilate that information more when you give them action based cues, when you're [00:13:00] specifically telling them to perform a task or do something.
You don't want to get hung up on the little things or things like cuing the muscles, which sometimes, in some schools have Pilates, there's a big emphasis on anatomy. And anatomy can be incredibly useful to you as a teacher. And when you're looking at how bodies are moving, you can know for yourself where they're initiating from and what muscles working, and sometimes you can share that with students. Like I have some students, especially privates who are really interested in knowing what muscles are working and for them, it's going to be a great connection.
But on the whole, when you're teaching, instead of saying things, you know, like engage your bicep, do things like bend your elbow, bring the weight to your shoulder. And that's a silly example, but the idea is you're focusing on [00:14:00] the task at hand.
For foot work, maybe you're saying things like press the foot bar away as you straighten the legs, things like that. You're giving them a thing. You're not saying engage your hamstrings. You're not saying resist through the quadriceps. Like you don't have to cue those things because that's just going to add noise to a person who's learning the movement.
When you are offering the corrections, you also want to offer the correction in an action based way. You want to tell them to do something, always telling them in a positive way, I would say as well, something that you should do instead of something that you shouldn't do. It's very difficult to perform a negative. It's much easier to give them a task, a different task, and see if that changes the way that it moves.
Yeah, you don't need to know the names of the muscles to perform an exercise. It really doesn't [00:15:00] change it. It adds an interesting layer. You know, I'm a very visual learner. So I like to visualize what's going on inside my body, but I'm also really comfortable with the exercises that I'm doing and it took several years of moving to really think about, okay, what's happening in my body here.
When you are working with someone who's brand new to Pilates in a one-on-one session, it is going to be a little bit different than a group class, because you can focus even more on their goals, on their past movement history. If they're coming to you and they're a basketball player, then you can talk about some of the ways that we move, and parallel that to the movements that they've done, you know, in their movement history.
The goal is that the people that you're working with, whether it's in a private or a group session, that they see the benefits of Pilates, because they feel good and they feel confident and they feel strong. So that should really be the [00:16:00] focus when you're working with someone who's new, you want to give those feel good moments. You want to give those exercises, you know, where you try something and Whoa, that's harder than it looks or, wow. I'm really surprised that I can do this thing. I didn't expect to be able to do it and here I am.
You want to go the extra mile to really welcome them and not be a studio or a class that is cliquey or exclusive. We want to feel that everyone's included and that everyone is doing the best thing for their body. And not that this is, you know, the level three version of the exercise. And if you're not there yet, do the level one, like that's so lame. Everything's optional, everything's an option. And you want, ideally, your students both new and experienced to feel that they can take any option without attaching a judgment to it, depending on how their body's feeling, [00:17:00] depending on whether they understand what's going on in this exercise. That you can always stay where you are. You can always do it this way, do it that way, but you are the boss of your body.
I had an experience in a yoga class a long time ago, but not so long that it's not still relevant, that I went into this class and the teacher did not cue the pose names or the transitions. It was, believe it or not, an Ashtanga class and now I love that style. But when I took this class, I came in, it was like my first or second class in the studio. I had no idea like where the mats went or where we started, or there was like an opening chant. It was just very overwhelming. And the teachers just saying, inhale, exhale, keep going. Those are not useful cues when you don't know what's going on. And this was a class that was also [00:18:00] listed as, you know, a mixed level class, and that beginners were welcome.
And I did not feel welcome. I felt lost and embarrassed and overwhelmed, and it really turned me off from practicing that style of yoga because I associated it with, you know, feeling not good enough and really hopeless in terms of how am I ever going to get there.
Now I know that you're listening to this and you're an amazing teacher and you would never want someone to feel that way in your class. And so the things that you do from introducing yourself at the beginning, and I know that we're in the midst of COVID we're not shaking anyone's hands, but just making eye contact with someone, talking with them, asking how their body's feeling, what's going on. Like, how did you find us? I'm so excited you're here. Yeah. Just saying that I'm so glad that you're giving this a try. I'm here if you have any questions. I'm going to keep an eye on you. Just [00:19:00] like all those reassuring things so that someone feels successful and feels safe. That goes a long way beyond anything that you do in the class.
Like, honestly, I can't remember what happened in that yoga class so long ago, but I remember how I felt. And so if you are able to offer a Pilates experience like beyond the Pilates itself, which I'm sure is quite lovely, but that they felt safe and they felt good taking your class, that's going to go a long way to seeing them again. And then we can refine all the Pilates stuff, but you can't refine your Pilates stuff if they don't come back, right?
But also tagging on to that: know that you are awesome and fantastic. You're a great teacher and don't put too much pressure on yourself to convert this person to Pilates. Not everyone loves Pilates and that's fine. It's not your [00:20:00] job to make someone love Pilates. You know, my partner actually is the person who I started- they were the first Pilates practice body that I had when I was teaching. And I do not think that they are probably ever going to do Pilates again. And that's okay. Um, that's not a testament to my teaching, I hope- but your job as a teacher with this brand new person is to welcome them and to give them the best possible experience, and then let them choose if this is something that they want to continue or something that isn't a good fit for them at this time.
Whenever I teach an intro class or I teach someone who's brand new, in addition to talking to them beforehand and really making them feel seen and heard and valued, but that I also talk with them afterwards and tell them, you know, I'm so glad that you gave it a try. I'm so glad you took time to try Pilates. If you enjoyed the movements, but you didn't enjoy me as a teacher, that's fine. There's lots of great teachers at the [00:21:00] studio. There's lots of great teachers that you can connect with and find someone who teaches in a way that vibes with you. If you enjoyed Pilates, you know, keep doing that and just that you hope to see them again soon.
Being compassionate, being welcoming is huge. Like establishing that rapport is huge. If on top of all of that, you can be patient and you can be clear in your cues, you are going to be doing an excellent job working with those first time Pilates people.
If you have any tips for working with people who are brand new to Pilates that you think I missed, feel free to reach out on Instagram and share. We'll be talking about this episode all this week.
A huge thank you to all my supporters on Buy Me A Coffee. Thank you for the idea for this episode and for your contributions to support this project. I really appreciate it. I hope you have a wonderful week and I'll talk to you again soon.
[00:22:00] 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.