Here are some tips and tricks to managing group Pilates classes, both in person and virtually. I share my favorite filler exercises, my rule of three for cuing, and what goes on behind to scenes while teaching a group class. 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.
Hello, hello everybody. Welcome back to the [00:01:00] podcast. Before we dive into today's episode. I'm happy to share that Pilates Teachers' Manual podcast is sponsoring Momentum Fest this year. Momentum Fest is a really fun Pilates and movement conference that's happening this year from June 25th to 27th, both in-person in Denver, Colorado, and virtually.
I was able to attend the virtual conference last year. It was so much fun. I've got an entire podcast episode about it as well as a really great conversation with Jessica Valant, who is the co-founder of Momentum Fest. If you are a Pilates teacher, I already know that you love Pilates, and this is such a celebration of all different kinds of movement.
There's dance, there's yoga, there's Pilates. There's just a lot of fun stuff and a really inspiring community of fabulous teachers and movers. I will definitely be there again virtually this year. And I hope to [00:02:00] see you there too. You can sign up to attend either in person or virtually at momentumfest.com. I hope to see you there.
Today we're going to be talking all about group classes and really what happens behind the scenes as a teacher who is teaching group classes. I feel like most of teacher training is really preparing you for this group exercise situation. And a lot of the ways that you're taught to cue and a lot of the situations you're in, like you're usually teaching a group of people like that's your test out or that's whatever.
I'm going to be sharing with you today some considerations that you can take about both virtual and in-person group classes, as well as what's really happening behind the scenes, behind the curtain of your teacher brain, while a group class is kind of unfolding. So that's really what we're going to be chatting about today.
Virtual group classes are kind of their own animal. And I feel like we can't [00:03:00] keep saying that we're new to them because we've been doing them perhaps for a year now, but class management's a little bit different virtually. It's going to be a lot to do with like the meeting settings. If you're on zoom, things like enabling the waiting room or un-enabling the waiting room so that people can come in, turning off that doorbell noise that happens every time someone enters and leaves, muting people during the class and making sure that your video is either pinned or asking people to pin your video so that it's bigger. You want to make sure that your space is clean and clear and that your very visible to the people who are taking the class and they can hear you as well.
I did do an episode about setting up for virtual classes if you have more interest or more questions about that in a previous season episode. You also want to make sure that the props you're using are things that people have, [00:04:00] and maybe you've already established that we're using a foam roller or a stability ball or something in the class, but you just want to make sure that you aren't being like, Oh, let's use the TRX like ripcord. And you're like, no one has that. Right. You want to give options so that everyone can do the exercises.
And then you also want to make sure that you're giving options within the exercises, because you don't know necessarily what people are bringing to the table in terms of limitations or stuff going on in their body or injuries or what's going on. Sometimes you don't see who's taking your class, which- I'm not going to lie to you- is not my favorite way to teach. I really do thrive on audience participation. So the void that is Facebook live and Instagram live are just like, not my favorite thing. I like to engage with my students and it's hard to just teach on your own. And I can still say that, even though I've been doing it for a year, you know, I'm comfortable enough with it, but it's still, it can still be difficult.
So you want to make sure that you're offering lots of [00:05:00] options, lots of variations so that anyone who's watching your class, can't be like, Oh my gosh, we'll have, all we're going to do is on our hands. Like, you know, my wrist hurts. I can't do this. You just want to have lots of options for everybody.
In nearly all the virtual group classes I teach, I'm doing the class with them. I'm really not teaching, I'd say, I'm kind of leading the class, especially in the ones where you're not seeing your students, but also even in zoom, if there's like a bunch of little squares, I'm not really offering feedback or offering corrections because I'm doing the entire class with you.
Uh, I know that from a motor learning standpoint, that this is not the greatest way to teach someone, because if they're just following along, they're not really thinking about what they're doing necessarily, or trying to find it for themselves. There's a lot of just imitation and kind of trying to do what you're doing, but without the [00:06:00] mental and like, comprehending and then building the connection component necessarily.
That's not to say that it's not important, and moving is always better than not moving, but I will say that virtual group classes are not my favorite way to teach because I can't do the exercise at the same time that I'm watching you do the exercise. Or if I can't even see you, how can I offer feedback that's going to help you grow or kind of refine movement. So you really do have to lower your expectations a bit, I think for those virtual group classes and just provide a fun and engaging experience for everybody and, you know, hit the highlights, offer the variations, you know, work on all parts of the body. But also know that it just, it is what it is. There are limitations and a group virtual class.
I would say that in-person group classes are all about being prepared and being able to adapt. For any group class, [00:07:00] whether you're teaching virtually or teaching in person, you do want to have a general plan. The plan can be more general the more comfortable you are working on the fly, but even if you are very much working on the fly, I do think that it's important to have kind of a general idea of what equipment we're going to be using, what exercises we're going to be focusing on or building to or exploring. Is there a theme of rotation or a theme of extension or flexion, or are we doing something? Are we're working on something together? You want to have that picture so that you can really flush it out through the exercises that you're going to be leading.
I also would say kind of a tangent, but kind of important to have for both mat and equipment, a few minutes of filler exercises. It's just good to have a few series of things that you can have people do if you get to the end of class and you've got like two minutes left and you're like, well, we're not [00:08:00] going to like do the entire short box series right now. Or, uh, I can't really make the roll up last for two minutes. So what can I do? It's just like a nice thing to have that you can just kind of pull out of your back pocket.
I will give you my little secret filler exercises for group, for both mat or equipment if we're sitting, or if we have the ability to sit on the reformer.
I love to throw in a quick little mermaid with a twist on both sides. That'll take a couple minutes for us to find our side bend and our twist. That can be really fabulous. If it's any equipment class and we're in the studio. I love a standing cat on the chair. Where we can do our little roll down in both a C curve and a long spine kind of flat back, maybe throw in some tricep presses there. If we've got like three minutes, maybe we do our roll down into a plank and do a little plank action. Maybe it's, you know, lifting the leg. Maybe it's doing a little pushup and then rolling up doing [00:09:00] that a couple times as well. That'll give you some time so just so that you can like kind of round out your class and you've got these nice little finishing things that you've got, because.
And like, you don't know if it happens quickly, you just want to have a couple extra minutes of exercise. But now I feel like any students of mine that are listening to the podcast are going to be like, Oh wow. She must've really mistimed class if we're doing mermaid and those roll-down pushup things, but it's just like a good thing that you don't have to stress about. Like, Oh my gosh, what am I going to do for the last minute? And it's like, Oh, we're going to do mermaid. Yay. You know, good thing to have. Total tangent.
In terms of preparing for those in-person group classes, you're going to want to know what equipment you're going to be using. You're going to want to set up the studio in a way that that equipment is easily accessible, or maybe you've already got the chair on the right springs, or if you're playing on the springboard, the springboard set up just so that we can really glide through those transitions as easily as possible.
I'm really big on getting there early, again, I probably get there too early, but I like to be in the space. I like to set up. I like to get my music on and [00:10:00] get kind of hyped and prepared mentally as well as, you know, just feeling very comfortable in the space and being ready to go. Maybe I. Play a little bit on the equipment and see how the exercises we're going to be focusing on flow or checking out my transitions or, you know, seeing if there's anything that as I do the exercise that feels interesting that I want to build on or explore a little bit more.
And then I also want to see, you know, who's going to be in my class that night. Do I know these people? Do I need to introduce myself to these people? Do I know about any stuff that's going on in their bodies that I, you know, can already have knee pads out if I know that someone's going to need them?
Looking to see how many people are going to be in the class, you know, for the equipment classes, everyone's got their own station. So if it's like a two person class, like where do I want them to be? Like, I want to have those stations set up. Or if it's a jump board class and I have to set up the jump boards, like, how do I want them organized? And then I want to get my snacks set up. I want to get my hydration station set up so that I am ready to [00:11:00] go once they come.
Coming up after the break, let's talk about what happens during class and some of my tips and tricks for working with group classes and the group class dynamic. 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.
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 I use and love. [00:12:00] Now back to the show.
So fabulous. You are all set up for your group class and now people are arriving. Hooray. A big part of teaching group classes is welcoming people, mostly because it's awkward if you don't. Just acknowledging that they're there, saying hi, introducing yourself if they're new, kind of getting a feel for people's energy level, anything new going on in their body.
I do like to ask people, especially people I know, even people I don't know, if they have requests. A note on requests though, you don't have to ask for them. You definitely don't. It can feel overwhelming if you have a class plan, especially, you know, you're a new teacher, you've got a class plan and then someone requests something that has nothing to do [00:13:00] with what you were hoping to accomplish in that class.
That's fine. I always tell people that I take their request under advisement, but you know, there's no guarantees and it's like a joke and we laugh. Ha ha. But it can be nice because if you know that someone's low back is bothering them, you can, even without changing your class plan, you can just put some words in there about how, you know, feet in straps is decompressing the spine because we're keeping the spine in neutral as we're doing these exercises, or as we're doing those, just like pelvic tilts, we're giving our low back a little bit of a stretch. You can just tailor your language so that they feel seen and heard.
As you are more comfortable adapting in a bigger way. If you've only got a few people in class and they really want to do some glute thing, maybe you can substitute in their glute thing for the sideline or the glute [00:14:00] focused exercise that you were planning. But definitely don't feel like you're obligated to ask for requests. It's just a thing that you can do if you feel comfortable with it.
Whenever I'm going to start a group class, I actually, I always start at the same way. And regardless of whether you start your class the same way every time you do want there to be like a very strong, clear energy in the way you start the class.
So that there's no like question of like, Oh my gosh, are we starting? Do we need to do something? Like, you want to be really clear about that. I say at the start of all of my classes, something along the lines of, all right party people let's get this thing started, or I'll say something like, it's that time again, Pilates time. Go ahead, have a lie down on your reformer.
And you just, you can even hear it. Like my voice changed. Uh, you kind of like switch on and you're like commanding the space. You have a more commanding thing. Like when you're talking to people, you're being still on like you're still being maybe a little bit [00:15:00] friendlier, a little bit more energetic version of yourself, but once you start class, you want it to be very clear.
It's nice to also start an end class the same way. You don't need to start it like I do, like I have my own personality and I have this sort of way that I interact with people, but having that it's like comforting. It's like giving some structure to things like I know that we're getting started. She said the thing.
And you know, I also end class the same way with a roll down and then we end with our hands at heart center. And take a moment to thank our body for its hard work and thank ourselves for making time for ourselves. And I thank everyone for coming to class and I always end class like that. So that there's no question of like, do we need to do something? Can I start wiping off my equipment? We did the thing together, and now we know we're done.
During the class. You've got your plan for the class, how things are going to go. We're going to do our footwork, we're going to bridge. We're going to do some abdominal exercise and some planks and some front body, and side body, and arms, and legs, and [00:16:00] everything together. So you've already got that running in your mind.
I would say that as you're going through things, it's almost like you have to split your brain because you're both telling people to do things and then watching them do them and then adapting how you're telling them to do it and then offering feedback. Also keeping in mind what you've already done, what you have yet to do, any transitions. Like it's really quite complicated to teach a group class. And if you've had a group teacher who you just love, who's like amazing to make it flow so seamlessly, but there's like a lot going on in there.
I will say that this is where talking less is helpful. And if you've listened to me talk about motor learning theory and the class I took through what's now Kinexology, the What You Say Matters course, this idea that if you can give a cue and then stop talking for a second, you can then [00:17:00] watch with a little bit more focus. You don't have to talk and watch at the same time you can talk like and see what happens and then go from there.
So the way that works for me for literally every exercise and every variation of the exercise is I'll give the name of the exercise. I'll cue it. I'll cue something. Then I will look to see if we understood that. Are we able to do that? And give a second or two of silence. They're not going to do it instantaneously. There's some brain connection that has to happen. Okay. We're setting up for down stretch. What is down stretch? Okay. You let them think about it. You know, the soles of the feet to the shoulder blocks, hands to the foot bar. Okay, cool. We're in that body position. I might say, you know, hinging at the shoulder, press out with straight arms, come in with straight arms, hips stay forward, something, whatever.
You want to say your thing, watch to see if they get the thing. Can you say something else that will make the first [00:18:00] thing more clear? And I would recommend not just repeating the same exact thing you said, because if it didn't make sense to someone, for whatever reason, the first time, it's not going to make sense necessarily the second time. So what else can you say?
And then I keep watching. Is there anything that's off? Can I provide a cue that's going to refine their movement or can I fix an error? Can I give them another cue? Right. I've been working in my classes on complimenting students. Is someone really executing this well? Or did you see someone who wasn't doing it quite right? And then maybe from your second cue, they changed it. Can I give someone a compliment? Amazing. If someone's really struggling, can I offer an option? Can I offer a progression?
And just like that we're changing exercises and the whole cycle begins again. I'm going to give a [00:19:00] cue. Did we get it? Can I refine it? Can I fix an error? Can I compliment someone? And you're just doing that over and over and over again with every single exercise. As I mentioned before, can I incorporate that person's request, if they said they wanted to do side bends, you were planning to do side sidebends whatever. Maybe you're doing mermaid right at the end anyway. Can I give that person what they specifically were looking for?
The last thing I want to say about group classes is to not be discouraged, whether you're teaching virtually, and you're not seeing the impact of your classes, whether you're teaching in person and you're having low attendance, or maybe you've got people in class that aren't getting it and you feel like you're just like banging your head against a wall because you're giving them things to do and it's just not happening. Don't be discouraged by any of that. You are teaching an amazing class, whether there's two people in your group class, whether there's 50 people in your group class, whether you can see your students or not, you're doing an amazing thing [00:20:00] just by offering this movement. Moving is always better than not moving.
And when you're working with people who you're giving them the exercise and they're just not getting it. And they're just not even in the same ball game. They're just doing something else. You might be asking them to bend their knees, you know, a hundred times. And they're just not getting it.
I will say for those individuals, I have like a rule of three that I follow that I'll cue the exercise. Everyone gets the first one. If they're really not getting it, I'll cue it a second time, but in a slightly different way, like maybe it didn't make sense to them and see if that resonates, if they're able to make that adjustment. If it's vital to the exercise that they do the thing that I'm asking them to do, or if it's a safety concern, I might go over to them and give them like a very personal, Hey, can you bend your knees for me? Something like that. But most of the time, again, [00:21:00] even if 90% of what you say goes over their head, they're moving, they're breathing. We don't know exactly what's going on with that person. So I'm not going to feel discouraged.
Like if anything, I'm so glad that they're there because I'm planting the seeds that, you know, maybe in their next class or maybe in their next 50 classes, it'll begin to make more sense to them. You gotta let some stuff go in group classes. You gotta keep everything moving forward because there is no such thing as perfection and everyone's body's a little different, everyone's brain works a little bit differently. And you're just going to keep offering options and moving forward as part of just teaching your group class.
If you see people that are really struggling, you can always offer private sessions for them. Like, Hey, like I see how hard you're working. And I think you'd really benefit from going over this with me one-on-one. Would you be interested in a private session? And maybe yes, maybe no. Maybe they are getting the most out of it already. You don't know. [00:22:00] Things click at different rates for people and that's totally fine.
Big thank you to all my supporters on Buy Me a Coffee. I appreciate your support of the project and all of these podcasts adventures. Big thank you to Cate for this question. I hope everyone has a great week and I'll talk to you again soon.
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.