6 Mistakes Pilates Teachers Make

People make mistakes. We are human, after all. When mistakes happen in your studio, it can sometimes contribute to misunderstandings or even affect the Pilates experience. Luckily, by regular evaluations and improvements of your habits, you can ensure a positive movement experience for everyone.

You may be so accustomed to your routine that you may not find anything that could be affecting your sessions. When re-evaluating your teachings, ask yourself a few questions: Is this appropriate to say? Does this help the client understand? How do I make meaningful changes to my teaching?

Here are six of the most common mistakes Pilates teachers make when teaching a Pilates class.

1. Too much emphasis on breathing

For decades, Pilates has been associated with an emphasis on breathing. Many instructors repeat, “Inhale – exhale” hundreds of times in a class, without ever explaining the purpose. For Polestar, the breath should match the intensity of the exercise. According to Ron Fletcher, Joseph Pilates said of the breath, “breathe in the air and breathe out the air”, not a strict inhale at this point or that point of a movement.
Focusing too much on a particular breath can often distract the student’s attention from his/her experience of movement. At Polestar we always say, “breath is a tool, not a rule.” That is, we use breath as a tool to facilitate or challenge movement and control.

2. Teach too many exercises in the supine position

You’ve probably attended or taught a Pilates classes where the primary exercises in the workout were done in the supine (lying on your back). For the most part, you spend that time doing spinal flexion exercises. Humans must accommodate the body to the many stimuli in our lives, including standing. It’s best to teach and move in different orientations to gravity, not just supine. In Polestar Principles, we present the Polestar movement categories as a guide to select the exercises in the repertoire that best fit the student’s objectives and to create rich lessons.

Students in the supine position during a transition course.

3. Use of negative language

This is one of the more subtle, though possibly dangerous, mistakes instructors often make. It is very easy to use phrases like: “don’t lift your shoulders”, “you have a lot of tension in the neck”, etc. Each time we use this sort of language, we risk causing our clients to improperly focus or stress on a particular movement or posture. And it doesn’t tell the client what you ‘do’ want them to do. Again, is it meaningful information and does it improve the clients performance of the movement?

4. Unsympathetic instruction

Communication skills are the foundation of being a good Pilates teacher. On many occasions, the difficulty of instructing successfully stems from a lack of training centered on effective communication techniques. For a successful movement experience, trust must be earned, and to do so one must listen carefully and keep a calm and positive tone of voice. Ideally, you should speak with your client in a kind way that matches their personality. Analyze your own speech and make sure the tone is not hasty or militant when giving instructions. For more information on communicating with your clients, check out our previous blog post on the subject.

5. Focus on doing stretches

Another common mistake is to use Pilates exercises merely for stretching. There is increasing evidence of the negative effects of sustained stretching and poor efficacy as a method to increase functional range of motion. Often times, these prolonged stretches cause the opposite effect in therapeutic exercise. A diverse movement strategy works best to improve mobility in Pilates. Think of the many different exercises that take a muscle through its full range of motion – there are hundreds. By improving the motor pattern we have, it positively affects both mobility and available strength. Do not look focus on the stretch itself, but for efficient, integrated and quality movements in all of the repertoire.

6. Propose difficult exercises too soon

One of the oldest myths in the fitness industry is,”no pain, no gain”, or, “no pain, no glory”. Both trainers and clients generally operate with the belief that the harder the exercise, the more beneficial it is. This belief sometimes causes instructors (sometimes “obliged” by their clients) to select high challenge exercises too early in their movement programs. This often causes the student to develop compensatory movement strategies to compensate for the lack of efficient motor skills, mobility or strength. Ineffective or inefficient motion patterns can often turn into the client’s usual movement. In other words, the body becomes very good at incorrectly performing movements. After you screen your client, remain loyal to a suitable regimen for them. No need to rush to the finish line, so to speak.

If you catch yourself performing one of these undesirable habits, don’t beat yourself up. Take it as a learning opportunity and a chance to make your clients more have an even better experience.
What other poor habits do instructors make? Let us know in the comments or on social media.

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