Creating a Safe Space for Obese Pilates Clients

The work of Joseph Pilates was developed more than 80 years ago during a time when the population was made up of far fewer obese individuals. Today we have a chance to reach out to this population and apply Pilates techniques and principles to a demographic that desperately needs to be introduced to the powerhouse.

Physical and emotional safety must be adhered to. Prepare yourself and your studio or department to welcome obese clients.

Physical safety:

  • Check the furniture in your facility for weight limits. Be sure to have at least one chair with no arms for the comfort of the larger body, especially during the intake or health assessment.
  • Have proper forms for medical clearance and do not proceed without the okay from a primary physician.
  • Ensure dressing rooms offer some type of privacy, even if it is a larger bathroom stall.
  • Clear the work area of all equipment.
  • For mat work, ask the client if he/she is comfortable getting down on the floor. Teach proper body mechanics for getting down to and up from the floor. Use a massage table if the floor is not an option.
  • Teach proper body mechanics for getting on and off equipment.
  • In regards to touch, always ask permission and go slowly. This gives time for the central nervous system to regulate and not get activated.
  • Check all machines for weight limitations. Sitting on a stability ball can be alarming. The client fears falling off or busting the ball.
Emotional Safety:
  • Be sure your staff is “size sensitive.” Not all health professionals are comfortable working with the overweight client. Identify those within your facility who have a passion for working with this population.
  • Don’t “sell” the client on what you can do for her (eg, help her lose weight) but instead ask open-ended questions.
  • Listen. It is about the client and not about you and how fabulous you are.
  • Follow through with your ideas and create the program to fit the client’s needs.
  • Build trust and rapport, this is the art of the work. For many, this may be one of the closest relationships they have, so healthy boundaries must be maintained (as with any client).
  • Preserve their dignity and self-respect.
  • Be one step ahead while staying grounded. You have to know and anticipate physical and emotional concerns, be skilled to address them and be ready to refer out to qualified professionals if necessary. If you do not have the answer, honesty is the best. Let the client assist you in developing what he or she needs.
  • Rochelle Rice, MA, is the president of In Fitness & In Health and the creator of the Plus-Size Exercise Technique.

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