What Characteristics Define Good or Mediocre Pilates Instruction?

Uniting the Industry: Pilates instructors share their experiences with advanced education and the method.

High-quality instruction may well be the deciding factor for maintaining excellence and integrity in the Pilates industry. But what defines quality instruction? In our last issue, we brought you some perspectives on the difference between good and mediocre Pilates teaching. Because so many of you responded to this topic, we are presenting part two.

Quality Shows in the Cues “As a BASI Pilates®–certified instructor who has been teaching Pilates full-time in private studios and for Cirque du Soleil® for the past 5 years, I have had a great deal of firsthand experience understanding quality instruction. In-depth understanding of anatomy is essential so the instructor can help clients understand their bodies. The more body awareness clients have, the more success they will have.

“It is essential to understand which Pilates exercises will work for each client. For example: It’s an instructor’s first session with a client new to Pilates. The client has limited body awareness. Halfway through the hour, the instructor cues roll-ups. Why? In my opinion, this exercise should not be introduced until the client has some understanding of the abdominal wall and how to engage it. I have seen instructors do this time and time again. The client inevitably uses the neck to roll up. This could lead to injury and turn a client off to Pilates. Cuing is vital. One cue I hear often during roll-ups and roll-downs is ‘chin to chest and roll up.’ There is no explanation of how to engage the abdominals.

“Finally, a great instructor knows how to work with special needs. I think people tend to forget that this started out as a form of rehab and developed into what it is today, which is a great form of exercise for every body type, with or without injury.

“Mediocre instructors have none of [the abilities mentioned above]. If you observe any instructor, you can quickly discover the quality of her instruction by listening to the cuing. If it sounds like she is talking out of a textbook, it’s a sure sign that she doesn’t have a true understanding of the exercises—or the body, for that matter.”

—Danielle Conner, resident Pilates instructor, Cirque du Soleil

Going for Flow and Personal Creativity “Some of the best Pilates instruction I’ve experienced happened because of ‘flow.’ Achieving flow requires a balanced amount of flexion, extension and rotation. When there is continuity, balance and proper breathing, the student experiences a feeling of harmony as the circulatory system energizes the body—and it looks beautiful! But it isn’t uncommon to see teachers who do not know how to create a flow experience.

“Having the creativity to conduct sessions that flow requires more than you can find in an instruction book. Frankly, I’d like to see Pilates organizations allow new teachers room to develop personal creativity. For example, new teachers need to know how to creatively make effective adaptations for each client’s needs. I think encouraging more creativity could make new instructors feel less inhibited and freer—not just with their teaching techniques but also with other career challenges, such as marketing and self-promotion. I find that Pilates teachers are sometimes afraid to let themselves be expressive. We have to remember we’re not giving people a workout; we’re helping them be more functional. [We help them] improve their overall well-being, and experience the joy of movement.”

—Lizette Ayala, owner, Access Pilates

Education Needs to Go Beyond Pilates “I have interviewed many instructors over the years, and the best are those who continue their education beyond Pilates. I look for instructors who have a degree in a related field or equivalent experience. At my studio, all of my instructors study anatomy, physiology, kinesiology and biomechanics. They have experience and training in post physical rehabilitation.

“A good instructor is also compassionate toward individuals who cannot do Pilates perfectly. A lot of people are not flexible and will not achieve what a dancer might achieve. Patience is a big part of it—it doesn’t work to have a boot camp attitude or a ‘you’re going to do this exercise, no matter what’ mentality.

“Anatomy and biomechanics awareness are absolutely essential for good instruction. I’ve seen Pilates instructors do a leg press and say that the muscles they are working are the core! A great instructor should know what muscles are working (yes, Pilates uses muscles other than the core) and how to modify an exercise for every individual. In a nutshell, good instructors continue their education forever and always have a willingness to learn. A weekend course does not make a good instructor.”

—Robyn Bailis-Sirota, owner, Center of Movement and Balance Pilates and Muscle Activation Techniques Studio

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Mary Monroe

IDEA Author/Presenter
Mary Monroe is a freelance writer in the Los Angeles area.
April 2011

© 2011 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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