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Feedback From the Field: Proper Pilates Regression

In a previous issue of Inner IDEA Body-Mind-Spirit Review, we asked: How do you suggest a regression to a Pilates student who is performing beyond her ability?

“When I see that my classes and/or clients are working too hard and losing the proper form then I know it is time for a change. I often suggest that the body requires variety in order to continue to grow and get stronger. This variety can come in the form of different exercises which we constantly introduce. We alternate days or weeks of high intensity (or difficult) movements with the same length periods of low intensity (or easier) movements. During those times of using lower intensity we focus more on proper form and breathing techniques. This helps to ensure that when the power gets turned up again we have the focus, strength and stability to perform the movements correctly.”

— Helen Lawson

“I am not sure if it is the student who needs to regress or the teacher who needs to fine tune her teaching technique. Pilates is poorly taught when it is based on the choreography. Students are taught to focus on the navel to spine, the scoop or whatever magic word you learned in training or from a video. Joseph Pilates wrote about unconscious movement and how the body moves by design and not what we see in studios, gyms and on television. If a student is working beyond her ability, that student was not taught how to make the connections through the core to allow the body to move as designed. In other words, the student has not been taught how to focus on the breath and is instead focusing on the movement.

“My clients hear me say the same thing over and over. ‘Follow the breath, not the movement,’ or ‘You move with the breathing, you do not breathe with the movement.’ The private session is a great place to change the client’s focus. You may also ask another teacher to work with the client as this offers a different perspective. To be honest, if the student is getting proper instruction this should not be an issue.”

— Stacey Dreisbach, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

“I would acknowledge the person’s efforts and commend her for working so hard. I would then suggest that sometimes it is good to get back to basics and review basic technique and alignment to ensure that we are working effectively, maintaining neutral spine and proper pelvic and spinal alignment. I would commend her for wanting to work at an advanced level and tell her that I’d like to check her form to ensure she is getting maximum benefits. If possible I would utilize either a blood pressure cuff or a small balloon under her navel to check that she is maintaining core control. Using these toys may be fun for her and a good reality check.”

— Shellie Rykiss, Toronto

“At least 20% of my clientele is male, and they are the hardest to pull back from exercises they shouldn’t be doing. I wouldn’t verbally suggest a ‘regression.’ Instead, I’d simply take them through a few fundamental movements that I know will challenge them. I would then continue to use those fundamentals in as many exercises as I can to complete their workout. A trained instructor should be able to spot their client’s weakness and help him work through it while verbalizing positive suggestions.”

— Lizette Ayala, Centreville, Virginia

“As a mind-body studio manager and instructor in Paris, France, (et votre corps sourit) I need to be proud and confident in the quality of all of my instructors. I have run into this problem a couple of times and it can be very tricky depending on the personality you’re dealing with. It’s difficult, maybe impossible not to hurt someone’s ego along the way!

“If she (or he) is teaching beyond her ability there are good chances that the cuing won’t be as good and lacks precision. This means that the participants could be in danger. This can happen with inexperienced teachers who think they’ve got to give lots of exercises to fill the time and give the clients a good workout. An instructor working beyond her abilities will probably shy away from the beginner classes as there is less movement in these classes. Personally, I think basic, beginner classes are the hardest to teach and reveal the quality of an instructor. The beginner classes lay the foundation for more advanced ones. If the cuing isn’t precise and the breathing and deep muscular engagement isn’t taught properly, the movement patterns won’t be what they should.

“I’ll take a ‘random’ class with the instructor (‘I need to workout a bit more, it’ll do me good’ is what I usually say) and then afterwards I thank her (be positive!). I verbalize that I found the cuing a little too light and/or that the clients aren’t ready for such and such an exercise. I’ll reinforce the level of the class, suggest she take some classes with other instructors to see how they cope, and maybe recommend she seek additional training. If no positive change happens, (an oversized ego is in the way!) I’ll take moves to replace her and look for someone better.”

— Helen Haynes, Paris, France

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