I’ve been teaching for nearly a decade, nearly 15,000 hours of hands on time with clients. Not all that long in comparison to many teachers, but long enough to have seen a few things both in my own studio and in others. As a teacher trainer, It is incredibly important to instil in new teachers the skill of progression in the Pilates method.
Progression is a difficult topic. It is both difficult to understand how to progress your clients as a new teacher (and sometimes as an experienced one), and it is difficult to teach new teachers how to progress their clients.
In a comprehensive classical teacher training program, apprentices are required to complete, on average, 600 hours of apprenticeship. Generally about one third of this, or 200 hours, are devoted to personal practice. During these 200 hours apprentices are expected to complete all the exercises on all apparatus, learn the basic to advanced repertoire, many variations, adjustments for their own body, and spring and equipment settings all in 9-18 months. This is far more than we would ever expect from our own clients. In fact, our own clients, even coming twice per week for private lessons would only take about 100 hours of lessons in 12 months. In non comprehensive programs the apprenticeship time varies from very little to none at all. When students do not learn all apparatus concurrently or perhaps only learn the Mat work their ability to understand progression either in their own body or for their clients is greatly reduced or even lost altogether.
Let’s consider something that Jay Grimes often says – that it takes five to seven years of practicing the Pilates method three to five times per week to fully understand the work in your body. That is approximately 780 – 1820 hours in total. Let’s add some perspective with what a professional athlete or an Olympian would do. These athletes practice 12-20 plus hours per week in their sport of choice, with cross training and other study time in addition. So an athlete, who has been practicing 12-20 hours per week for 10 years has practiced their discipline between 6,000 and 10,500 hours. The average client who comes two times per week for private lessons has only completed 1000 hours in the same decade. A mere 9% to 15% of the time an athlete spends, and only 22% to 50% of the time that Jay suggests is necessary to learn the Pilates Method.
So, for our client who has two lessons per week it takes nearly 8 years to meet the minimum number of hours that Jay Grimes suggests is required to get the work in your body. To clarify, Jay does not mean ‘all the advanced exercises’, but rather, the concepts of length, opposition, flowing movement, and coordination in the exercises at their level – which may or may not be beginner, intermediate, or advanced.
So where does that leave us and our clients? New teachers are accustomed to learning exercises quickly and progressing through he work at a rapid pace before they are actually ready. There is a reason for this. They are becoming teachers and thus the emersion and apprenticeship in teaching, doing, and observing is essential, in depth, and fast. This is not how our clients should be expected to learn the method.
Nearly every time I teach teachers in training I say the words “I would not necessarily teach you this exercise in a lesson for YOUR body today, but this is part of the program to become a teacher and thus you are learning it”. Quite often I recommend to my apprentices, once they’ve completed the training program, to go back to the advanced-beginner or intermediate level and work on those essentials and basics in the method to strengthen their understanding and their physical and mental focus.
Personally, as a practitioner who can do the super advanced Pilates work, I generally work at an intermediate level on a daily basis and add advanced/super advanced exercises and orders in one to two times per week at most. Some weeks I do not add it in at all. With all the different apparatus to use, getting around the entire studio at the intermediate level in four to five workouts per week is a challenge for the body, mind, and spirit! Again, it is these base exercises, transitions, layers of understanding, and the different apparatus that develop the physical and mental fortitude to really KNOW the Pilates method in your body.
I see a lot of photos on social media. Photos posted by a new teacher excited for his/her clients latest achievements, photos of clients doing exercises that are well beyond their skill level, photos of teachers executing exercises incorrectly, and rarely, photos of clients and teachers doing exercises very well and within their abilities.
There are three main factors in teachers progressing their clients too quickly. 1. Teacher Ego 2. Teacher (In)experience 3. Pushy clients
Teacher Ego – Ego is a persons sense of self esteem or self importance. In 2016 social media has made keeping our egos in check a little more difficult. Many teachers wish to be seen as better, busier, and more accomplished than other teachers around the globe. Showing photos of clients executing advanced exercises some how boosts the ego of some teachers. Although social media is an incredible benefit to the Pilates community in many ways, in this way it is a challenge for teachers to focus on the needs of their clients vs their own ego needs.
Teacher (In)experience – When teachers are new, depending on the school they have trained in, they may consider the exercises orders to be more like choreography rather than guidelines for progression. They have also recently experienced being sent through the basic to advanced Pilates exercises in a short time and do not yet realize or understand that this is not the norm for clients.
Pushy Clients – We all have them. The client who is enthusiastic, strong in many ways, and wants to do what the client on the next Reformer over is doing, even though that client has been practicing Pilates faithfully three times per week for four years. New teachers and even some experienced ones can have trouble saying no to their clients. Learning how to say no is a skill you must practice!
The longer a teacher has taught and the more hours of teaching they have completed, and the better they understand Pilates in their own body and the less likely they are to teach exercises beyond the ability level of the client based on ego needs, lack of experience, or pushy clients.
So what do new teachers need to know about progressing clients?
- All teachers must be diligent students of the work. Teachers need to understand the Pilates method (exercise orders, levels, layers of exercises, necessary connections in the body, the integration of all apparatus, transitions, mental fortitude and more) in their own bodies and minds very clearly. Be patient as this takes time. Remember what Jay said?
- Teachers need to work with, and continue to apprentice under, more experienced teachers throughout their career and learn to accept feedback from those teachers. We never stop learning.
- Experienced teachers need to be free with their feedback to less experienced teachers, but must also be kind and understanding of new teachers, because not long ago they too were new to the practice. All teachers at all levels need to accept constructive feedback gracefully with a simple ‘thank you’.
- Remember that few clients will ever work at the advanced level in Pilates, many will work at the intermediate level, yet most will stay strong with the basic work on all apparatus. Guess what? That is okay! It is a reflection of a good teacher with strong instincts and teaching skills!
- Teachers must ensure that their clients are competent in the physical and mental skills necessary in a Pilates studio before they are given a new exercise. To accomplish this for your clients, go back to the first point of being a diligent student of the work even as a teacher.
I have always understood Romana to have said that a new exercise is a reward for our clients. A reward for their patience, persistence, focus, and understanding of Pilates at their level on that day. New exercises are not to be given out of boredom, under pressure, or due to lack of understanding. Respect the method.
Remember, know the work, know the system, know how the apparatus integrates and threads the entire method together and be diligent in your own personal practice. Your body, mind, and spirit should reflect the hours you have put in to your own study of Joe Pilates and his brilliant work. This will make you a better teacher each and every day so that your clients can progress at their pace with you as their ultimate guide. Oh yes, and do have fun!