How to prep for your Pilates class

So you get this opportunity to offer an ongoing class in a new venue. You jump at the chance and find out the particulars of place, time and duration of the class. This is all key information but it doesn’t give you anything in terms of “planning power”. What you need is to get info about the people who are going to show up so you can plan a class that will be a hit.

You may prefer to “wing” your classes or simply “go with the flow” and rely on your experience. With this type of opportunity, doing your homework and planning out what you will do and how, will go along way to ensuring your success.

Find out who your participants will be

  • Find out as much information about the participants as possible in advance (age range, ratio of men to women, how many are fit and active versus sedentary and de-conditioned).
  • If possible, send each participant a questionnaire by email. Include the following:

1 min questionnaire about Pilates

How much experience do you have with Pilates? 

  • New to Pilates
  • Attended a few times
  • Experienced
  • Currently doing Pilates

What do you know about Pilates?

What are you hoping to get out of the Intro to Pilates class on (date)?

  • Exercises for your core
  • Exercises to strengthen your legs
  • Exercises to strengthen your shoulders and arms
  • Exercises for flexibility 
  • Exercises to de-stress

Other _________________________________

Prepare your class
Use any information you collect to create and customize a brief introduction to the class. The more tailored to the participants’ questionnaire responses, the better.

Prepare a class that touches on the main things the participants identify as important or of interest. The key is to make sure you meet their expectations of what they are coming for.

The next thing to spend time thinking about is the level of difficulty and complexity. The most important thing is to match the level of the class to the level of fitness of the majority of the participants. For example, the class you would plan for a group of 20-something males would be very different than a class for middle-aged women. Here again, the information you collect about those who plan to attend gives you a lot of leverage.

When you arrive to teach your intro class
First rule of thumb: get to the venue early! This way you can get a good sense of the space and reset it as needed. I remember arriving at a venue where I encountered a floor covered in popcorn. No one had told me about this and I ended up spending 20 minutes sweeping! Luckily, I had arrived 30 minutes ahead.

Be comfortable and natural with your introduction
As participants arrive, greet each one and welcome everyone collectively prior to starting the class. Set the intention for the class and share it: “I am really excited to be here today and looking forward to a great class” or something similar.

Share a little bit about you: Your name, how long you have been teaching and what you love about what you help people achieve through Pilates. If you are a new teacher it is usually better to omit the fact that you are inexperienced. Mention what you love about Pilates personally, what it has done for you and what you want to share with others.

Then ask if there are any questions (there likely won’t be because people are shy and don’t really know what to ask).

The most important piece of your intro
Set and manage peoples’ expectations. Use the following scripts as a guide and hit the following points. The last thing you want is people walking away with doubt in their minds about the value of Pilates or your potential as a teacher they could come to adore and trust. Spend some time in front of a mirror and practise these lines:

  • “Be prepared for this workout to look and feel different than what you might do at the gym. You will feel some things, and other things, maybe not. This is normal and it is part of how we get strong from the inside out. Not everything has to burn or feel hard… in fact, some things may feel like nothing at all.”
  • “For those of you who are used to a fast-paced workout, have an open mind and remember that we are working on the NEURO-muscular-fascial pathways and this means that sometimes we need to slow down and pay attention to what we are doing and how we are doing it.”
  • “Because Pilates may be new for some of you, let me know if you need clarification or a different explanation. I want to make this experience really positive for you and if you aren’t getting it, just tell me and I can change how I am instructing you.”

Ask if they are ready to get started and then say: “Let’s get moving!”

Starting the class
Start your class in a standing position. This way everyone can see you and imitate you and get comfortable with you, your voice, your style, etc.

A great sequence to start with is:

  • Shoulder shrugs and rolls
  • Lateral arm arcs
  • Cat/cow in a squat with hands on knees
  • Squats
  • Squat + cat/cow
  • Standing side bends and rotation with hands on head

Once you get down to the floor, it may be harder for people to see you, especially if they are on their backs or face down.  Make sure you preface this part of he class with something like: “now that we are down on the mat you may not always be able to see me so let me know if I am making sense and you are following along.”

Keep people in one position for at least 5 minutes at a time so they have a chance to settle in and not feel like they are flip-flopping all over the place.

Do enough repetitions of any given exercise or movement so people gain a sense of mastery. It can be very frustrating when you just get the hang of one move, and suddenly the teacher is on to the next. The question of course is: “What is the right number of repetitions?” The answer: “Ask your participants.” Talk to them during the class. Engage them in the process and find out how they are doing. There is obviously a fine line between too many questions and not enough, but if you pay attention to peoples’ responses you’ll be able to deliver what they want with ease.

Remember this: your participants will tell you exactly how much intensity they want and how much complexity they can handle.

At the end of the class
Make sure you build a proper ending into your class. Help people feel a sense of completion. You can do this in an energetic way and end with a bang! Or, you can choose to slow things down and end on a mellow note. How do you choose? Pay attention to your participants and let them guide you. If they seem energized, end on a high note with dynamic movement and challenge. If they look ready for a rest, take it down a notch.

Do not just leave it at “Great class, thanks for coming!”
Leave a minute or two at the end of the class and ask people to think about what they liked in the class. Also ask them to think about what they would want more or less of the next time. Then tell them what you envision over a number of classes. Something like: “We moved in many ways today and did lots of different exercises. This is the tip of the iceberg and I really hope you will be back so we can progress and expand on what we did today.”

Wrap up by telling them how you experienced the class
I will leave this open to you given that every experience will be different and every group will require a genuine message based on the experience you share together. All I can say is, make sure you comment on what they did well and tell them you look forward to building on what you introduced that day.

What other elements do you include when starting a new class?


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