What to avoid with beginner mat classes

Beginner clients can be challenging to teach. How do you ensure that you give them enough of a challenge to keep them engaged, but not so impossible a task that they get discouraged? How do you choose which of the many exercises to teach them?

The most important rule here is to connect with your classes and be the best judge of what is appropriate for them.

Avoid Classical Pilates exercises

The group may be able to make the Classical Pilates exercises look ‘right’ but it is unlikely they will be getting the true benefit from them.

Solution: If clients need more challenge and want to feel their muscles working harder, do more repetitions of each exercise and get them to hold positions for 10 seconds while breathing.

Avoid a lot of repetitions of exercises that include weight bearing on wrists (ie. anything quadruped)

People are often incredibly unsupported in their upper bodies and the quadruped position can be excruciating for long periods of time. At the same time, this position can be great for strengthening.

Solution: Do a few reps of a quadruped exercise (four each side), then do something else where the arms are free, then come back to quadruped.

Avoid several exercises in a row with legs in tabletop

Depending on the person and the alignment of his or her pelvis, this position can be murderous on the hips. Even just holding the legs in the air for a few seconds can create a deep burning sensation at the crease at the front of the hips where the hip flexors are. In addition, holding a neutral pelvis with legs in tabletop can be very difficult. People may tip the pelvis forward to create a larger arch away from the floor in the lower back. Conversely, they may push the lower back into the floor for more stability. Either way the demand of the core and the hips is out of balance and repetition of the movement will reinforce faulty mechanics.

Solution: Stick to lots of repetitions of ab curls, oblique ab curls, and ab curls with staccato breathing. People will feel their abdominals working overtime and avoid tightening up their hips.

Avoid an emphasis on breathing

Some of you may be thinking, “How can you emphasize breathing too much?” If people are getting confused by your breath cues or are paying more attention to how they are breathing as compared to how they are moving, then they lose the benefit of breathing altogether. They are in their heads, thinking too hard and not able to feel what they are doing.

Solution: Start by just teaching the movements without asking people to do any type of breath patterns. When they get the hang of the movements, then try incorporating breath cues. If it is a disaster, go back to cueing the movement. Rest assured that people breathe as they need to. As they become more nimble movers, they will be able to focus on coordinating breathing with movement.

Avoid change for the sake of change

It’s common to worry that you have to teach an entirely different set of exercises each week or else your group will get bored. However, this will cause you undue stress, and is actually counterproductive to keeping your clients engaged.

Solution: Keep the class fresh, but return to a few familiar exercises each week. Clients will enjoy recognizing something familiar, especially when most of the exercises still feel very new. They will also be able to compare how hard the exercise feels compared to previous weeks and gain a sense of progress. If you’re really concerned that they will lose interest, add different props to the exercises and see how that changes their experience. Focus on some of your favourite exercises, and soon clients will soon share your joy in them!

Final word of advice

Trust the process! If you can create the space for people to pay attention, learn, and then embody what you teach, they will be back for more. The feeling is so good and the benefits are intangible but entirely present. What you need to focus on most with beginners is your message: stay focused on what will become, and teach to them as they are. They will know you care and sense that you are there for them long-term.

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