Modifying Classes to Fit all Clients

I have been teaching group classes for many years and no two group classes are ever the same. The mark of a truly brilliant instructor is being able to teach a class with clients of all levels – beginner to advanced – and being able to modify for everybody.

This takes not only experience and a vast repertoire, but also complete focus. You have to be attentive to what every client is doing at all times, and this becomes more difficult the more people you have in a class. As a studio owner you have to make important decisions like how many students you plan to allow in each class. This is often a trade-off, because the more students you have, the more difficult it is to ensure that their form is correct, but more people often add to the vibe and overall enjoyment of the class.

At our studio, we do the classes to music and it’s a thing of beauty when you’re teaching an exercise with a lot of co-ordination and everyone is getting it right to the beat. This simply isn’t the same when there are only two people in the class.

At The Movement Lab, we also don’t specify what level each class is at. We welcome everyone (except those with serious injuries) from beginner to advanced into each class. We are able to do this because of the level of knowledge and experience that our instructors have, but it’s not recommended if an instructor is just starting out.

Another important thing to think about as an instructor is how your time will be split during a class. It is an important balance to master. Some instructors do the whole workout with their clients. For me, this defeats the purpose of going to a class. There is no way for the instructor to modify and understand the dynamics of the class if they are simply watching themselves do the exercises in the mirror and expecting clients to follow along.

On the other end of the scale, some instructors spend too much time explaining exercises and making the smallest corrections. This slows down the pace of the class and means that clients don’t end up getting a workout in. This is also frustrating as most clients want to leave their class feeling like they’ve worked their bodies.

Sometimes, the most effective way to keep up the pace of a class, while still ensuring that everyone understand the essence of the exercise, is to do the exercise with the class for the first two or three reps and then to get up and walk around and correct. When correcting someone, the rest of the clients in the class should continue doing the exercise and your time spent with each client on correction should be split fairly.

While this may serve as a rough guideline, you also have to be flexible in the way you teach. If you happen to get a group of advanced clients who are all familiar with the exercises, you won’t have to demonstrate at all as they will be able to follow your queues – provided you communicate concisely and clearly. This will give you more time to focus on their form and ensure that they are getting the most out of their practice.

Every instructor will also develop their own style over years of teaching. This uniqueness is special and should be emphasised. Clients would get bored if there was only one style of teaching. Embrace your personal flair and your clients will come to love and appreciate it too.


To Travel Comfortably

There are so many ways you can fit a workout in to any travel plan, whether it’s for business or leisure.

Cape Town based Lisa Palmer, owner of The Movement Lab, has been an integral part of the Merrithew Health and Fitness team since 2004. She is a STOTT PILATES Lead Instructor Trainer in Mat, Reformer, Cadillac, Stability Chair, Barrels, Injuries, Special Populations and Zenga™. She is the most highly qualified Instructor Trainer on the African continent and this is evident in the classes that she teaches. She shares some of her travel workout tips with us.

Comments Lisa, “As Cape Town is a major holiday destination, my team and I are used to putting together customised workouts for many of the hotel guests who still wish to maintain a level of fitness, or maintain their injury rehabilitation, whilst here on holiday.”

Lay on the floor, if there is space in your hotel room, and simply Breathe and relax. Focus on 3D breathing into the sides, front and back of the body (not the shoulders and neck). Think of a gentle pelvic floor and abdominal contraction (20% or less), like a spiral upwards, to engage the deep stabilisers using the breath.

Then gently Imprint your lower back, sacrum/lumbar, into the floor on an exhale and then release back to your own neutral spine on an inhale. Do this to relieve stress or even lower back pain, especially so if you’ve been carrying heavy luggage.

This can then progress to a full Hip Roll, roll through the spine one vertebra at a time to a neutral bridge position. This will also allow the hip flexors to open after a long flight.

Another great way to lengthen and relieve tight hip flexors either on or off the plane is to simply stand in a lunge position (front leg bent, back let straight) to open the front of the hip after sitting for extended periods.

To mobilize the shoulder girdle, remain on the floor and take the arms over head, as far as you can maintain a neutral ribcage, don’t ‘pop’ the rib cage in order to take your arms back as this will cause unnecessary stress. Once arms are overhead, circle them around to the side and repeat. Repeat both directions.

I recommend carrying a tennis/spiky ball in your hand luggage to ‘roll your feet out’, either on the plane or in your hotel room, this rolls out the fascia/connective tissue and feels like a massage/reflexology! Simply place it under the arch of the foot and you will be sure to find one or two areas that may feel tight, simply roll them gently away! It’s a great way to relax the feet and the fascia while keeping blood circulation flowing.

When seated, roll your ankles in small circles, inwards and outwards to alleviate any tension in the ankle joint, especially after being on your feet all day.

If you’re travelling by plane, place the inflight magazine between your knees and gently squeeze. This will activate your inner thigh muscles and also aid in blood circulation.

To alleviate neck tension, nod the head gently to lengthen the back of your cervical spine and relax. Repeat as often as required – up to five times should do the trick. Now turn the head, right to left several times to release stress in the neck and shoulders and move on to the shoulders. Lift the shoulders towards the ears and gently relax them down to their neutral position. From there, protract the shoulders/scapula forward then return to neutral several times. Repeat but this time retracting the shoulders/scapula and returning to their neutral position. These are great exercises to relieve stress after perhaps a day carrying heavy suitcases.

For a nice ab workout, simply by sitting upright and engaging your abdominals and obliques and holding for 5 counts, then releasing, will also aid in digestion and keep the body at least somewhat active whilst on the plane, train or even car.

An effective ‘travel gym’ can be created with just the purchase of a theraband, which can be purchased at any sports shop. It won’t take up any space or weight in your luggage and there are dozens of great exercises you can do with just this one elastic band. Remember the elastic bands have varying strengths for resistance so shop wisely.

Hold the band in both hands above your head and simple pull down, and slightly out to the side, like at the gym, to work the shoulder girdle, deltoids, pecs and lats. You can also use the hotel room chair to maintain stability and good posture whilst doing this or standing in front of a mirror to ensure you are working in the correct form. Don’t let the shoulders raise but rather keep a nice neutral position to avoid stressing the shoulder area further.

Place the band securely under one foot, standing, and do several bicep curls or even triceps to add to the upper body workout. Wrap the band around the waist, holding both ends, and simply open the forearms and return for a great shoulder girdle workout working with resistance. It’s great for working the internal and external rotators of the shoulders.

Holding on to the back of a chair, or sideways, bend the knees, keeping the heels grounded, and straighten. It’s a good way to wake up the thighs, Achilles and hamstrings. Separate the feet to be in line with your sitting bones and repeat the bend and stretch. Add a rise up on to your toes for a nice calf activation. Face the wall, place one foot back in to a lunge and stretch out the Achilles. Go gently at first to wake them up, especially so if you have been sitting for long periods of time. Why not use the chair in your room to do tricep dips if you are feeling more adventurous and don’t have time to go to the gym?

To counteract bad posture of possible slouching on a long flight, it is a good idea to do some back extension. Lie on your stomach with your legs slightly apart, your arms long next to you, palms facing in, and simply lift your spine and legs into extension (to where you feel comfortable) to strengthen the back and hip muscles.

Lying on your back and placing your legs up on a chair (and just breathe) is a great way to reduce the blood flow to the ankles which tend to get sore and swollen. Then bring your knees to your body, gently holding knees or shins and rock back and forth for a nice spinal massage and release of the lower back.

Last but not least, drink plenty of water to hydrate before, during and after a flight!

Pilates is an incredible way to strengthen, lengthen and repair the body and the exercises can be adapted for everyone’s body type. For a comprehensive and intelligent workout, find out more from any local STOTT PILATES® registered Pilates studio here or abroad. Remember this: You are only as old as your spine!


Staying Fit as an Instructor

As an instructor, I believe that you should be an inspiration to your clients. You are their moral support and you should be able to guide them on their health and wellness journey.

As a Pilates instructor, I realise that often we end up also being psychologists and dieticians too so it’s important to have a holistic approach to your teaching. I believe wholeheartedly that if you’re going to teach an exercise, you should be able to do it yourself – well.

This is important as it ensures that you know how the exercise should feel and where you should feel it. This means instructors should be strong enough to master the essential to advanced repertoires. While this may seem simple as we do Pilates 24/7, it’s actually not. We teach many clients and classes in a day, however, we don’t partake in those workouts. I have mentioned many times before that I am strongly against instructors doing the whole workout with clients. While it may aid the instructor’s fitness, it detracts from the client’s experience.

This means that we have to find time in between all of our classes to train ourselves. Often this seems daunting because a full day of teaching is exhausting, and sometimes we’ve already spent so many hours in the studio that we just can’t bring ourselves to spend one more there.

My solution is to break a full workout into smaller bite size sections. I never do a full hour workout by myself in the studio. Instead, I’ll do a 15-minute ab-blast between clients or a 10-minute arm workout on the reformer. I also take this time to get creative and think of new thigs that I can do with my clients. It’s easiest to come up with new exercises on your own body. During this time, I really try and challenge myself. I also usually focus on the advanced segments of a repertoire that we don’t often get the opportunity to teach.

On a day-to-day basis, most instructors teach essential to intermediate classes as this is what the majority of clients can manage. This means that our advanced repertoire is sometimes a bit rusty. It’s important to stay current with the more difficult exercises, in case you do get an experienced client on-board – then you really want to be able to challenge them. Of course, as an instructor trainer, I have to teach people how to teach advanced exercises, so this means I need to be particularly well versed in these sections.

I also have a policy in my studio that all of my instructors can attend each other’s classes for free, provided there’s space. This allows us to all get a good workout, and we’re always learning new things from each other. It also keeps us on our toes as we tend to put a little extra effort in when we know that there will be other instructors in the class.

Exercise is not a chore or a job for me, but a relief from stress and the day-to-day operations and admin of the studio. It keeps me sane and inspires me to teach my clients. It makes me want to share new exercises, ideas and modifications with them. Being in touch with the functioning of your own body will allow you to become a better, more well-rounded instructor, and your clients will be able to pick up on that.