Group Classes – Multi-tasking the Multi-level Group Class
It’s the way of modern exercise. It’s the way of modern Pilates. It’s something Mr. Pilates rarely did, but we’ve got to do it and do it well! Not only well, but great! We’ve got to excel in teaching multi-level group Pilates classes. But how?!
This is an enormous topic. Today, I’m going to share an overview on the subject that I hope will ignite many questions from you all! Please send them my way. Here’s a solid read for you:
The way of modern exercise: cram in as much new and trendy stuff into one week at the gym! Well, Pilates got swept up into that gym mentality. I remember when the first group mat classes were presented in gyms. They were taught by group fitness trainers who had little to no experience in Pilates. These were glorified stretch classes with some Pilates-like actions. However, Pilates was becoming such the buzz-word in celebrity exercise that gyms were able to make a killing. Sound familiar? It’s still happening.
Thankfully, now, gym Pilates classes trainers are more educated! There’s a lot of really great Pilates mat work going on. Perhaps you teach one of them! Even the most classical Pilates teacher trainer program, Power Pilates, had developed a mat class teacher training program because we believe a class format can be really effective. And group Pilates classes have clearly expanded to reformer, tower/wall-unit and chair classes.
Mr. Pilates didn’t teach group classes. It was only on the rare occasion that he would use the mat work in a group setting. You can find a few photos of him teaching the dancers up in Jacob’s Pillow doing “mat class” on the outside stage. His studio was primarily a series of on-going semi-privates. Everyone would be doing his/her exercises with assistance from Mr. Pilates, Clara Pilates or one of the assistants. It was multi-level, multi-session in the studio all of the time.
We want Pilates to be accessible to everyone. That means it has to be affordable, local and at the right time. Group classes are a great way to get a lot of people in the studio or gym class at once possibly making a profitable hour. If there is space in the studio or gym, one teacher teaching several is profitable. The cost of the class is affordable to the client. Because it’s several people who all want to workout at the same hour, the timing factor is solved, too! A mat, tower, reformer, chair class might be a great option.
But is this really Pilates? It’s only part of Pilates. A Pilates session is on many apparatus. A Pilates body and mind comes from working the method on all the apparatus…often. However…group class can be an effective part of an exercise regiment if taught well!
OK…there’s the background. You’re reading this because you want to know how to teach these classes more effectively! On to it then…
In The Ideal World, everyone would take semi-privates on all apparatus 3 times a week. On top of it, they would do their mat work at home another 2-3 times a week. In The Ideal World.
Another ideal situation would be that in group class there would be the following levels: Intro, Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced. Umm…this doesn’t happen often, does it?
Most of the time we find ourselves saddled with an All-Level Class/Mulit-Level Class. There are new-comers and long-timers in the class. You want to make sure you’re taking care of the newbies and challenging the oldies. Here are some straightforward guidelines for any group class (mat, tower, chair, reformer, etc.):
Introduction and Class Set Up:
1 – Introduce yourself to any new students…one by one. Ask them if they’ve ever had Pilates before. Ask them if they have any injuries or limitations. They will be more comfortable and you will know what to do and what not to do. This take just a few minutes. Show up early enough to your class to have time for this. New students usually come early for classes. They are a bit anxious. You will be helping them out right away.
2 – Place your new clients in a space or on an apparatus where they can see other students do the exercises and where you know you’ll be able to assist them if necessary. With that, place your regular clients in a way that they can be seen.
3 – At the top of the class always remind everyone that this is a multi-level class. Briefly, tell them that you’ll be giving several versions of the exercises. Tell them that you’ll start with the most basic and then give variations. Then stress this important note: “Please stick with the version of the exercise that is right for you today. Do not feel pressure to do what your neighbor is doing. If you come to an exercise that is not right for your body today, please leave it out and wait for the next one that is right for you.”
4 – Take a moment to teach and/or remind everyone the action of the abdominals! “Remember, that every exercise is a full body exercise that starts in your abmoninals! Scoop your abdominals in and up!” Then…you must cue them often!
1 – Mat and Reformer Class – You must follow Mr. Pilates’ order of exercises. For multi-level classes we go with Intermediate Order on Mat or Reformer; however, you’re going to modify and/or omit exercises that are not appropriate for your students. Safety is first! On the mat, of course you are not giving Roll Over, Jackknife, Scissors, Bicycle, Boomerang. On the reformer, new students never do Shortspine or Teaser on the Long Box.
2 – Tower or Chair Class – There are no set orders for these classes. However, there are strong guidelines to follow:
- Always start with some matwork. At least the Beginner System with the full Abdominal Series. This way you learn the abilities of your students; both physical and mental. You’ll see who listens to you and then adjusts and who doesn’t.
- Then follow the progression of exercises that go from lying down to sitting up to kneeling to standing on that apparatus. Learn from Mr. Pilates’ orders on mat and reformer and work the spine in all directions, challenge the arms and legs evenly, etc.
- Keep the flow by doing as few changes of the spring settings either on the chair or the tower as possible. (i.e. Do all Wunda Chair 1 spring in the middle before doing 1 top 1 bottom. Do all push through bar exercises before moving on to roll back bar exercises or vice versa.)
Addressing Each Level of Each Exercise:
No matter what class it is, you have to address the multi-level of every single exercise. Maintain the following notes for every exercise and be consistent.
- Always teach the modification first. Teach to the least advanced first. Have everyone do this version a couple of times. Do this for every exercise. Be consistent!
- Once you’ve established the least advanced version, then offer the next level. Say something like, “If you are new, stay with this version. If you’ve been to this class before, try this next version.” (And then explain it clearly.) Or maybe you something like, “If this first version is a good enough challenge, stay with it. If you’re ready for another challenge, try this…” Always remind them that it’s about what they need that day. It’s not about keeping up with the person next to or in front of them in the class. You must give them permission to do what’s right for themselves. Competition is innate. Your clients truly need permission to not compete.
- Travel around the room. Make sure you go hands-on to those who need you. Especially your beginners! Go hands-on to your beginners. Teach them about their abdominals with your words, yes, but even more with your hands!
- State the Obvious: Don’t be afraid that your old-timers don’t need your old cues. Everyone needs cues all of the time! Your old-timers do, too!
- Cue the abdominals for everyone first…and often! Then cue secondary stabilizers (shoulders, mid-line of the legs, center-line, opposition, squaring of the box) next for your more advanced students. Choose a theme so it’s not overwhelming for anyone…including yourself!
- Take your time and remember the purpose of the class. Remember that your job is to teach all of these levels at once.
The brand new will not be overwhelmed. The old-timers will not be bored. If you take the time to format each exercise of the class in the same way giving the modified version first and the more advanced version next (you might even have 3 or 4 versions going on in each exercise) you will have a very successful class. Everyone will get his/her money’s worth!
OK, you have the rare client who complains that this is not challenging enough or it’s not basic enough. Well, that’s when you suggest privates and semi-privates on the apparatus. Also, you suggest that they take the Intro to Mat Class or the Intermediate Mat Class that you’ve been able to establish because your multi-level classes have been so popular and the manager of the studio or gym wants you to teach more!
****Let’s let this be a start of a conversation on how to teach group classes effectively! Obviously, this is a huge subject…and an important one! With that, ask me questions and I will write more on this subject. Also, tell me what else you’d like me to blog about and I’ll get to it! I have a great list forming and there is always room for more!
****Would you please forward this blog link to your Pilates teacher friends? www.TheVerticalWorkshop.wordpress.com The more people we can get into the conversation, the better! We have an incredible opportunity to help each other out! Thank you for reading and continuing your education! Enjoy!
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