Teaching Mixed Level Semi-Private Sessions – Guidelines

April 14, 2010 at 10:50 pm 22 comments

Ultimately, Mr. Pilates wanted his clients to be independent in the studio.  In the original studio, there really weren’t private sessions.  Every client would know his/her exercise routine, would come into the studio and get to work!  Mr. Pilates, Clara or one of the assistants would move around cueing the clients.  The closest we get to this are mixed level semi-private sessions.

Mixed level semi-private sessions are wonderful, but it seems that a lot of teachers are afraid to teach them.  Most teachers experience is taking private sessions or same level semi-privates.  Mixed level challenges both the clients and the teacher!

What’s the value of the mixed level semi-private session?

  • Clients learn their system and gain independence.  The more independent they are, the more you can cue them in precision and stability and advanced them over time.
  • Many clients want the same session time.  You can put them together
  • Clients save money doing semi-privates.  The more sessions a week they can afford, the better for them!
  • Mixing levels encourages the more beginner client to work harder because she sees more advanced exercises and allows the more advanced client to recognize her progress!
  • The more clients you have in a session, the more you make per hour.
Advanced Semi-Privated Pilates Session at The Vertical Workshop with Shari Berkowitz

Advanced Semi-Private Pilates Session at The Vertical Workshop with Shari Berkowitz

Here are some guidelines on how to teach these sessions safely and effectively…Successfully!

Where to begin:

  • Try beginning your clients on different apparatus.
    Because they will not be doing the same exercise pattern and will have different cues, you might as well start them off on different paths.  This way, you can keep the lessons separate and clear.  Even if they both started on the same exercise, the pace and cueing would be utterly different and confusing.  Don’t even let that happen.  Perhaps you have a beginner (who is ready to be in a semi-private and is only doing beginner exercises with beginner stabilization cues) and an intermediate client together.  Start your Beginner on the Mat (very safe and stable place to start) and your Intermediate on the reformer (good challenge to start with).


    You must always position yourself in a way that you can see both clients at all times!  It doesn’t matter how much walking around you need to do…you must always be able to see both clients! Accidents happen…easily!  If you are not watching your client for even a moment your client can get hurt.  What if you didn’t see that she didn’t set her springs correctly?  What if she’s doing a overhead reformer exercise like Short Spine or Overhead and doesn’t have her headpiece down?  What if…many things!  You must never have “what ifs”!  You must always know what’s going on at all times with all clients!  Never turn your back on your client!
  • SAFETY:  Foot on Foot bar or Pedal
    If you have safety regulations like keeping your foot on the reformer foot bar when beginner clients have their hands on the foot bar or foot on the high chair pedal when a beginner is doing Pumping or Going Up Front, then you must be there before your client gets to the apparatus.  Safety rules always apply!  Never neglect them.
  • Physically stand next to and be hands-on to the client who needs you most.
    As the session rolls along, you must anticipate who will need you more from one exercise to the other and then be with the one who needs you!  If your beginner is doing Rolling Like a Ball on the mat while your intermediate is doing Coordination on the reformer…who needs you more?  Your beginner!  If your beginner is doing Footwork on the reformer while your intermediate is doing Up Stretch on the reformer…who needs you more?  Your intermediate!  If your intermediate is doing Jackknife on the mat while your advanced is doing Mermaid on the Reformer, who needs you more?  Your intermediate!  You get the picture?


  • Individualize Your Cues – Different Levels Need Different Cues
    Remember that no two levels receive the same style of cueing.  Also, cueing comes in two different packages:  Precision and Stabilization.

    • Precision:  As long as you can see both clients, then you can cue them both in precision.  Everyone needs precision cues.  Don’t forget to give them.
    • Stabilization:  Your different levels get different stabilization:
      • Beginner:  Primary Powerhouse/Abdominals – Scoop your abdominals in and up!  Deepen your abdominals in and up!
      • Intermediate:  Primary Powerhouse and 1 additional stabilizer.  Teach your intermediate clients thematically.  Only 1 additional stabilizer will help focus the session for both you and your intermediate client.  Cue one of the following:  Shoulder Girdle, Square the Box, Mid-line or Center-line, Opposition
      • Advanced:  All stabilizers!
  • No Exercise Must Pass By Without Cueing! – Both are there for your teaching!
    You mustn’t allow an exercise to go by without cueing both clients.  Do not become so focused on one client that you forget about the other.  It’s tempting to focus so much on your less advanced client that you neglect your more advanced one.  Remember that both clients are paying for a session with a teacher.  They are independent…to a point!  If they wanted to work out without you, then they would sign up for an “open session” and do just that.  Ever exercise must have your valuable input!
  • Be Present With Both Clients – Hands-On Cue One, Verbal Cue The Other
    Clearly, you must be hands-on with one client and then verbally call out to the other.  Both clients must feel your presence at all times!
  • Never Make A Client Wait For You – Keeping It All Together
    You must know this method and the systems so well that you can keep different sessions flowing at the same time.  All teachers ought to be able to do this.  Here’s how you help your clients and yourself:

    • Say the client’s name before her individual instruction…every time.  Both clients ears are open to you waiting for information.  If you say the client’s name before the cue, you will avoid confusion.
    • Call out the name of the next exercise, number or repetitions, the following exercise and apparatus set up for your client.  For example, if your client, Melissa, is about to do Short Spine on the reformer, you say, “Melissa, do Short Spine 5 times then Coordination.  Take your head piece down, remove 2 springs from the center and shorten your straps.”  Then, make sure you cue during the session!  Do this for all exercises!


  • While your clients are doing separate sessions in the same hour, you do want to try to tie them together at times.
    • Cue shared stability when possible.  Why not sometimes call out to all of your clients, “Everyone, pull your abdominals in and up!”
    • Finish the session at the same time either right next to each other or on the same exercise.  All levels can benefit from The Wall.  It’s a great way to end a session united!  Perhaps you have 2 clients who are both using The Magic Circle.  That’s a great united ending.  Maybe you have 2 clients who can both do Standing Chest Expansion off-side of the Cadillac.

It takes a lot of concentration and understanding of the Pilates method to teach mixed level semi-private sessions.  Whether it be 2, 3 or more clients at once, but it’s wonderfully rewarding for everyone!

*****Thank you for reading!  If you wish, please comment on this post or any other!  If you have any questions, please ask!  And if you have any Pilates topic you’d like me to blog about, please request!

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Group Classes – Multi-tasking the Multi-level Group Class Positive Cueing – Teach What To Do, Not What Not To Do!

22 Comments Add your own

  • 1. lloganpilates  |  April 15, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    TIming on this was perfect:) I usually have same level clients paired up but this week people shifted their schedules for one reason or another and so I had several mixed level sessions. Thanks for the reminder…they went fantastically

    • 2. theverticalworkshop  |  April 16, 2010 at 12:35 pm

      Lesley! I’m so glad you’re teaching multi level semis! Not to mention, I’m glad this blog was topical! Enjoy teaching!

  • 3. Alex  |  April 17, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Would it be okay to post some advice?
    Well more about possible options…hesitant too, as I could vey well be so wrong!

    • 4. theverticalworkshop  |  April 17, 2010 at 3:00 pm

      Hi, Alex! It’s always important to think really hard and make sure your advice is correct. People take advice and try it. We have to take great care. If you’re hesitant and want to pose it as a question, then perhaps together we can see if it works and can strongly send it out to the world of Pilates! Why not put it in a comment as a question and let’s work it out? Thank you!

  • 5. Alex  |  April 17, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    Hmm…how to do that!

    I have this cool “friend” right, they wanted their clients to be a bit more independant in the studio, but this particular couple Hanzel and Gretel had started together and had stayed together from their 1st session, they did there Mat together and then Ref together and then they did lets say….Roll Back & Breathing and then Maybe some Arms & Leg springs together, they realised that they were not really very independant and wondered what to do?
    They wanted to be gentle in the approach and thought that if once they had done their mat-ref that they might get Hanzel going on Roll back & Gretel maybe on breathing….together but apart if you like?
    They thought that they may not even notice that way, and then maybe after a while they might even start Hanzel on the Mat and Gretel on the Reformer?
    And then they got carried away and started saying they might then teach more Mat work to Gretel because they were quicker?
    A same level semi private if you like, but independant, but a softly approach for all concerned!
    I said it sounded like a Grimm story!
    So I said I would ask you what you thought?

    • 6. theverticalworkshop  |  April 17, 2010 at 6:12 pm

      First of all, you just made me laugh out loud! Not at you, by any means! Hanzel and Gretel! Fantastic!

      Never let it be said that a teacher doesn’t get wily from time to time. Alex…we’ve got to do whatever it takes (within the law, safety and good reason) to get our clients to grow! With that, I, too, have been known to start a couple who are strongly set on doing a workout completely together doing completely identical sessions. However, as they get stronger and I see what their individual needs are, I begin to alter the workout so that they get different versions of the same exercises (this is quite normal), different orders on the same apparatus (meaning that some exercises are omitted for one or the other client, yet they remain on the same apparatus and I have to watch my pacing) or work on different apparatus all together. In fact, this is exactly what you ought do with set duets/semi-privates!
      Couples often insist on doing everything together! So, I make sure I give them a bit of what they want combined with a lot more of what they need. With that, I mean that I might start them off together and then split them up and then bring them back together again. When you’ve all developed enough trust, they get involved enough in their workout enough and hardly realize that they’ve been separated for a while! Sneaky teachers we are!

      I always remember that clients have different needs during their sessions. Some want to work out and never utter a conversational word. Some want to talk and exercise at the same time (they need to talk or can’t get through it). Some want to just say that they are doing Pilates because it means something in their community. So, with semi-privates, we’ll find that if 2 people come in together specifically to work side by side…they may actually not come in if they can’t do just that. Even though we see that they need very different things in the session. So…we have to develop appropriate trust and get appropriately creative in our tactics to make sure while we are taking care of both what they want and what they need!

      How’s that Mr. Grimm?

  • 7. Alex  |  April 18, 2010 at 6:23 am

    Yup! Grimm’s really good with that…

    Happy he didn’t break the Law! Happier to not have spoken out of turn…

  • 8. linzrle  |  April 25, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    Shari!!! Thanks so much for this post. I have been hesitant to put two students together that are not at the exact same level, but so many people want to do duets these days, so this has come just at the right time. My question to you is if they continue to stay in duets and not do privates how do you progress one if the other is not ready for the same exercise….ie: take the time to teach a new exercise correctly and not take away from the other, more beginning client? Thanks!!!!

    • 9. theverticalworkshop  |  April 26, 2010 at 3:56 pm

      In a semi-private when you want to teach a client an entirely new exercise, if your client doesn’t want to do privates, then you’ll have to chose wisely and pace your clients appropriately. You simply cannot teach an exercise to one client that takes your concentration completely away from your other client. You must both be completely certain that you are aware enough as a teacher to teach a new exercise to one while you cue the to her and you have to make sure the timing of the session is such that your other client is doing an exercise that is utterly “old hat” to her so that you can be more focused on the new exercise. Remember, clients will always learn fewer new exercises when they work like this, but they will gain a lot of independence. You have to be wise, well-practiced and very safe to teach 2 at the same time at different levels. Practice.

      Lindsay, you will be practicing this in your Weekend #3, I believe!

  • 10. Scott  |  April 25, 2010 at 6:02 pm


    I love the way you’ve broken down the intermediate secondary stabilization cues into 4 categories…Could you expand upon them further.
    I feel very confident of my shoulder girdle and mid-line cuing. I use oppositional cuing more and more (although I wouldn’t mind any tips you have to offer).
    I am unclear of what you mean when you say square the box… Are you referring to rotation in the transverse plane? Lateral flexion in the frontal plane? Both? Or something else entirely?
    Also, no matter how I try, I just can’t seem to figure out a way to effectively teach people how to swan dive… I can do it well but when I try to explain how I do it… well, it doesn’t work for them.
    Thank you in advance for your thoughts and advice!


    • 11. theverticalworkshop  |  April 26, 2010 at 3:57 pm

      Scott, I will absolutely take some time in a future blog to talk about Stabilization. Understanding cueing is vital to teaching Pilates. Give me a little time to whip up some work on it!
      I owe you a phone call, too!

  • […] Teaching Mixed Level Semi-Private Sessions – Guidelines2010/04/14 […]

  • […] Teaching Mixed Level Semi-Private Sessions – Guidelines2010/04/14 […]

  • 14. M  |  February 18, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    I am in love with my mixed level classes. When I am feeling out of shape and/or haven’t had the good fortune to attend class in a while, I attend Level 1 classes (I’m not the only one in my studio that does this, LOL) — but as we get more warmed up in class the instructors give us the mixed level variations on the exercises, and never let us slack. There were four of us in class this morning and our instructor had the newer students doing one variation and us old hats doing another, on several exercises. They are very observant, so we get away with nothing. 🙂

    (I think that’s an excellent teaching skill, BTW, that ability to adapt on the fly. As an educator in the traditional classroom, I wish it were mandatory for educators of all stripes, though that’s a different rant.)

    Thank you for this post!

    • 15. theverticalworkshop  |  February 18, 2012 at 7:53 pm


      It’s very nice meeting you here!

      Thank you for letting me and this community of readers know your thoughts! I’m glad to know that what I write resonates with you!

      It sounds like you have some great mixed level classes and that you’re feel good in them! And…why not go to Level 1! The more advanced you get the more you can dig into the most basic of exercises! I applaud you for that!

      All the best!
      – Shari

  • 16. The Vertical Workshop's Pilates Teacher Blog  |  December 6, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    […] Teaching Mixed Level Semi-Private Sessions – Guidelines2010/04/14 […]

  • 17. Essentially Pilates  |  August 7, 2013 at 5:06 am

    Thank you for sharing this. It’s written so beautifully and clearly, and having just finished teaching a session with my intermediate client and her beginner friend, it’s really useful advice and pointers. You are so right about using their names as when I forget to do this, there’s a stream of ‘who me? or do you me or him?.

    • 18. theverticalworkshop  |  August 11, 2013 at 10:27 am

      I’m so glad that you found great use out of this! Thanks for checking it out…and applying the information!
      All the very best,
      – Shari

  • 19. Compassion | The Vertical Workshop's Pilates Teacher Blog  |  August 10, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    […] (Not to mention it is better for them and better for your business. A topic for another article:  teaching-mixed-level-semi-private-sessions-guidelines ) Did you have to cancel a day because you were sick? That has to be OK. Did you just have a bad […]

  • 20. Janet Tech  |  March 14, 2018 at 7:08 pm

    I am a small studio owner and have been teaching Pilates since 2000. Because of the limited space, I have 1 of each of the Pilates apparatus . Your article about duets and teaching all levels of clients at the same time doing diffirent apparatuses was so helpful!
    I have taught that way but not often, so it gave me courage! Thanks so much, your in good health,

    • 21. theverticalworkshop  |  March 14, 2018 at 7:31 pm

      Thank you for reading this piece and commenting! I’m really glad that this gives you extra confidence to go for it! This Sunday (18th of March 2018) I’m presenting a webinar on this material and will, of course, answer any and all questions. It will be recorded and available to any and all. Sounds like you may not need it! It’s such a vital set of skills!
      Thank you, Janet!
      – Shari

  • 22. Janet Tech  |  March 22, 2018 at 9:31 pm

    Great article on mixed level duets! Helps clarify, and give structure, to a possibly chaotic session! I have a small studio and can only teach duets by starting clients on diffirent apparatuses, Thank you it really helped me to enjoy teaching and my clients had a great workout. I love how this pushes the Teacher to recognize similar exercises On different apparatus ( Like chest expansion for example, standing at the end of the Cadillac, kneeling on Cadillac ,kneeling on baby chair standing with pedi-pull) I really have to plan the logistics of the session so that I can see my clients depending on the piece there on. It takes energy to teach it and it creates energy! Pretty exciting !


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