Positive Cueing – Teach What To Do, Not What Not To Do!

April 16, 2010 at 5:12 pm 17 comments

“Don’t arch your back!”

“Don’t bend your knee!”

“Don’t collapse!”

“Don’t lift your shoulder blades!”

Don’t Don’t Don’t!  I hear a lot of Don’ts in studios all around the world.  Where are the Do’s?  Where is the teaching?  You’re job as a teacher is to teach what to do, not what not to do!

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon or even a quality teacher to see what’s wrong and point it out.  This goes for Pilates or anything else in the world.  It doesn’t even take any ability to say what would have been right.  What makes a teacher; what separates a real teacher from just another instructor is the one who can tell a client what to do and how to get there!  True teaching is a positive art form.

If I have an ounce of quality in me, I’d better get to teaching you how, right about now!

As I always declare, you must know the Pilates method so well in theory and in continual practice on your own body and on clients that when you teach a Pilates session you can figure out what your client needs to actively do to approach achieving the ideal of a Pilates exercise.  Remember it’s not important that your clients actually do each exercise in its ideal form.  It’s not important that your clients get it “perfectly” (that is impossible).  What is important is that your clients are working appropriately toward an ideal of an exercise because in that journey, she will develop the stability, strength, stretch and stamina to create a healthier more balanced body and mind.

If you know this method so very well, when your client requires cues either of precision or stability, then you will be able to tell your client what to do.  Yes, that is the job of a teacher…tell what to do:  teach.

When a teacher instructs by using “don’t” there is rarely the follow up of “do”. It’s common to teach in negatives.  It’s easy to see what’s going wrong.  Most of your dance teachers, sports coaches and more told you what not to do and then left it up to you to figure out what you’re supposed to do.  It’s only natural to teach the way that you’ve been taught.  So, teaching in negatives is a common habit.  But why should the non-expert (the student/client) have to figure out what to do when the expert (the teacher/instructor/coach) ought to have all of the answers.  When we teach our clients, the purpose of the session for them is not critical thinking (that is how we teacher trainers teach our apprentices).  When we teach our clients, the purpose of the session for them is a physical endeavor.  Mental, too, but not an intellectual endeavor of a teacher.

Here is an example:

Your client is on the mat doing Single Straight Leg Stretch/Scissors in the Abdominal Series.  If you say, “Don’t  bend your knee!”  Your client now has to figure out what to do.  She knows what not to do, but she has to go and expend the extra effort of figuring out what to do.   You might think that it’s absolutely obvious what she ought to do.  She’s got to straighten her leg.  Then I wonder…why didn’t you say that in the first place?  Why did you make your client need to figure it out for herself when it is your job to figure it out for her.  Tell your clients what to do.

Here is another example.  Perhaps one that is less obvious:

Your client is doing “The Round” on the Short Box.  As your client is rounding backwards you see that her lower back/lumbar is arching.  You say, “Don’t arch your back”.  Again, I say that this is not teaching.  You must tell what to do.  She doesn’t it again and you say, “Round your back”.  That’s better!  Sure!  Far better, but I bet you can do better than that.  I bet you can really teach.  What if you say, “Lift your abdominals in and up to lift your lower back.  Then curl your tailbone forward as your round your lower back backward in opposition.”  WHOA!  That’s a lot of effort…for both of you!  That effort from you is quality teaching.  The return will be quality movement from your student!  Her body will change in the manner in which she wanted and everyone will be satisfied!

You’ve got to invest yourself in your teaching.  If you find yourself saying, “Don’t…” in your session, then finish your phrase, but immediately follow it up with “Do…” and effectively teach your client.  It’s pretty simplistic.  It just takes a little bit of effort.  Ultimately, you give yourself and your clients the gift of a lot of effort by truly figuring out exactly what needs to happen to make the exercise work for the client…or make the client work for the exercise!

Do teach!  Do make the effort!  “Do” is so very encouraging and empowering for both client and teacher!  None of us like to be told “don’t”!


****Thank you for reading!  Please add your comments, ask questions and/or request a future blog in the comment box below!  Your input is important to me!  Have fun teaching Pilates!****

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17 Comments Add your own

  • 1. laura robbins  |  April 16, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    Love it! Love it! Shari, write a book already! PPQ. Positive Pilates Queing. & break down each exercise as to what to que, what could go wrong & how to positively change it…there could be individual books for each apparatus, a series of flash cards for teachers & trainees for study / brush up! Common girl! More! More!! Xo Laurà

    • 2. theverticalworkshop  |  April 16, 2010 at 6:58 pm

      Laura! Thank you for the encouragement!

  • 3. Megan Berry  |  April 16, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    Wow, love it! I feel like I had a pilates session just reading it. Wonderful. Thanks, Shari! I feel lucky to know about your blog- can’t wait for the next installment.

    • 4. theverticalworkshop  |  April 16, 2010 at 8:27 pm

      Megan, that’s so kind of you! Thank you for taking the time to read this and comment! I look forward to more! All the best!

  • 5. Troy  |  April 16, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    That’s some terrific blogging and great pedagogical advice. I taught kids for many years and it’s the same. A simple example: instead of saying “don’t run inside the classroom,” say “walk inside the classroom.” They know what to do then. Once when I said, “don’t run in the classroom,” they started jumping!! So I quickly learned that I had to tell them exactly and precisely what I wanted them to do.

    • 6. theverticalworkshop  |  April 17, 2010 at 11:57 am

      Kids make it so clear for us! You’re so right!

  • 7. mem  |  April 17, 2010 at 11:19 am

    thanks for a very good post. I had been taught all this, but it’s so easy to slip into the “don’ts”…. thanks for the reminder!

    • 8. theverticalworkshop  |  April 17, 2010 at 11:56 am

      Thank you for reading and commenting! Have a great weekend!

  • 9. Jodi Brinkman  |  May 23, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Shari, I agree with Laura (1st comment), PLEASE write a book for positive cueing!

    I catch myself saying “don’t” often, and immedietly follow up with “do’s”, as well as a lot of praising when it get’s DONE. You are absolutely right that teaching how to DO is an effort, but it’s that effort that separates us from just another instructor. I never want to do anything half-a$$ed, I’d rather be asleep. I could say a lot more here, but would rather read some of your older posts.

    Thanks again! Jodi

    • 10. theverticalworkshop  |  May 26, 2010 at 10:57 am

      Hi, Jodi!
      Thank you for the resounding vote of confidence! Cueing is where it is at! Positive, appropriate cueing! I’m on it!

      You’re only human that the “don’t” cue wants to come out before the “do” cue. It takes a quick turn around in your mind to put the “do” into your phrase and skip the “don’t”. You can do it! You’re correct: It takes effort to teach well! It’s amazing, though, how a little bit of effort goes a very long way!

      – Shari

  • 11. Alex  |  October 7, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    So a client asked me a direct question today!
    Direct questions give so much away, tells you so much more about whats going on, but the best bit is, she made me think, and I have thunk, and now I am here!

    Me; Try not to rush! (or “don’t” rush through it) she’s always in a rush, but I love that energy, its precious!
    Me; Try to flow through it (or “do” take a little more time) she just can’t wait to finish the race, and I can’t take that zing away from her!

    30 mins in she say’s “Whats the difference between rushing and Flow”?
    Now I know the difference, In me, I can see it in her, but I don’t think I answered her properly, and we were busy in her session!

    Its a simple question, and the answer could probably be discovered by her in time, but shouldn’t I have been able to answer then? irrespective of her knowledge and maturity in pilates!

    I couldn’t and may still not be able to put it into context for her!


    • 12. theverticalworkshop  |  October 7, 2010 at 3:40 pm

      Hi, Alex,
      It’s OK that you didn’t know that answer to what the difference is between rushing and flow. It’s great that you’ve asked!
      I’m going to write a piece about Flow right now. I hope you will find it interesting and that it might help clarify for you.
      May I include the comment you wrote to kick it off?
      – Shari

  • 13. Alex  |  October 7, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    errrrrrm…..only if you make me seem less dumb than I look?

    oh looky looky, you already did….lol!

    hope you didn’t rush through it….

    • 14. theverticalworkshop  |  October 7, 2010 at 4:40 pm

      1 – You’re not dumb!
      2 – Thank you!
      3 – I just got on a roll!

  • […] Positive Cueing – Teach What To Do, Not What Not To Do!2010/04/16 […]

  • […] Positive Cueing – Teach What To Do, Not What Not To Do!2010/04/16 […]

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

    […] Positive Cueing – Teach What To Do, Not What Not To Do!2010/04/16 […]


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