Gym Mentality: How to Win Over the Gym Pilates Client

June 4, 2010 at 9:29 pm 19 comments

A gym full of Side Plank - 3. pilates and body mind konvencija Zagreb, Croatia (photographer unknown)

I don’t doubt that there will be many people who disagree with me, but I think the issue in “winning over” the gym client lies in the hands of the gym owner and staff, the gym Pilates studio manager and the gym Pilates teacher.  The issue is not the gym client.  The client responds however he or she is taught to respond by the gym, manager and teachers.  I’ve heard a lot of talk over the years about the struggles of teaching in gym.  I think these struggles are possible to overcome.

With that, I’m not saying it’s not a tough nut to crack, but it can be done!

First of all, it’s important for a gym/club that has Pilates to actually know what Pilates is, value it and advertise it to its clients.  If a gym is going to have Pilates, it must find it worthy.  It seems that many see Pilates as an awful nuisance that ought to be hidden in the back corner of the basement or the farthest reach in the upstairs.  Some gyms are thrilled to have Pilates, know what it’s about, want to have their clients benefit from it, know that it is a draw for clients, etc.  A lot of gyms want the cache of saying they have Pilates, but don’t promote because they don’t understand it and think that it will conflict with their personal training.

Those gyms that think it will conflict with their personal training unfortunately don’t see the bigger picture.  They only see that a client can afford 3 personal training sessions a week.  If 1 or more of these training sessions goes to the Pilates studio, then some gyms fear there are fewer funds available for the personal trainers in the weight and other fitness areas.  They are more willing to have mat classes than Pilates studios with sessions.  And then dismiss the studios if they have them.

How do you get around this closed way of thinking?  You’ve got to work really hard to educate the general manager and owner of your gym.  Don’t be shy.  This is your passion and your job.  Your livelihood!   You’ve got to go talk with them and then give them Pilates sessions.  Yes, free sessions, but it will pay off in the long run!  And you’ve got to be a great Pilates teacher.  You’ve got to know how to teach strongly to men and women and vigorously as it was designed because that actually does fit in a gym setting.

A lot of people have the mistaken notion that Pilates is stretch class or yoga and feel that it is too light to be considered a workout that satisfies a gym person.  Maybe that’s because that’s how it’s being taught:  light and airy.  Remember that Pilates was created by a man for men.  A German man for German men.  It’s Contrology that was created by a German man for German men.  And you know what?  (Forgive me.) The way that Contrology has been turned into Pilates is, indeed, often too light and airy and not going to appeal to men who run a gym and therefore men who go to a gym.  Pilates exercise are often taught with the flair of a dancer or the peace of a yogi, but that was not the initial intention.

So, you’ve got to be able to teach Pilates the way it was intended:  as a strong workout!  You’ve got to be physically strong, teach with confidence and command, use lower registers of your voice and have the through line of solid, muscular workout in each session.

Go to the owner and general manager and teach them the way Mr. Pilates intended!

It’s actually the Pilates studio manager at the gym who needs to have the strength to go to the owner and general manager.  And he or she has to truly be the type who is more than just a Pilates teacher, but a leader.  Not a leader because she likes the title, but a true leader who knows how to work with people, create a healthy atmosphere, coral clients of the gym into the studio, excite the gym’s personal trainers about Pilates and more!

The Pilates studio manager has to be able to put together a presentation that shows the true value of Pilates to the gym and personal trainers.  She has to demonstrate the value to everyone and not give up.  I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard a manager complain about the gym and how they are so terrible!  If you don’t feel you can do anything about and are unwilling to truly do everything under the sun, then get out and give the job to someone who can do something.  Until then, do everything you can to make it happen for your studio!  Believe in Pilates and get them to believe it, too!  With that, if you really, really have tried everything that you can imagine and they still won’t value Pilates, but are insistent in having at the gym, I also suggest getting out because you are in a losing battle with people who will never value what you hold so dear.

As for the teachers, I share the same sentiment:  Believe in what you do and do it really well and you will have clients.  You must not teach “Pilates-lite”, as I call it, which, as I mentioned before can be mistaken for yoga (which I love and practice on my own, but is not Pilates) or stretch class or dance (I am a dancer, so I’m not knockin’ it).  Again, you must teach with the strength of a man as though you are teaching men even if you are a woman teaching women.  The entire Method comes to life and light if you do.  If you teach flowery and dancer-like as though every person is delicate, then Pilates does not belong in the gym and they are correct.  Men, you have to watch out for this, too.  Just because your client is a woman doesn’t mean that she doesn’t need strength.

It’s all about strength!  Pilates is a strength training program.  It strengthens your body and mind.  You’ve got to “dig in” with  your teaching.  I’ll repeat:  You’ve got to be physically strong, teach with confidence and command, use lower registers of your voice and have the through line of solid, muscular workout in each session. The moment you notice yourself being light and dainty (this is for men as well as women), you have to replace it with strong and commanding.  That doesn’t mean harsh, angry or rude.  It means strong.  Command with kindness.  Light and dainty belongs elsewhere…not in a Pilates studio whether it be in a gym or a dedicated Pilates studio.

You can train your gym clients in the gym Pilates studio very successfully.  You have to be strong and confident with both management and clients.  Pilates teachers are highly specialized personal trainers.  That’s what we are.  Go in there and train your clients!

****Please take a moment to comment on this blog or just say hello!  I am grateful that you’ve read this post and perhaps have read other posts of this blog.  I’d love to know who you are, what you think, what you need in this Pilates world.  Comment, ask questions, etc.  Thank you!!!****

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19 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Linda Slater-Gilbert  |  June 4, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    This article reflects my belief system and it comes at just the right moment in my professional career.

    Thanks so very much!

    • 2. theverticalworkshop  |  June 4, 2010 at 10:32 pm

      Thank you for reading and commenting!
      Are you saying you teach in a gym and sometimes face this? What in particular?
      – Shari

  • 3. Kate Donahue  |  June 4, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    Hi Shari, You’re a great writer and always provide good information along with a pep talk….thanks coach!!!

    • 4. theverticalworkshop  |  June 4, 2010 at 11:36 pm

      Thank you, Kate, for reading and commenting and encouraging me! We all need pep talks! Thank you!
      – Shari

  • 5. theverticalworkshop  |  June 6, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    Judy Lynch Hudson and Mary Lyon wrote to me separately commenting on this post. I’ve copy/pasted them here for you all to read:

    Judy Lynch Hudson wrote: The gym client is a tough nut to crack. I agree with you Shari that the client responds to how they are trained and who they are trained by. Clients love their trainers and are very loyal to them. How do we change the mentality of the gym trainers and will gym trainers cross over to be authentic Pilates teachers? Not many are so least the ones in my area.

    Mary Lyon wrote: Hi Shari, I was one of those Gym clients for years before I started Pilates. One thing you really need to do with them is to keep them moving. Less talk and more action. I throw some fundamentals in from time to time after they are ready to slow it up a bit. I’ve had up to 27 clients in one mat class, that’s when it gets a little crazy but still fun!!

  • 6. Karen varacek  |  June 13, 2010 at 10:34 am

    Hi Shari. Please keep bloging. I have a small studio that is conected to my house. I tack my own weekly lesson from Kara Wiley. People like you and her keep me inspired and help me to be a better teacher!

    • 7. theverticalworkshop  |  June 15, 2010 at 10:01 pm

      Hi, Karen! Thank you! I will keep blogging, indeed! Knowing that this is effective means a lot to me! – Shari

  • 8. playfit  |  June 19, 2010 at 6:03 am

    Great post, very interesting concept. You make a good point that all the factors need to come into play.Fitness is essential part of our life.It depends on the service you get.

  • 9. Porscha  |  June 23, 2010 at 3:23 am

    Excellent post! I sometimes feel like a bit of a drill sargent in front of my classes or with my private clients. I was with a client who had never done a lick of exercise in her life except for the twice a week sessions she has with me. One morning, while going though Swimmer Prep she totally gave up and wailed, “I can’t! I can’t!” To which I stubbornly replied, “There is no ‘can’t’ in Pilates. You can and you WILL.” She ended up succeeding in it beautifully and I gave her so much praise for it. People don’t pay Pilates instructors to coddle and baby them. If anything, most people pay for the one-on-one attention because they want the trainer’s full attention, discipline and accountability. You can’t do that in an airy-fairy voice portraying Pilates as a fluffy exercise programme.

    • 10. theverticalworkshop  |  June 23, 2010 at 10:41 am

      Hi, Porscha! Thank you, again, for reading and commenting and asking questions! You give us an opportunity for a great conversation!

      It’s amazing, isn’t it amazing how our clients might think they can’t do something…they defeat themselves, but we can encourage them to do it…then they do…and they are changed…for the better! When we realize that we have greater ability than we thought…we get stronger physically, sure, but mentally, emotionally, spiritually! That’s a lot of what Pilates is about!

      I caution you and everyone else on the “drill sergeant” persona in teaching. We must “command with kindness”, rather than drill our students. Even though I suggest strength in teaching, we have to watch out for cruelty. Our clients are adults and come to us willingly. It’s only Pilates. This is not the army. So…let’s get our clients to do more than they believed they could by not letting them give up, by letting them prove it to themselves, but we have to watch out for how drilling we are!

      Of course, I have not seen you teach…so I’m just using your statement as a good opportunity for me to discuss this! I don’t doubt that you are a generous soul and your clients probably giggle on the inside the more tough you get!

      Pilates mustn’t be “fluffy”, indeed, but it’s also not bootcamp. There is a balance!

      Thank you for giving me a chance to speak to this subject!

      Please write more soon!
      – Shari

      • 11. Porscha  |  July 4, 2010 at 10:38 pm

        Absolutely! I think Pilates is so wonderful in the way people surprise themselves with their ability. I have a male client with a history of back injury and has felt very restricted over the last few years regarding exercise. We’ve only had a few sessions together and during our most recent session, we worked a bit more on his balance.

        I had him assume the Seal position and simply balance with his feet up for one slow breath and then return to sitting after that. Before he tried it, while I was explaining and demonstrating he said, “I don’t think so, Porsch. my body doesn’t do that.” But I knew flexibility and his sense of balance wouldn’t be an issue for the position. He ended up doing it in such beautiful form and was so amazed! I have to say that helping people feel good about and amaze themselves has to be the most gratifying experience as a Pilates instructor.

        Oh, and no one really takes me seriously when Sargent Porscha comes out. I’m a tiny, curly-haired Californian in a world of Aussie Blokes (I live in a mining town). I just used the example in my previous comment to show how we sometimes need to push and motivate our clients past the “I can’t” stage and then celebrate with them afterward.


      • 12. theverticalworkshop  |  July 7, 2010 at 9:17 pm

        Hi, Porscha!

        It’s great to hear from you, again, thank you!

        Thank you for your real-life example! In this particular realm of psychology, there are two kinds of people: Those who believe that there is a limit to learning and growth and those who believe that anything is possible and able to be learned. We face these two sorts every day and find that it our duty and joy to allow them to teach themselves to become the latter who believe and then do. We give them the opportunities and if they are willing to take these opportunities their entire worlds change!

        Sergeant Porscha, I look forward to meeting you!

        – Shari

  • 13. Jen P  |  July 13, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Hey Shari…. I LOVE WHAT YOU WROTE! I say that STRONGLY, and MANLY! 🙂 Seriously, I really appreciate your thoughtfulness and direction in this blog. Please keep them coming! Thanks, and hope to see you again soon,
    Jen P

    • 14. theverticalworkshop  |  July 13, 2010 at 2:20 pm

      Hi, Jen!
      Thank you! (I also say that very strongly…even manly-like!)
      I hope to see you again soon, too! Will you be at the PMA conference? I’m teaching mat classes this year and will also be staying a day or so longer to teach private and semi-private sessions at local studios. Hope to see you!
      – Shari

  • 15. Nityda  |  July 17, 2010 at 9:11 am

    Hi Shari.

    I am just now getting to this post but I think that it is excellent. I actually teach mat classes of about 35 yoginis/yogis at a big name yoga studio in Manhattan, but even there, I don’t speak with fluff. That doesn’t really work when you are asking people to hold their roll downs at the earthquake zone. I think firm direction mixed with lightheartedness, humor and encouragement is key.

    Soon I am about to start training private clients at an upscale gym that offers every new member a free 30 min session. I’m aware that in that session you have little time to “sell Pilates” to these clients, which can be challenging. This article came just in time for me. Thank you.

    Btw, I know your student Lindsay Lopez (although we’ve never met in person) and I may just be contacting you for a lesson soon. 🙂

    • 16. theverticalworkshop  |  July 17, 2010 at 9:52 pm

      Hi, Nityda!
      Sounds like you’re doing great and bringing Pilates to a lot of people! Wonderful!
      And I’m thrilled that the timing of this article is right on for you! Please let me know how it goes!

      I’d be thrilled to see you in the studio and do sessions. Please contact me at to set something up. It would be great to work with you!

      All the best and thank you, again!
      – Shari

  • […] Gym Mentality: How to Win Over the Gym Pilates Client2010/06/04 […]

  • […] Gym Mentality: How to Win Over the Gym Pilates Client2010/06/04 […]

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

    […] Gym Mentality: How to Win Over the Gym Pilates Client2010/06/04 […]


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