Independence: It’s fundamental to Pilates!

July 4, 2010 at 5:09 pm 19 comments

Independence in Pilates!

Happy 4th of July!  I promise this will be all about Pilates…this lead-in sets the stage:

Americans celebrate with backyard pool parties, rooftop beers and barbecues, lakeside picnics and seaside clam bakes all before the spectacle of fireworks lighting up the summer night sky, bringing the stars a little closer for one night.  It’s the epitome of American summer.  I do wonder how many people remember that it’s actually Independence Day that we celebrate on July 4th.  The one concept that ties Americans together as Americans.  We are a country of different religions, different motherlands, different races, but we have the same desire:  Independence!  Freedom to be whoever you wish; however you want, so long as you are not harming another who has the same rights as you in this country.

That’s mighty powerful!  Today we officially celebrate our Independence!  We can even honor those who actively did and do fight the wars as well as those who packed up everything they had and took a boat, plane or train or even walked or swam to get here!  Today is the official day of celebration, but we can celebrate this everyday in big and small ways simply by honoring this for ourselves and everyone we interact with directly or indirectly.

How does this relate to Pilates?! Mr. and Mrs. Pilates emigrated from Germany creating an indirect family of Pilates teachers, instructors and enthusiasts who have great liberties in life.  I can hardly imagine another country where Mr. Pilates’ method of body conditioning, Contrology, could have thrived so well as to become an international sensation and stronghold.  Perhaps it’s the capitalistic part of our particular democracy that gave it the ability to grow…no doubt…but here we are and I’m grateful!

Aside from this, Independence is a fundamental to Pilates.  It was Mr. Pilates’ intention that his students become independent in their workouts and lead physically independent lives.

It’s awfully tempting to work your clients in a way that encourages them to depend on you.  As a business owner, you are concerned about losing your clientele and want to make sure they need you.  I get it.  But…you do them a disservice if this is how you run your business.  The more independence you give your clients, the more you actually teach them to do for themselves, the more excited they get about their progress!  In fact, they will progress!  Human beings are intrinsically motivated when given the opportunity.  That means, they will move forward and take on tasks for no other reason than that it actually feels good to accomplish and learn and create!  They will stay in your studio because they feel accomplished!

When we teach our clients in a way that makes them more independent, they progress in their sessions making positive physical and emotional changes and ultimately want more Pilates…because it physically and emotionally feels great!  You’re developing a relationship with your clients that is built on healthy growth…this is the way to not only have a successful business, but a successful life!

How do you foster independence in your Pilates sessions?

  1. NAMES:  Call out the name of each exercise before you even set them up for it.  Once your client starts the learn the names, she will set up and get started on her own, eventually.  This makes for smooth transitions, saving time and allowing for teaching within known exercises (refinement of precision and cues for stabilization) as well as teaching new exercises.  Simply naming the exercises adds to the independence of your client!
  2. ORDER OF EXERCISES:  Maintain a consistent order of exercises in your session with each client.  When we teach classically, we use Mr. Pilates’ order of exercises on the mat and reformer.  They are repeated over and over again each session.  Sometimes we’ll start on the reformer, other times on the mat, to both challenge the body and mind in different ways, but we always keep the same order of exercises.  There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that this repetition helps the client become more independent simply by remember what comes next!
  3. SET UPS and REPETITIONS:  Eventually, your clients ought to learn how to set up each apparatus for each exercise and learn the number of repetitions for each exercise.  Please, by the time your client has had 5 sessions, start teaching him how to do the springs, footbar, headpiece, straps and long/short box on the reformer.  When the wunda chair enters the workout, teach your client how to do the springs.  When the cadillac/trapeze table becomes regular, teach that, too!  The more your client can do on his own when with you, the more freedom he’ll have later on.  Same thing with repetitions.  If your client starts to learn the number of repetitions, he’ll be able to do them at home on the mat or solidly in a semi-private session.  Briefly explain why there are only 3-5 repetitions or a maximum 10 for some.  (If you don’t know…ask me!)
  4. SEMI-PRIVATE SESSIONS:  It’s very tempting to teach private sessions only in your studio.  It seems easier to schedule, it even appears profit effective, but it is very controlling and limits your clients ability to become independent.  It creates an over-dependence on the teacher.  Your clients are economically elite, I understand, and they want what they want which is private sessions.  However, you’re the expert and it’s your job to teach them what they don’t know:  Private lessons alone are not the most ideal way of doing Pilates.  While they ought to start with private sessions and truly learn the foundation of Pilates eventually, they only need a private here and there.  Semi-private/shared sessions are where clients can truly progress in the mind and body.  We have to remember that Pilates is not just a mindless workout.  It’s intention is for a truly mindful workout…a workout of the mind as well as the body.  With that, when a client is fed loads of cues (verbal and hands-on) for the entire 55 minutes and never has to think for himself, then we are doing our clients a disservice.  During a semi-private, naturally, there are times when one client has more of the teacher’s attention than the other, allowing that other client the time to work on his own a bit.  A tremendous sense of accomplishment comes over a person when he can do something on his own!
  5. OPEN STUDIO:  When a client has achieved a strong intermediate level knowing the order of exercises, set ups and actions of each exercise, safety of each apparatus and actually knows enough of this to competently do a 55 minute session, allow your clients to do an Open Studio session.  At a reduced rate, let your clients sign up to work themselves out.  You ought to already have a card system that notates what exercises your clients do.  Let your client use that as a guide.  Of course, you keep your eye on that client as you are teaching your other scheduled session and make sure that safety measures are observed on each apparatus.  That is vital.  Your client must not do and Open Studio session when no one else is there or if there is no way that her safety can be observed.
  6. HOMEWORK:  Why not give your client homework to do.  Maybe not at first, but after the 3 sessions or so, give your client some mat exercises to do at home.  When your client is going away on vacation or out of town on business, give them a list of exercises or a small handout that explains a bit more so he can practice!  Did you read the article in the March/April 2010 PilatesStyle Magazine “Inner Strength:  How Pilates helped a wrongfully jailed woman stay sane in Iran”?!  It’s the story of Haleh Esfandiari who studied Pilates as a client for many years.  When she found herself in jail in Iran, she created a fitness regimen for herself.  She says that Pilates kept her sane…not to mention healthy!  Of course!  She remembered enough of her workouts that she was able to use it in the most awful situation!  There’s the extreme!  Let us never be in that situation, but, instead, find ourselves in a lovely inn on vacation and start each day with some Pilates!

And what’s the point of it all anyway?  Well, physical independence in life!  Of course!  My father’s parents were old at 65.  I remember my grandmother with a crutch and doctors appointments.  I remember her not being able to lift a box or bend to get a pot from under the counter let alone lift a grandchild or swim in the lake.  Everyone had to do everything for her.  As a little girl, I was so afraid that that might be my lot in life too!  I wanted to find a way to stay as physically independent as possible.  I believe Pilates is it!

Surely, there are many people who even with Pilates have physical struggles, but our chances of being able to maintain physically active lives are greater when we do this sort of exercise!  Mr. Pilates looked awfully vital through his 70’s and into his early 80’s until the fire that ultimately lead to his death.  Our Pilates elders are struttin’ along with strength and vitality…this bodes well for us!  I have clients who were growing more and more disabled by stiffness and weakness which in turn made them more and more afraid to move who once they started Pilates as a regular practice became more and more physically adept again and emotionally encouraged!  Let’s maintain our physical independence and that of our clients with Pilates!

Did you know that Mr. Pilates created the exercise “Going Up Front” on the High Chair for a woman who could no longer step up onto the city bus’ first step from the side walk?  Nowadays, buses “kneel” or tilt towards the sidewalk so it’s easier for older people to get on, but back-in-the-day, this hydraulic action didn’t exist.  So, Mr. Pilates created this exercise to strengthen her and now the rest of us to be able to take a huge step up!  INDEPENDENCE!

Please, encourage independence in your studio.  Teach your clients to do for themselves and let them grow!

****Thank you for reading!  Please take a moment to comment on this subject, just say hi, ask a question, request a topic for me to write about!  I’d love to hear from you!  If you’re in the NY area and would like to take a session with me, contact me at   If you’d like for me to come to your studio, whether near or far, to teach sessions and/or workshops, please, also e-mail   Again…Thank You!****

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Cues: A Handful of Great Ones Are All You Need “Success Story” – Pilates Style

19 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Body Workout 101  |  July 4, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    Independence: It's fundamental to Pilates! « The Vertical ……

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

  • 2. Judy Lynch-Hudson  |  July 5, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Hi Shari, Happy 4th.

    Great article for Independence Day and “Independence” for all in more ways than one. One of the reasons I love teaching Pilates is because to do Pilates correctly the client must completely own the exercise in his/her body and mind. You are so “right on” about the client should come back to you because they feel “accomplished” not dependent on you. However, as teachers don’t we all know the resistance met by some clients that want you to do the exercises for them. That’s when I graduate the private client pretty quickly to small groups (more profitable and better scheduling). An occasional private is still on the menu. But the energy of a group class is so different and can quickly motivate a client to own up to the work when they see everyone else in class doing it. A little friendly competition amongst students never hurt anyone and the resistant client almost always comes around for the better both physically and mentally.

    As a physical therapist assistant I’m all about giving clients/patients a home exercise program. I tell them if they don’t do their exercises at home I will be able to tell. This keeps the client/patient accountable. They’ll admit they did or didn’t practice but it keeps them honest. I give a very simple written mat program for home ie: hundered, roll up, leg circles,rolling ball and series of 5. That’s it. I advise to do it everyday because it only takes 6 minutes!! 6 minutes!! Thats All. Everyone can do 6 minutes of exercise. It’s portable you get results you don’t need equipment. Now that’s INDEPENDENCE with ACCOMPLISHMENT!

    • 3. theverticalworkshop  |  July 7, 2010 at 9:13 pm

      Hi, Judy!
      It’s great hearing from you! Thank you!
      It’s unbelievable what 6 minutes a day can do! Tremendous! And ultimately people start to want to do more and more!
      Independence with Accomplishment sounds fantastic!
      – Shari

  • 4. Kathleen Mangan  |  July 10, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    That was great Shari!
    Thank you, and I agree, aside from an awesome, challenging workout, clients are more accomplished in their sessions when they are the ones responsible for the workout’s results, not the just the instructors!

    • 5. theverticalworkshop  |  July 10, 2010 at 10:08 pm

      Hi, Kathleen! It’s so good to hear from you! I hope you’re well!
      – Shari

  • […] Independence: It’s fundamental to Pilates!2010/07/04 […]

  • 7. Marie  |  July 17, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    What a great post! I agree with every word.
    I used to practice Pilates for 4 years before deciding to study it as a profession. Until then, it was all private lessons, non-stop verbal cues, non-stop communications. At the time, I loved it, and until now I think the instructor was very good, and still take a class with her every once in a while. However, when searching for a teacher certification program, I tried a few places and I think what made my decision easy was the encouragement of independence, and through it – a deeper body-mind connection, from the first class.
    A rule of thumb I learnt during the certification program there: we try to use the first 2-3 repetitions for choreography, breathing and tempo, focusing on one specific cue. Then we give the client 2-3 more repetitions for working on his own, even on a private session. Moreover, on the second session a client takes with us we already explain how to connect the springs and other settings, as well as starting to clarify names and orders. On the third session, the client already sets the equipment on his/her own (this is still under private supervision, of course). We then encourage the client to start shared sessions as soon as possible. The pace in which clients learn to work independently, and more importantly – with focus and personal engagement, is so much faster this way! And it sure gives them a great deal of self-confidence straight on.

    Again, thank you for this post and the others (recently discovered your blog and I enjoy reading through it and learning so much!). I hope to meet you in person one day, though it’s gonna be at least a year before I have the chance to come to the US..

    • 8. theverticalworkshop  |  July 17, 2011 at 6:45 pm

      Thank you! I’m always glad to hear that this blog is effective for teachers! Thank you for letting me know!

      I hope to meet you in person, someday, too! What city and country are you in? Perhaps I’ll be nearby soon! I post my workshops both on my blog (after the article) and newsletter. I’ll add you to my newsletter mailing list.

      Until we meet in person, I hope to “see” you here! Please, if you find you have any questions about Pilates (any at all), just ask me! You can post a comment or e-mail me directly requesting an article topic.

      All the best, Marie!
      – Shari

      • 9. Marie  |  August 28, 2011 at 1:08 pm

        (late to respond, but better late than never)

        I’m from Israel, currently living in Jerusalem (originally from near Tel-Aviv). I’m probably going to be in the States next summer, so I will e-mail you before that to see where you are. Until then, as you said – I am here!

      • 10. theverticalworkshop  |  August 30, 2011 at 9:44 am

        I absolutely look forward to meeting you when you are in The States! Please do come by NYC and say hello!
        – Shari

  • 11. Donna Longo  |  August 7, 2011 at 8:45 am

    Hi Shari,
    I enjoy reading your posts. Your explanations are useful. Regarding this article, I would love to hear your explanation on why few repetitions are important.

    • 12. theverticalworkshop  |  August 8, 2011 at 10:20 pm

      Hi, Donna!

      I was just thinking about you as I was down the Jersey Shore teaching in Avalon. There was a lovely teacher there who had come to the workshops at your studio!

      Thank you for reading these posts…and letting me know that they are useful! I’m glad to give you my thoughts on why few repetitions are important:

      In Classical Pilates, we do a limited number of repetitions of each exercise because…
      1 – We work the entire body in every exercise. So there is no need to spend many repetitions on one movement. That body part that is focused on in one exercise will still be used in another exercise.
      2 – When a muscle group tires, it is less efficient. While all exercises work the full body, since there is a focus to each, we don’t want to tire that muscle group. Let’s do only a number of repetitions where the exercise executed as ideally as possible. When muscles tire, there is a build up of lactic acid. We work to eliminate the opportunity for lactic acid build up which shuts down muscles making them less useful that moment and days later. Pilates aims to give more ability, not less ability to the body.
      3 – Pilates is not spot-training. Again, since the entire body is worked in every exercise, there is no need to stay on one exercise to work that particular muscle group more. Full body exercise is what crafts a healthy body…even seemingly “troubled spots”.
      4 – Quite naturally, the mind can only stay focused for a relatively short period of time on the same thing. We only do a number of repetitions that the client can stay present in every repetition. It must be conscious exercise every repetition. Let’s not get bored!
      5 – If you want to do more repetitions to try to get the exercise “correct”…resist the desire. If you can’t “get it” today…then you simply won’t get it today. Your body and mind are not ready to accept it, yet. Even a day away from a particularly tricky exercise allow the mind-body connection to strengthen. The next time you return to that exercise, you might find that you accomplish it more completely already. And if not…that’s fine. It just takes time.

      That’s pretty much the gist of it!

      Please let me know if that resonates and if you have any questions or thoughts about it!

      Thank you for asking, Donna!

      All the best!
      – Shari

  • 13. Donna Longo  |  August 9, 2011 at 8:47 am

    Thanks Shari,
    That all fits with my thoughts. I knew Joe Pilates said lactic acid was “poison” to the body, but your reasoning why, makes sense. I’ve been working with a learning center called Brain Balance, I’ll tell you more about that later, but what’s interesting is they agree that few repetitions of varying exercises performed regularly is key to achieving the best results. Apparently, it helps to create more connections and pathways in the brain and the minute you do more than 5 repetitions, that brain/body connection is lost.
    Thanks again.
    Hope to see you soon,

    • 14. theverticalworkshop  |  August 12, 2011 at 9:50 pm

      How interesting! It’s always great when multiple sources chime in with the same information.
      I’d love to hear about Brain Balance. Drop me an e-mail or give me a call?
      I hope to see you soon, too!
      – Shari

  • […] Independence: It’s fundamental to Pilates!2010/07/04 […]

  • […] I wrote about July 4, 2010 in the Independence:  It’s Fundamental to Pilates found here:  That article is all about how we must curate a sense of independence in our clients’ […]

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

    […] Independence: It’s fundamental to Pilates!2010/07/04 […]

  • […] It’s Independence Day here in America and I always consider what this means in relation to Pilates. As I’ve written before, Mr. Pilates wanted to encourage independence in the studio. That his students wouldn’t rely on the teachers for everything, but for only what they need. That piece was many years ago and can be read here: Independence: It’s Fundamental to Pilates! […]

  • 19. Mike  |  August 18, 2017 at 2:47 am



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