First Things First…

August 28, 2011 at 12:16 pm 10 comments

First Things First

Which came first – The Chicken or The Egg?  Well…this one is a conundrum.  But what about in Pilates?  Which cue first?

If you’re the sort of person who likes to teach Pilates, you’re probably a pretty detail oriented person.  You enjoy the challenge of coordinating many different and intricate actions in the attempt to balance your own body and mind…and then have the ability to see the imbalances in your clients…and want to “fix” them.  You love this so much that you almost see the errors of movement more than you see what’s working well…and just want to teach your clients everything that you know so that they can be “fixed”.

You are a good person!  You want to help.  You have a good eye and want to use it.  You cue the shoulders, the ribs, the abdominals, the hips, the length, the breath, the everything.

However…we have to make sure that we’re really doing our clients a great service.  And that means prioritizing.  First things first.  Literally.  First…get your clients moving in the shape of the exercise.  Next…cue only what’s necessary.

But what’s necessary?  Isn’t everything necessary?  Don’t we need to breathe, stabilize, lengthen, etc.?

No. (Said like the true Brooklyn-ite that I am…thank you for your enduring patience with my bluntness.)

We need to move our clients, first and foremost and then…what do you cue?  Well, we have cues of stability and cues of precision.  We need to cue the most important things first, make sure they can accept/utilize/do that action before we go and cue something else…the next most important thing.

Stability cues are those that encourage balance and steadiness of a joint by strengthening the muscles that surround the joint.  Cues for the abdominals, shoulder girdle, midline of legs (or other limbs), opposition, squaring of the box, etc.
Pull you abdominals in and up to lift your lower spine.
Open your collarbones.
Hug your heals to work your inner thighs.
Reach your sitbones forward and your abominals and lower spine back.
Precision cues are those that make the exercise look more ideal…the placement of body parts.
Curl your chest up higher to the tips of your shoulder blades.
Reach your legs lower to the middle of the wall.
Pump your arms bigger…4 to 6 inches above your abdominal wall.

While everything is important…not everything is important right now.  Your job as a teacher and what makes a big determination on how your client physically and emotionally progresses is what you choose to cue and how much effort you put into making sure positive changes actually happen.  You need to be specific, patient and repetitive.

You’ve got your client moving in the version of the exercise that is appropriate for her and then you cue…the abdominals and lower spine.  “Pull your abdominals in and up to lift your lower spine.”  Keep your client moving and working on the action of the exercise and this stabilization cue for the appointed number of repetitions and then move on.  That’s it.

If your client can accomplish the action of the exercise and this stabilization lower spine through abdominal strength and opposition/length (because that is what the cue “Pull your abdominals in and up to lift your lower spine” does), then you might find that you can cue some precision.  If your client is advanced enough, you might layer on another stabilization cue.  “Might” is the operative word.

First things first:  move your clients and get them into their abdominals to lift their lumbar spine.

Over time (and remember your clients are coming to you multiple times a week for a long time…or that’s what we hope), you will cue more and more because they will be able to do and coordinate more and more.  Take your time.

It’s remarkable to me how many instructors don’t cue the abdominals…and don’t  ensure that positive changes happen.  It’s stunning how many cues of shoulders, ribs and everything else is going on, but abdominals are popping out and exercises are failing…because we really have to just focus on one thing at a time.

Now, again, I know you love precision and are really great at seeing all of the things that  are “going wrong” in your clients’ bodies.  You want to fix them all.  Of course!  But you have to shelve most of the troubles and just deal with the most important things first.  Give your clients time to accomplish one thing at a time.  See the shoulders, the ribs, the other stuff…and hold off until your client is really ready to coordinate several different actions at once.  It really is a coordination.  And it really is an accomplishment to do one thing at a time…and really well.

When we cue too many things at once, our clients can’t accomplish what we’re asking.  We’re asking for too much.  So, our clients get frustrated and feel diminished.  We feel frustrated, too.  We’re asking for too much.

Beginner clients just need to move, connect to abdominals, discover their back bodies and get used to the apparatus.

Intermediate clients must maintain what they learned as beginners…and build on it one stabilizer at a time.

Truly advanced clients get many, many cues of stability and precision, but even they need them in a layering manner.  Cue one thing, then make sure they have done it…then cue another…make sure that happens, too.

Be patient and teach.

I just had a fantastic time in Istanbul teaching workshops at Pilates with Gerda.  As we were working on exercises, participants would say, “but what about the shoulders?”, but what about the ribs”?  And in all of my silly bluntness, I would say “I don’t care about the shoulders until her abdominals are in and up and she’s lifting her lower spine.  I see the shoulders.  I see the rest…but I have to make sure I take care of the most important parts first.”

I remember when I used to cue everything, too.  Oh, boy, did I feel like a great teacher!  It was how I was taught to teach.  My clients were sooo impressed by how much I could see and how little they were aware!  It was so delicious.  Well…it’s not delicious.  It’s too much.  It was how I was taught to teach and I proudly did it well, but it didn’t actually help my clients all that much.  They moved, they got stronger, but the results would have been so much greater if I had worked in the way I do now…in the way I am explaining.  When we go with one stabilization action at a time and repeat it over and over again (of course with different words, different images, different hands-on, different apparatus) and ensure that they “get it”, accomplish it, can repeat it and apply to other activities in their lives and each new exercise…then we are really teaching our clients something and not just instructing.  Big difference between teaching and instructing.

So…teach thematically.  You’ve heard me say before because it’s important and works.  First and foremost, make sure your clients are making an abdominal connection and create space in the lumbar spine.  Make sure you do, too!  Practice on yourself.  3 workouts a week where your one and only goal in every single exercise is to Draw Your Abdominals In and Up to Lift Your Lower Backbones.  Then give the same thing to your clients.  Every single exercise.

Then we can layer the next stabilizer on once that is a certain action…

What is the next stabilizer?  It depends.  We’ll discuss another time.  First things first.

****Thank you for taking the time to read this post and continue your education in this way!  If you have any questions, comments, etc…please drop me a note in the comment section.  Then read below about workshops coming your way or sessions.  Thank you, again!****

September 16-18 
I’m teaching on Saturday, September 17 from 1:30-4:30pm
Mr. Pilates’ Archival Mat and Standing Exercises
There are many more versions of Mr. Pilates’ exercises than we see today.  Variations, modification, combinations of multiple exercises in one!  Fascinating, challenging and all the rest!  These versions should not just live in the memories of those of us who had access to them years ago.  They ought to be living, breathing exercises for those who need the modification or challenge!  Experience this material, then teach it so we never lose track of these great exercises!
For more information and registration, go to:
September 24
NYC – Real Pilates
Archival Exercise:  Beyond The Everyday – 3-6pm – $120
(3PMA CECs pending)
Joseph Pilates created somewhere between 500-600 exercises. You know some of the repertoire…it’s time to learn more. In this workshop, you will learn you rarely seen and immediately useful exercises on multiple apparatus (Mat, Reformer, Cadillac, Wunda Chair, Standing Arm Springs) all created by Joseph Pilates. You’ll leave feeling confident in the purpose and technique of teach exercise, have time to do exercises, practice teaching and ask questions. You’ll walk away with your own special archive of exercises for your strong intermediate clients…and yourself!
To register go to  
October 20
CHICAGO – Body Endeavors/Chicago Pilates Collective
Sessions:  Privates and Semi- Private Sessions
More information to follow, but plan on afternoon and evening sessions and classes.
Contact Liv Berger for more information at LBERGER31@CS.COM 
or call 312.202.0028                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
October 21-23
I’m teaching on Saturday, October 22 from 1:30-4:30pm
Mr Pilates’ Archival Mat and Standing Exercises –
There are many more versions of Mr. Pilates’ exercises than we see today.  Variations, modification, combinations of multiple exercises in one!  Fascinating, challenging and all the rest!  These versions should not just live in the memories of those of us who had access to them years ago.  They ought to be living, breathing exercises for those who need the modification or challenge!  Experience this material, then teach it so we never lose track of these great exercises!
For more information and registration go to:

October 2 
Rhinebeck Pilates
Semi Private Sessions
Creative Spine Corrector Workshop
The Spine Corrector is one of the most underused yet extremely versatle pieces of equipment designed by Mr. Pilates. In this workshop, you’ll learn how to transform your Spine Corrector into one of the most useful pieces of apparatus in your studio!  You will learn how to do and teach an entire flowing workout/ session on the Spine Corrector as well as how to use just a handful of exercises to enhance a full workout.  With over 40 exercises, there’s a lot to work on and discover.  You will also learn how to organize the exercises, how to position the clients on the apparatus and where to be spot and cue the exercises as the teacher.  It’s surprising how special and important you’ll find the Spine Corrector.

Dates, times and rates coming soon!

Go to for more informaiton

November 5
Enhance Your Teaching Skills – 2:30-4pm
(3PMA CECs pending)
The more you teach, the more you need.  Great Pilates doesn’t come from more and more exercises.  Mr. Pilates created a set number of exercises in the classical Pilates Method.  We work within those exercises.  Great Pilates is about digging deeper and deeper in to the physical understanding of the Pilates Method.  In this workshop, Shari will teach you to see more of what you need to cue in your teaching.  We cue precision and stabilization in layers.  Develop your eye and your understanding.  If you do this, you will always be able to challenge your students as well as yourself for a lifetime of Pilates!

To register, contact Emilie at Re:AB at 212.420.9111 or by e-mail at

December 9-11
Boston, MA – Atelier Pilates (Somerville, MA)
Though it’s not set in stone, yet…it looks like we’re planning for the following:
All workshops will have PMA CECs…information to follow soon!

Friday, Dec 9
Trios 1:30, 2:30, 3:30, 4:30
Cost: $60.00 per person
Saturday, Dec 10
Workshop: Archival Mat and Standing Exercises
Cost: TBD
Class/Workout:  Mat with Archival Variations
Cost: $25.00 per person
Workshop:  Flow and Rhythm: Use your voice  to drive and command the session
Cost: TBD
Sunday, Dec 11
Workshop: Shoulder Girdle: A Delicate Balance
Cost: TBD
Class/Workout: Reformer on the Mat
Cost: $25.00 per person
Workshop: Great Groups and Sensational Semis
Cost: TBD
There will be a la carte pricing as well as full seminar discounted rate.     
To register or questions:
Payment will be checks made out to: Atelier Pilates
Mail to : Atelier Pilates
7 Landers St
Somerville, MA 02143
There’s plenty in the works…but on the books already:
June 2012 – London, ENGLAND – more information to follow!
***Please share this information and tell your Pilates teacher friends and colleagues to come on over for workouts and workshops that will get your Pilates-teaching-juices flowing.***
Again, these are not your typical workshops where you might get just one useful tidbit.  You will leave full of new teaching skills and ways to look at Mr. Pilates work.  You will have a new perspective on Pilates that will enliven your teaching and your own workouts!
Shall we set up something at your studio or the one you work at?  Clearly, I travel to teach and enjoy it!  Read below for more info!

Workshops in Your Studio:
If you are interested in my teaching workshops and/or semi-private sessions for your teachers at your studio, please contact me at  I’ll be thrilled to put together a program with you for your needs!

While my vocabulary is classical Pilates, the principles behind my teaching and workshops apply to every style of Pilates.

We have countless topics to play with within technique workshops of classical Pilates and teaching skills workshop that apply to all!

If you’re in NYC and want a Pilates session e-mail me at
And I’m at Purchase College (Near White Plains/Westchester, NY) on Thursdays.

If you’d like a workshop and/or semi-privates at your studio, e-mail me at  I travel all over the world and would be thrilled to come to you!

If you’d like to set up a meeting on the phone or in person to ask questions about teaching or building/maintaining your business, e-mail me at

Enjoy!- Shari

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Breathe. Breathe in, breathe out…just breathe. What’s The Point Of It All?!

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Marie  |  August 28, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Great post! I really agree. This is a topic I’ve been “working on” a lot the last year or so, because although I was taught to cue one thing at a time, I usually just got too excited and combined 3 or 4 corrections for each exercises. I do find, like you said, that people get very impressed with their lack of body awareness and with my “professionalism” when they get so many cues, and so for first time comers I try to give more cues than I normally would. This way they get more impressed by the precision of the method. On the next classes, I do try to focus on the abdominals almost entirely to make a quicker progress with stabilization.
    Anyhow, great point, thank you for this article and for stating this important principle so clearly!

    • 2. theverticalworkshop  |  August 30, 2011 at 9:45 am

      Thank you, Marie! I appreciate your perspective!
      – Shari

  • 3. Rachel Rothenberg  |  August 29, 2011 at 12:02 am

    Another great blog! I agree that newbies are overwhelmed with information from us and that the powerhouse engagement is the THE MOST important thing to master in the beginning. Recently I’ve acquired a couple clients who have had a number of abdominal related surgeries and thus lots of scar tissue. As a result, they can’t feel the abs pulling in and up. So I say “fake it until you make it because it will happen eventually.” The challenge is these clients tend to want to tuck even though I emphasize the need to stabilize your body/pelvis with tailbone on the mat and then pull the abs in to your low back/spine. I try everything! Pelvic floor, kegels and lengthen up your midline. Snap and zip, etc…Any tips or words of wisdom? I have one client who recently had twins plus other ab surgeries and came to me with no connection at all. While she continually progresses and actually sinks her abs in all or most of the exercises, she still can’t really feel it. She has some sensations and feels challenged but she’s not feeling that crazy connection that most clients feel who are practicing at her level. Would love your thoughts, Shari! Thanks so much for the ongoing education. Love it!

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

      Thank you for letting me know your thoughts! and…I hope I can help with these clients!

      Remember, these clients who want to tuck, even though you are cueing for the opposition of neutral pelvis simply aren’t strong enough, yet. They are telling you in action (not in words) that they simply can’t, yet. So…offer the cue, but don’t demand it. Keep getting them into their abdominals…but I encourage you to cue with more than “sink the abs” or “pull the abs into your low back”…because that misses the opposition. “In” is only one part of it. the easy part. It’s the “up” that’s going to give opposition, length and more movement. Cue “lift your abdominals in and up to lift your lower spine”. Interchange “lift” with any of the following: scoop, pull, draw. Go back and forth between all of these verbs. Add “wrap your abdominals around your waste and lift your waste high”. Really wordy cues, I know…but they work! Boy, do they work!

      Continue being patient, as I’m sure you are, and remember that neutral pelvis is only for people who can support it with abdominal strength and opposition. It is not for beginners. It’s for intermediates…true intermediates. Until someone has abdominal support…she is not an intermediate. So…I think these people just aren’t there, yet. They are beginners…even if they are beginners for a long, long time. They have different challenge than someone with normal abdominal support. They have scar tissue and neurological disconnect (that will generally reconnect…but it takes a long time).

      Now, just because these people are relaly beginners, doesn’t mean you only have to do beginner exercises with them. You can add some more intermediate exercises…but only ones that will help them get abdominal support and lower back length: Cadillac: Push Through; Wunda Chair: Pull Up, Push Down, Spine Stretch. Do these exercises every single session along with just the basic reformer work and basic mat work. End with The Wall or Standing Chest Expansion. These all give the extra actions of a down to get an up…and extra in and up!

      Let me know your thoughts, please!

      Thank you, again!
      – Shari

  • 5. Pippa  |  August 30, 2011 at 9:31 am

    Thank you for this blog Shari, as always ‘right on the money’! I taught 3 clients this morning, all basic, and stuck to the minimum cue ‘scoop your abdominals in and up and’…….whatever we were doing on the reformer and on any exercise that started sitting ‘scoop your abdominals in and up to lift the lower spine and’….. Well it worked wonders, I found it so hard not to add anything else, but boy did it work and all 3 clients commented on how much harder they had to work. I hope I am now on the road to getting rid of my ‘talkalates’ way of instructing and can now start teaching Pilates.

    • 6. theverticalworkshop  |  August 30, 2011 at 9:35 am

      Pippa! Boy, do you know how to put a smile on my face! Thank you for giving it a try…and being patient with yourself! Thank you!!!!!
      Please keep me posted!
      – Shari

  • 7. Dr David J Doperak (@AllStarChiro)  |  September 2, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    I love the special attention that’s paid to the spine – very important. Keep up the good work!

    • 8. theverticalworkshop  |  September 2, 2011 at 7:45 pm

      Thank you for your support, Dr. Doperak!

      All the best,
      – Shari

  • […] First Things First […]

  • 10. The Vertical Workshop's Pilates Teacher Blog  |  December 6, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    […] First Things First […]


Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Sessions via Skype

Would you like to do a workout, question/answer or mini-workshop session with Shari? Each week, Shari works with teachers all over the world via Skype. Email Shari at

Workshop Download – The Music of Pilates

Buy, Info, FREE Sample


Full info listed under “Workshop Calendar” at

EVERY DAY at your home:
The Music of Pilates

March 18 Webinar (with recording)

April 15 New York City, NY
27-29 Colorado Springs, CO

May 11-13 Seville, SPAIN
19-20 Atlanta, GA

June 22-24 Rio de Janeiro, BRASIL
16 Paris, FRANCE

July 20-22 New Orleans, LA

Aug 10-12 Boston, MA

Sept 21-23 Istanbul, TURKEY

Oct 12-14 Chicago, IL

Nov 2-4 Austin, TX

Dec 7-9 Venice, ITALY


(more soon to be posted with work online, recorded and in person)

EVERY DAY at your home:
The Music of Pilates

The Vertical Workshop

The Vertical Workshop Pilates

%d bloggers like this: