Doing Wrong To Get To Right?

December 12, 2011 at 9:13 pm 9 comments

Many teachers ask me if it’s OK to teach a “wrong” action for a while just to get the “picture” or shape of an exercise and then correct the action later on.  I always say “No.  It’s OK to teach incorrect actions just to get the shape of an exercise”.  Here’s why:

I totally understand that we want our clients to feel accomplished.  We want our clients to move forward, advance, get better…advance.  But what is our judgement of advancement?  What is true accomplishment?

We’ve got to teach correct actions correctly the first time.  I learned that statement many years ago when I was training to be a teacher trainer with Bob Liekens.  I’ll say it again:  Teach Correct Actions Correctly The First Time.  It makes sense on a just the most straightforward level, but even more so when you study and understand how people learn.

Whatever we learn the first time…is what is imprinted in us neurologically.  Literally.  Neurological connections and pathways are set by what you learn the first time.  Unlearning is impossible.  Relearning is challenging, but possible.  It’s such a challenge that many don’t or can’t do it.  And this isn’t just with Pilates…it’s with everything.  Everything.

Wouldn’t it be better to learn the correct thing the first time.  The best thing the first time?  That doesn’t mean that your client is going to be able to do it “perfectly” (ever), but at least the imprint will be one that is positive.

Try unlearning squeezing your seat (or glutes or butt) or narrowing your sit bones.  It’s an incorrect action action (I apologize to those who do this and don’t mean to disparage or alienate you…we can discuss this in another blog and in person in workshops.  I am certain I can share with you why this is a troubled action).  The challenge of disengaging your glutes is formiddable.  Wouldn’t it be great if you had never been taught to do this in the first place?

The two particular instances where teachers have asked if it’s OK to do “wrong” to eventually get to “right” have been this:

1 – In doing a thigh stretch of sorts, perhaps the third part of the Front Splits on the reformer when one knee is down on the carriage mat with foot against the shoulder block and the other knee is up with foot on the footbar.  Some esteemed colleagues asked if it’s OK to push the hips/pelvis forward to get the stretch by squeezing the glutes.  I said “Nope.  Because then the stretch is missed.  It needs to come from lifting the abdominals and lumbar spine to rotate the pelvis more into a neutral position relative to the kneeling leg, thusly engaging the hamstring of that leg, too.  If you take the cheap way of the quick fix by squeezing the glutes, the actions that will result in a healthy open stretch won’t occur.”  They said that they would get to the abdominals, spine and hamstrings eventually, but that they just want to give this exercise, now.  I said something like “then cue the correct actions the first time and even though the image won’t be ideal, the action of the stretch will be more ideal.  It will take a long time to unlearn the quickie version that you’ve taught.”

Does that make sense to you?  You see…if this person can’t do the correct actions even in the slightest bit, then hold off from that particular exercise and find another way to stretch the quads and hip flexors until the client can actually achieve the exercise on a basic level with correct actions.  No quick-fixes or fast-lanes.

2 – Another question from another dear colleague was about shoulder blades.  This teacher was learning from me how shoulder blades are meant to roll up and back on the rib cage rather than anchor them down away from the ears.  (Yes, if you cue pull or anchor your shoulders down…we have a future conversation to look forward to…  It is a bio-mechanically incorrect action for most of Pilates and life.  Again, not meant to disparage, I look forward to sharing the actions of the shoulder girdle.)  He said that it’s just easier to teach the anchor, for arm springs, say.  He asked something like “can’t I just teach ‘anchor’ for a while and then adjust the shoulders later?”  Of course, I said something to extent of “No.  You need to teach the correct action correctly the very first time.  You’ll do your client a disservice if you just go for easy.  It will take a very long time to unlearn the easy and wrong action in the effort to get the difficult and correct action.”

I really understand the desire to go for easy.  I do!  However, stabilizing a joint is nothing akin to easy.  Alas.  It takes time, opposition, delicate balance and patience.  Patience and persistence.  We’ve got to be strong of will, Teachers.  We must be patient beyond normal patience of others.

Now, is it ever OK to do an incorrect action in the effort to teach a correct one? one instance, yes.  HOORAY!  While you are teaching a correct action, you can sometimes have your client do a bit of comparison to show or feel for themselves “right” and “wrong”.  I often do this in Pull Straps I.  I have them slide their arms/shoulders off their back and on their back to feel what it feels like the have the scapulae be on the side of the body (incorrect) and on the back of the body (correct).  Or when I teach the Twist Prep on the Wunda Chair.  It’s tricky to keep the length in the side-bodies.  Clients want to just spring up to the ceiling letting the spring and pedal do the job.  I very often use that as a tool and say “let the spring spring you up…get very, very high”.  They do this and I say “Excellent!  That is exactly the way we don’t want to do this exercise!”  (usually we all giggle here)  “Now, try this…resist the desire to spring up and maintain the length in your sides as rise against the pull of the spring”.  So, sometimes doing things incorrectly for effect and as a teaching tool can be great!  But…it has to be just that:  teaching tool to immediately get to the correct actions.

Now, I must clarify…just because you teach an exercise to a client does not mean that your client has to be able to achieve it in its ideal form or even do it well.  It takes time to do an exercise well.  It takes practice.  Still, we have to work hard to pick the proper exercises for our clients that will either be the tool or challenge that they need and then teach what to do and what not to do appropriately so that they can make progress over time.  Is it OK if the client in my first example of that thigh stretch can’t achieve a neutral pelvis relative to the supporting leg?  Of course!  But that client is trying and trying from the correct muscles with the correct actions.  Is it OK if the client in the second example cannot find her shoulders on her back during arm springs 100% of the time. Absolutely!  The action of trying is what counts.  The correct actions.  Ultimately both of these clients will fully be able to achieve them because of their continuing efforts in the right direction.

All in all, of course, it means that we need to work extra hard.  We have to make sure our clients are ready for the exercises that we are asking them to do and teach them extremely well.  Hold back from wanting to make “pretty pictures” or make things easy for our clients.  Our clients need appropriate challenges and opportunities to grow and develop.  Opportunities for achievement and true success.

Thank you, as always, for reading this blog.  I hope that you will take a moment to consider it all and then drop me a line.  Please comment below and let me know how it’s going for you.  Also, ask me questions, request future blog posts and more!  Here’s information on upcoming workshops and sessions with me all over the world for 2012:

2012 Workshops are in the midst of being set and scheduled, but it looks like we can count on these to begin with:

January 29, 2012 at Fiore Pilates – Mamaroneck, NY (Westchester…just north of NYC) 

Archival Mat and Standing Exercises – 11:30a-2:30p – $120

Mysterious Aches and Pains – 2:45p-4:45p – $80

For registration and more information, contact Fiore Pilates at or call 914-381-3201

March 17-20 at Pi Studios – London, ENGLAND

More information to follow on workshops with PMA CECs (Saturday and Sunday) and sessions (Monday and Tuesday).  If you’d like to be notified when information is available and registration is open, please e-mail me at and/or reach out to Pi Studios at

March 24 & 25 in Geneva, SWITZERLAND

More information to follow on workshops with PMA CECs and sessions.  If you’d like to be notified when information is available and registration is open, please e-mail me at and I will gladly get you all that you need.

July 13-15 in San Francisco, CA – Pilates on Tour – Much information to come.

September in Sao Paolo, BRAZIL – Much information to come.

September 14-16 in Boston, MA – Pilates on Tour – Much information to come.

And there will be many more workshops where we can work together…I’ll keep you informed as they all become solidified!  If you’d like to be included on my newsletter to get monthly information, subscribe to this blog and/or e-mail me at

***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 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

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Lift Your Abdominals and Lower Back Bones Like Your Life Depends On It…Because It Does! Shoulder Girdle: A Delicate Balance

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Judy Fink  |  December 13, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    Hi Shari!
    You know how I always enjoy your blogs! This blog was wonderful! I believe strongly in learning properly as not to pick up bad habits.
    I have learned wonderful things from you (knocked knees!) You also reinforce things that we have learned. Let’s be real, we as teachers always need to keep learning and growing as instructors!

    I look forward to seeing you at Fiore Pilates the end of January
    many thanks!!
    Judy Fink

    • 2. theverticalworkshop  |  December 21, 2011 at 10:42 am

      Thank you, Judy!
      The more we can learn and grow within ourselves, the better teachers we can be and the more we’ll enjoy our time teaching!
      Looking forward to seeing you in January! Until then…happy holidays!
      – Shari

  • 3. Lauren Hammerle  |  December 14, 2011 at 5:04 am

    Hi Shari,
    Very thoughtful blog. I would never dream of teaching a client something wrong in order to get an exercise to look right. When a new client comes to me and I am teaching them- I cue them, guide them and correct them accordingly. If they need a few corrections in a particular exercise, I focus on the most important one and work on that correction first. In each subsequent session, I begin to get them to refine the exercise. I don’t want to overwhelm them with corrections nor do I want them to feel like they are not doing a good job. It takes time, sometimes, to get someone to move correctly. Giving them a false cue is rushing the process and doing both the client and instructor a disservice. Think of how you first learned to hold a pencil. If you tried to change your grip at this point in your life, your handwriting would be sloppy and you would inevitably return to your old, familiar grip. Old habits die hard.
    Happy Birthday! Lauren Hammerle, Ridgewood, NJ

    • 4. theverticalworkshop  |  December 21, 2011 at 10:44 am

      Hi, Lauren!
      Thank you for reading and letting me (and all of us) know your thoughts!
      Your connection to how to hold a pencil is right on the mark!
      Thanks, too, for the birthday greetings!
      I wish you wonderful holidays and hope to get to share more time here and in person with you in 2012 and beyond!
      – Shari

  • 5. awareness warrior  |  December 23, 2011 at 7:39 am

    I love your Blog.
    I am a Physical Therapist who also teaches Pilates and Yoga.
    You address issues that are so important in teaching pilates and teaching alignment.
    I am all the way in Melbourne, Australia.
    Hope that you will come our way some time soon!

    I would love to hear you write about the effects of a weak or tight psoas muscles and also using hip flexors Vs abdominals in exercises such as the hundred.

    Irene Ais

    • 6. theverticalworkshop  |  December 23, 2011 at 9:12 am

      Irene, thank you for reading my blog and letting me know how you feel about it. Thank you!

      I will be very glad to write about psoas and hip flexors. Bear with me as I have a long list of topics to write about, but I will follow through, indeed. Until then, I’ve written an article/post some time ago that will start to share my thoughts, though it’s long enough, now, that I’m certain my thoughts have evolved…but I do hope it’s still worth reading. I believe the post’s title is “Pilates Myths: Get Out Of Your Hip Flexors”. You can search for that in the blog.

      Also, I’m getting more and more requests to present workshops in Australia. I’d love to come and just need a host who is willing to set it all up with me and profit from it. Do you have any suggestions?

      Enjoy your holidays and thank you, again!
      – Shari

  • […] Doing Wrong To Get To Right? […]

  • 8. Reb  |  April 25, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    Hi! Is there a typo in the second sentence when you say “its ok to teach an incorrect action….”? Did you mean to say “is not okay….”

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

    […] Doing Wrong To Get To Right? […]


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