Many times in my early years as a student of Pilates, I felt frustrated with my body’s ability to progress as fast as I would like. I didn’t want to fight my tight hip flexors in Teaser. I didn’t want to struggle with my poor coordination while doing Backstroke. Why couldn’t I just DO it?? “Nichole, Pilates is a process,” my teacher would tell me. I would hear these words over and over.

Now that I am a teacher, I try to remember the way I felt in those days so that I never take for granted what it is like for each of my clients as they journey through Pilates. It’s easy to forget how difficult it can be for someone to move their body in a way that it has never moved, to use their mind in a way that requires such detailed concentration and to ask of themselves 100% effort toward their practice.

Here are my tips for keeping clients motivated, not frustrated:

Set Realistic Goals

Ask them what goals they have for themselves and Pilates. Then with your help, choose manageable milestones that you know they will be able to accomplish relatively soon. For example, I had a client who said she wanted to do Hanging with Pull Ups on the Cadillac at her second private lesson. By lesson 5, she was hanging. How did I do this? I made sure everything we did those first 5 private lessons, prepared her for that moment. In this client’s case, I knew she could build up to it that quickly. You may not be able to promise that to another client, so it’s important to find a way to show them they are building to a realistic goal. I have had clients do Breathing on the Cadillac and told them, “Wow! Those are the exactly muscle groups you will be using for Hanging. Now, let’s work on your upper body and you will be hanging in no time!” It gets them excited and makes them feel they are moving forward.

Be Patient

Joseph Pilates, the father of Pilates, often said, “Rome was not built in a day.”

As Pilates instructors, we are undoing years of bad posture, poor movement patterns and habitual wear and tear on bodies doing harmful occupations. Can our clients really expect to undo all of that in a 6-week package? It is our job to remind them that Pilates (or any fitness method) takes time to get results and to make fundamental changes in the body. I continue to remind my clients that they must be patient with their bodies and accept where their body is at that moment.

Put in the Effort

But in conjunction with Number 2 above, you must also remind them that you get out of something only what you put in. Are they giving 100% effort to meet that goal? Many clients assume that 1 hour a day, twice a week is enough. We know, as instructors, that is not the case. It is the other 23 hours in their day that determines whether their body is progressing. I remind them to focus on their posture periodically throughout the day. Becoming more mindful is important.

I give homework to my clients. I have had clients who have jumped forward in their progress just by doing the Abdominal 5 series every evening for two weeks. It really is that simple. The more you do, the better the results.

Consistency is Key

It is so important to keep clients accountable with expiration dates for packages and text/email reminders. Progress only happens with consistency. You shouldn’t be afraid to call out clients who are losing their focus and getting distracted by the details of life. That is the exact moment they should be exercising more! When they know they can’t slip through the cracks, they are more likely to keep it consistent.

The Praise/Constructive Criticism Balance

Make sure you are giving praise when it is genuinely due. Empty praise can be just another form of cueing and your clients will start to tune out. But be very careful with overcorrecting to the point of overwhelming your client. This is where each client will be different. What will motivate one client, will defeat another. You will need to tap into your inner psychologist to understand which works with each client. Eliminate words of negativity from your cueing: “no, not like that, don’t, can’t.” It is better to suggest what you want them to do than to say what they are doing “wrong.” Incidentally, I always emphasize that nothing is wrong. Everything is a learning process and it’s only through those less successful moments, that we appreciate it when it all comes together later.

They Are Not Alone

When I know a client is having difficulty with a movement or concept, I always try to add into the conversation how I also struggle with that movement (if I really do-sincerity is key) or how many other clients have trouble with it too. Making them feel they aren’t the only one, gives them reassurance they are okay and will get through it. A day doesn’t go by without me saying, “If I can do it, anybody can.”

Keep It Fun

Laughter can really make a difference in a frustrating session. I always try to do or say something goofy when I know it might be getting intense. After all, this is only exercise. There is always room for fun!

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