The importance of layering when teaching Pilates
Layering is the difference between teaching a safe and effective class and teaching a potentially harming waste-of-time class. That’s how crucial it is that you continue to layer your exercises throughout your Pilates career.
Layering isn’t a new concept for those of you who have taught other disciplines. In aerobics, for example, you would teach the warm-up, gradually building your routine to add choreography, turns, arms, whoops and jumps until your final version at the end for those who could manage it whilst others would have a less fancy version along the way. All stages would still be safe and effective for the participants.
Safety is key and without it you are dangerous as an instructor. Every participant needs a safe option to perform at all times. I have been to many classes where the instructor has taught the warm- up and then gone straight into an exercise (like the Push Up), then 2 or 3 reps later they would verbally indicate the lower option. This meant the most vulnerable and injured clients would have performed 2 or 3 reps of something that was unsafe for them to do and they were then expected to understand and perform a lower option they hadn’t seen or been set up for. They also needed the awareness to understand what the instructor meant and the ability to transfer their teaching points from one version of the exercise to a lower version. This is a lot to ask from essentially a beginner who would most likely feel a little demotivated if an exercise was hard followed by an easier option. It would be a far better learning experience to build confidence and layer the intensity gradually.
Effectiveness is of major importance. It would be difficult for clients to achieve the wonderful benefits of Pilates if they have poor technique leading to an ineffective version of an exercise. As instructors we need to be passionate about ensuring people work at their own level, which is the correct level for them, so they can get the most out of the exercise.
There are many ways you can layer each exercise. The difference between layering and layering well is the language you use. If you simply go through the motions of layering saying things like “and now we will …..” or “the harder option is ….” then you haven’t made it okay for clients to stay at the lower option. In fact your preference as the instructor should be that they perform the lower layer brilliantly. You don’t really want them all to move on to the next layer, so adjust your language to suit. Explain why you really would prefer them to do the option they are already doing well, then you may find you can look around the room and everyone is working at different levels. They are all focused on their own techniques and they know the next option is not for them today. This would be a fabulous result.
Use phrases like “Think about where your transverse is” (you will have told them in their initial set-up); “Think about what it is looking after (your spine)”; “Really check it with your hand to see if it pops up when you lift your second leg”; “We are, quite literally, hanging the weight of both your legs off your spine, and if your transverse isn’t supporting the spine it’s not ideal, so we need your transverse to get stronger. How - by doing one leg at a time with perfect technique. Doing both legs badly won’t strengthen it”; “Really take the time to focus on your own technique”; “This is your back“; “This is your core”; “I need you to know how to keep your transverse in against the weight of those legs”; “Only do what you are comfortable doing today.” ‘Today’ is a great word to use. It gives people the okay to take a low level today because tomorrow they might try a harder one.
Once you have your layers logically ordered, your language to teach them rehearsed and you begin teaching this way, you’ll find your participants have far better technique. They’ll tell you how hard they are finding the exercises now (because they have focused more on their technique and performed the exercise correctly). You’ll still need to observe, but hopefully there won’t be as many participants to correct, which means you have time to reinforce teaching points for the benefit of everyone, which can only improve your class further.
Happy layering = vastly improved technique = results and happy participants.
What are you waiting for?
Written by Heather Oakes