Adapt your Pilates to suit your class - Part 1

When teaching Pilates classes today it is important to build a reputation and almost an individual brand. Keep classes fresh, challenging and appropriate.

School Of Pilates Posted Sep 18, 2014 Future Fit Training


Adapt your Pilates to suit your class - Part 1

Whilst we want to stay true to the classical elements of Pilates and the brand that Joseph Pilates and Alan Herdman themselves created and built upon, it is also important to move with the times, keep classes fresh and challenging and also appropriate to the clients and their varying needs, abilities and goals.

If we look at instructors today, ranging from those who work for gyms or studios, to those who present at conventions or on fitness channels, they are all different in their style and approach even though they teach the same discipline. So what makes them stand out? Any instructor should be able to adapt their classes to reach their target audience. If you can do that then the message will spread through word of mouth and you will have the opportunity to offer something out of the ordinary and a chance to shine in a very saturated industry.

Special populations

When you have accomplished your Pilates qualification and if you set up your own space for training you are open to referrals from physiotherapists, chiropractors and doctors. Whilst we recommend attaining your Exercise Referral qualification you should be prepared to adapt or modify your classes or certain exercises to accommodate this specific group of people.

Pilates has a reputation for being rehabilitative so it is important that you offer modifications where possible.  This can be through various means, for example through the use of equipment such as stability balls, Pilates balls, resistance bands or pillows. 

  • Stability balls can help to support the spine and joints and provide cushioning for numerous exercises such as Swan Dive, Swimming and The Hundred to name but a few.
  • Pilates balls can also be used to assist the spine. For example clients with flat back posture could use a Pilates ball to add curvature to the spine during exercises such as Roll up as it would act almost like a shock absorber. On the other end of the spectrum those with a Lordotic posture might use it to cushion the body to decrease an excessive spinal curvature.  The ball also aids in body alignment and awareness. For example in the Shoulder Bridge or the Hundred when the knees or hips are prone to going out of alignment, placing a ball in between the knees here can help to rectify this problem.

It is also useful for people with decreased mobility and for pre-natal clients as they can modify many exercises into a seated position on the ball.

Resistance bands can also be used to assist movement, particularly intensity, control and support.  In regards to special populations the band can be a welcome tool to guide exercises and stretches, lessening intensity and allowing more range and control into movements. For example in a main phase of a class the band is useful for exercises such as double leg stretch, adapting the exercise so only the legs are used.  If a client has difficulty controlling the legs in this elevated position, this is an option as opposed to dropping the level.

During stretching the band can be used to assist and sometimes offer a more relaxing and rehabilitative approach to many exercises, such as lying hamstring stretch and the abductor and adductor stretch where the band can be placed and held over the foot. This is effective if clients have less flexibility, suffer with joint problems or have minimal mobility.

Small pillows/cushions or rolled up towels can also be used to pad out and support the body where needed.  This is particularly useful for clients with bone or joint issues such as arthritis, osteoporosis and fibromyalgia, who will no doubt be grateful you’ve considered their comfort.

With special population clients it is imperative that you offer adaptations within your classes to accommodate their ability levels. They can then attend a mixed ability class knowing that there will be alternatives in place. Instructors are advised to prepare for an exercise at a lower level than their more able clients, so as they progress into the main exercise those who are less able can remain at the preparation level. This adaptation makes it simple for you to keep a flowing class whilst paying attention to those who need it without them feeling singled out or unable to participate. However, please remember where necessary to take into account any advice from health professionals and adapt according to their recommendations.

Age considerations

The age range of your classes may also determine how you choreograph your class. For example, a class with a younger clientele may have different aims and abilities to the older clientele; classes based around toning and weight loss will differ from those orientated towards flexibility and mobility. We can therefore look at adapting the level and intensity of exercises according to fitness levels and goals.

Mixed ability classes

The majority of classes that we teach will be mixed ability so suitable levels must be set with optional adaptations, progressions and modifications, as previously mentioned.

Beginner’s level generally focuses on the fundamentals of Pilates. You can adapt these classes to teach your clients about core control, the basics of each exercise and the principles of Pilates. It is important to educate your clients so they understand how the body is controlled and affected before they progress. If goals are not being met, check and reiterate the fundamentals such as pelvic floor and TVA engagement during classes. 

Intermediate clients should have mastered these principles and fundamentals and should be challenged with more intensity. This can be through range of movement, duration of exercise or lever length. For example, those at intermediate level should generally be able to maintain their legs in an elevated position during core exercises such as Single Leg Stretch, The Hundred, Double Leg Stretch and Scissors. The pace of the class can also be increased.  Adapt your choreography to keep a flowing class with less release stretches throughout.

Advanced clients often need to be challenged with lever length and repetition range within the intermediate levels.  However, balance and more strength can also be incorporated through more advanced exercises such as the Rollover, Boomerang or Teaser, although clients with any contraindications should avoid this. It is often difficult to use too many of these exercises in a mixed ability class as they are very intense, with more risk from injury and more need to be observed and corrected. If you have enough clients capable of these levels it is worth considering running an advanced class for them.

Written by Katie Farnden