New Teachers Teaching Skills

Pilates Teachers Must Learn Flow (and How to Teach It)

July 9, 2016

When it comes to group instruction, exercise selection is one of the most noticed components of the class.  Program design plays the defining role in how a workout is perceived, and therefore, how successful the class will be.

But coming up with a class design that has flow is often a challenge for many otherwise highly-trained instructors.  They may be indecisive about which exercises to choose, or by how many equipment setups to include, or they may second-guess how to sequence one exercise into the next, or how to make their class distinct from others.

Do these challenges sound familiar? If so, I have some great news for you.

When you focus on creating flow, your classes will dramatically improve.  Attendance will grow.  Your students will feel challenged without sacrificing quality.  And you will feel the confidence to lead.

Designing a class with flow in mind doesn’t require any special skills.  

All you need is a basic understanding of flow, a bit of creativity, and these 5 strategies to get started.

So what exactly is flow?

Joseph Pilates created his routines with the intention that grace, ease, and fluidity would apply to all exercises. His workouts were composed with continuous, smooth, and elegant movements as you transitioned from one exercise to another. 

Joseph Pilates would choreograph how to flow from one exercise to the next, thereby eliminating cumbersome transitions.  

If you were facing the footbar on the Reformer, and wanted to turn around to face the pulley end of the Reformer, he would incorporate this transition into the routine to add flow by instructing how to grab the straps in one hand and turn while continuing to engage.

By adding the unmistakable addition of  flow, your class will follow in the footsteps of Joseph Pilates himself. Your students will flow from one exercise to the next for the entire class, creating fluid sequences and transitions, making the most of each movement and transition.  They won’t know why, but they will feel like they are in the presence of an masterful teacher when their movements seem choreographed from start to finish with no awkward stops in between.

 

Why add Flow?

You will not waste time on clunky transitions, so your entire class will be sequenced exercises.

In my market, clients want to feel every moment of a 60-minute class.

Here’s a scenario I’ve seen many times:

  • You finish a couple repetitions of one exercise.
  • Next you put the box on, the foot bar down, then change the springs, and get on the Reformer to do a couple repetitions of another exercise.
  • Then you take the box off, put the foot bar up, adjust the straps, change the springs, and get on to do the next exercise.
  • And so forth…

A lot of time is spent on adjusting equipment. This approach isn’t wrong or bad. But when you focus on adding flow, you open up more options, more possibilities.

Your class will feel more challenging, without adding more difficult exercises.

Not all clients are ready for Intermediate or Advanced level exercises, but when you incorporate flow, you can provide a challenging sequence of exercises for every level — a young woman that runs daily but is new to Pilates, likely wants to feel the benefits of Pilates quickly. As does an athlete using Pilates to cross train or someone who does traditional weight training.  Flow allows even newcomers to experience the benefits, because it can be done with basic foundational exercises that don’t require much more coordination.

Your clients will have a fun social interaction when they move with the group, and move together.

As adults, we want to be social with our friends but don’t always feel like we have the time or opportunities to do so.  Moving with others can make you feel more social and a part of something bigger than yourself.  You will build camaraderie and accountability among participants, as well as between participants and you, the Instructor.

You can help your clients beat exercise boredom.

One very common reason for quitting an exercise program is boredom.  Employing a variety of class formats will keep your clients motivated, interested, and engaged while highlighting the depth of teaching styles you possess. Not to mention the added opportunity for a different kind of interaction with participants.  

A flow class demands a different kind of focus and attention.

You may have more time to refine movement.

One of the really cool and maybe unexpected things about teaching a class with flow is that you might be able to spend more of your time giving focused corrections and tuning the quality of each movement.  

Moving with flow offers students an opportunity to do slow repetitions, feeling each movement in their body, and responding to your corrections.  Both the pacing and the focus of this class format contributes to a heightened awareness and ability to refine movement, alignment and overall form.

 

Adding flow to your class routine in 5 easy strategies:

1 |    Plan your target.

Begin by thinking of a muscle, or group of muscles, that you would like to target.  Think about the action of this target muscle. Is it a stabilizer or a mobilizer?  When does it work, how does it work?  

Then try to move your body in a way that creates this action.  Use this initial impulse as a starting point for movement exploration.  Just keep moving and see where it leads you.  Try not to actively judge the movement, just allow it to happen.  

Then think of Pilates exercises that target this muscle action. Try to connect some of your experimental movements to Pilates exercises. And finally begin to connect one Pilates exercise into the next with these movement explorations.

 

2 |    Begin with one Reformer setting.

Try to do as many exercises as possible without changing the Reformer setup.  Here are some possible questions to explore:

  • How many exercises can you do on the Long Box?
  • How many exercises are possible on the Short Box?
  • What is possible with the hands or feet in the straps?
  • How far can you get without changing the spring tension?
  • How many exercises can you do without moving the Footbar?
  • What can be done standing at the side of the Reformer?
  • How many exercises can you do holding the dowel or maple pole?

   

3 |    Let the Music be your guide.      

Select some music you like that’s in the range of 100-110 beats per minute.  Some music players allow you to pick the beats per minute, and others you can adjust the beats per minute of the songs you select. Or use a search engine to find the desired bpm and see what results come up.

Once you have your playlist, jump on the Reformer and try to move continuously. See if you can keep moving smoothly to the beat without sharp or quick movements. At first it will feel like you’re moving underwater. And most likely, the pace will feel slow at first.  

Can you do this for 15 minutes? How about 30 minutes?

When you finish moving to your playlist, write down any sequences that felt incredible in your body. Write down how you made those transitions. Then see if you can repeat it.

 

4 |    Use Instagram as a jumping off point.

Find some Pilates videos on Instagram.  Look for exercise sequences you have never done before. Instagram videos are usually pretty short.  So, do the short sequence. Then, see what you can do immediately following the video.  What do you think the instructor in the video does next?  There are endless possibilities.

 

5 |    Try to keep your body in contact with the equipment.

Keep one or more body parts touching the equipment while you explore transitions between exercises and new possibilities for sequences.

So, from Footwork laying on your back, smoothly roll to the side to do the next series. Can you do side lying exercises with foot or hand in the strap?  Or prop yourself up on your forearm?  Keep your hip touching the carriage while you transition to seated side facing exercises. Then sit towards one hip to swing the legs up for a Mermaid series. Then, pivot the knees forward and underneath you for Knee Stretches (Jack Rabbit) that goes right into Elephant or Long Stretch.

Keeping one or more body part on the machine forces you to not stop and start and to see how exercises can connect with one another. This sounds easy but it actually takes focused effort.

If you learn to teach with flow, I believe you and your clients will see some dramatic benefits.  

It’s time to innovate and use your innate creativity. And it’s time to do that with your training in mind.  It’s important when experimenting that you keep looking back at your training principles. Innovation does not mean abandoning the foundations of your training.  Rather, it means embracing a dimension of that training that you can explore further.   

 

I would love to hear the results of these strategies you’ve explored for creating flow classes!  Share a comment or send me a message.  We can learn together.

Good luck and good teaching!

With love,

Holy Furgason

 

  • Reply
    Kelly Sachs
    September 25, 2017 at 8:33 pm

    Hi Holly,
    Reviewing some old emails and had to read this article, well done! My question on flow is regarding the listed order of Mat and Reformer. It has always been emphasized to keep exercises in order which I try to adhere to without being rigid. I love your thoughts of exploration, would like your opinion on “order”. I like the idea of following the body rather than the list.
    Thanks for all you do!
    Kelly

  • Reply
    Jessica O'Toole
    July 12, 2016 at 8:10 am

    I love this! Great post Holly! Always enjoy your writing.

    You mention Instragram as a place to locate examples, any other recommendations?

    • Holly Furgason
      Reply
      Holly Furgason
      July 12, 2016 at 9:52 am

      Hi Jessica.
      Thank you for reading and for the comment!
      Here’s an example from my studio’s Instagram: Side Arm, Feet in Strap Series
      We began with her just doing a basic forward/back leg movement. Then I started telling her things to try. “Try bend & stretch. Try développé. Try ronde de jambe.” You can see her smile part way through because I must have said something that sounded impossible LOL. But it’s super fun to explore the possibilities.
      There are lots of studios with great Instagram videos. Just search “pilates” in Instagram and you will have so many to choose from.
      Hope that helps!
      XO Holly

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