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How to determine if you have a good Pilates instructor

Students performing Single Leg Stretch
Students performing Single Leg Stretch
Photo courtesy of Jeff Andros. Shot on location at Platinum Fitness SE, Tucson, AZ.

With so many Pilates classes popping up in gyms and studios across the country, how do you know which class to choose? How can you be sure you are getting the most of your workout with the best instructor? The instructor will make a difference in what you get out of your Pilates class. There are currently no regulations in place as to who can be a Pilates instructor, so anyone can take the job. If an instructor does not have any training or experience, it’s going to be hard to find a job, but it’s possible and resumes can stretch the truth. Here are 5 things you should look for in a good mat Pilates instructor:

She’s had training. It’s very important when teaching Pilates to have been trained in the field. Whether it was formal training or an apprenticeship, you want to know that she’s read the books, learned from the pros, and knows something not only about Pilates, but about injury prevention and protection, special accommodations for different conditions, modifications and basic anatomy and kinesiology. She should be able to describe what each exercise is for, what muscles you are working, and how to perform each movement precisely. Do not be afraid to ask your instructor what kind of training she has had, especially if something seems a little “off” in her class or if she seems to get flustered or nervous when teaching. The time spent training helps build confidence and works out the bugs before she takes over her own class. You also want to be sure she has trained specifically in mat Pilates, and didn’t just learn from a video program or some pre-choreographed routine. She should have had hands-on with her training with another Pilates professional. She should KNOW Pilates and not simply be able to memorize.

She offers modifications. Students in a class will have different capabilities and different levels of fitness. Some will have injuries, some will be getting back into shape, some will be getting into shape for the first time, and some will be frequent gym-goers or elite athletes. A good instructor should be able to accommodate for all fitness levels and should offer beginner to advanced modifications. People new to fitness should start out slowly and the athletes will need to be pushed. There are modifications for many of the moves to give each student the workout he or she needs.

She talks to each of her new students before class and knows her current students. The instructor should speak to each student to get a gauge on where their fitness level is, what their goals are, their history with Pilates, and their history with injuries, illnesses or surgeries. All of these factors will come into play when designing a workout to suit each student. If you have a knee injury, for example, you want the instructor to be able to tell you how to accommodate your workout as to not aggravate the injury any further. It’s important for her speak to each new student and to have her current students feel comfortable coming to her when a new issue may arise with their health or bodies.

She gives good verbal cues. If you’re constantly feeling lost in class, it’s not your fault. Good verbal cues are essential when teaching any class, including Pilates. The instructor should be able to describe exactly what you should be doing, where you should be squeezing, what you should feel and where. This can make a huge difference in the quality of your workout.

She watches. The instructor should not be moving blindly through class. She should demo each move correctly and possibly perform it with her students, but she should be watching the room. If she sees someone struggling or doing something incorrectly, she should make mention of a modification, proper form or give individual attention.

She talks about the “breath”. A big part of Pilates is moving properly and precisely with the breath. An instructor should give instruction and reminders on how to breathe throughout each movement. She reminds you when to inhale and when to exhale, and she breathes audibly herself when performing each exercise as a reminder.

She’s able to answer your questions. If you have a question before or after class, or even during class if it relates specifically to something you are doing, you should feel comfortable asking the instructor your questions, and she should be able to answer them. As long as your question relates to Pilates or basic anatomy or kinesiology. Medical questions are best left to your physician, and your instructor should tell you that when a medical question is posed upon her. She can always give you some “tips” for avoiding certain things or modifying, but should really refer you to your doctor for medical-related questions.

She looks fit. So, maybe this is not the be-all and end-all in finding a good instructor, but it’s something to be considered. If someone is teaching you how to exercise and shape your body, seeing a fit physique may lend a little more credibility that she knows what she’s talking about. It can give students some inspiration and motivation to keep going if they aspire to be “fit” like their instructor. Motivation can be a huge thing when it comes to sticking with an exercise program.

So, if you’re looking for a mat Pilates class, be sure to shop around first. Take classes at different gyms, or yoga or Pilates studios, or even at your local colleges or community centers. Try out several before you decide on which one is the best fit. You want to find a class where you feel comfortable and feel you fit in and you definitely want a great instructor. Keep these tips in mind as you attend class and find yourself a GREAT Pilates instructor! Your mind and body will reap the benefits!

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