How to Deal with Seven Nightmares of Every Pilates Trainer

One chilly morning I was sipping my coffee, thinking about how awesome should it feel to be a morning person (a mystery for me, despite having my first Pilates clients at 6:30 a.m.). I was reading The Bloomberg Businessweek magazine to stay sharp and tuned because being a Pilates teacher is not only about stretching cheerfully all day long and giving advice on how to get slimmer ankles. 

So, I was exploring my favorite chapter, “Etc.”, where they feature news about healthy living, fashion and fancy food choices, and was delighted to notice an article about the hottest workouts in February, named “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” (you can find this article in the February, 13 – February, 17 printed edition).

My trained eye immediately spotted the Pilates class among them! However, the next moment, I got puzzled with the description of that ultra-modern class: “the Pilates ‘reformer’ … looks like a torture device. New York Pilates owner, Heather Anderson, makes it one for this session, which features planks, squats, and situps on the machine … but not the more fluid moves of a standard Pilates class.”

Well, “squats and situps” sounds like fun. Does it sound like Pilates, in any case? Does society need classes such as Piloboxing, Dancelates, or Cyclelates? Moreover, who benefits from these mash-ups? All these thoughts teased me to recall all my nightmares as a Pilates trainer, and structure in writing how I coped with them.  So, here it is: Seven Nightmares of a Pilates Trainer and Ways To Cope with Them.

Nightmare #1: Pilates Mash-Ups

A couple of years ago, in the situation such as described above, the problem for me was that these hybrid classes, I thought, may confuse people and in a case of unsatisfactory results, will make people reluctant to Pilates in general. So, I thought back then, let’s fight for the real Pilates!

And I did so! Once, the website for runners asked me to film a complex of preparatory Pilates exercises for runners. In this complex, I included The Shoulder Bridge, The Swimming, The One Leg Stretch, and many other Pilates exercises with various modifications and preparatory warm-ups. The morning it was posted, someone commented on the video that “it is all yoga, why do you call it Pilates?”

To respond to that, I posted a 500-word comment why it was Pilates, going deep into its history, principles and unique features. Obviously, I overreacted a bit. I did so because of imaginary necessity to defend the legacy of Joseph Pilates and his method.

But you know, time goes by, and I know for sure that Pilates doesn’t need me to be its armored knight. It needs me to be the promoter of its benefits and the technique, and to encourage others to make Pilates a part of their healthier and happier life. In other words, it needs me to do my job as a Pilates instructor.

Moreover, if some people don’t want to come to my class, because they think Pilates is boring, but they go to Dancelates and work on their core – I am glad! They got that extra motivation, and it works for them. When the classic Pilates workout simply won’t do, there’s always another option — to be coached by boxers, gymnasts, and dancers, who went the extra mile, got certified in Pilates too, and host those Pilates mash-ups.

Embrace your service spirit and help others to make an informed decision.

Also, I forced myself not be afraid that people will get confused with not “real” Pilates, while trying Tangolates, for example. There are enough data out there to make an informed decision, which class you like and which one is the best for your goals.

So now, when I see ads such as that one in Bloomberg, I smile and go on without judging. Joseph Pilates ambitiously hoped that one day every person would practice Pilates. I’ve chosen to focus my energy on that goal, and, in the scope of my practice, gently show people all Pilates benefits, one class at a time.

Nightmare #2. Selling Yourself as a Personal Trainer

I talk about the ability to attract customers. I got a feeling that most Pilates trainers, including me, are introverts, not posers with strong sales skills (how many Pilates trainers you know love making selfies?). So, sometimes it is appealing to let Pilates sell you, to exploit the “if you build it, they will come” principle.

Unfortunately, it is not exactly a true story. Whether we like it or not, sales are a huge part of being a Pilates trainer (unless you are the first generation Pilates instructor. :)) You can be the proud alumna of every Pilates training in the world, but if you are too shy to convince others to buy your class, it could be a real problem.

Here is Five Proven Tips on How to Make Sales Easier:

1. Realize that Pilates is great. Find the moment to feel proud of what you’re doing for a living. If you need some inspiration, read So, You’re JUST a Pilates Instructor? Oh… I See and A Christmas Devotional: What’s It Like Being a Pilates Instructor? And, recommend Pilates classes with the same passion you advise your best friend to try your favorite restaurant. Sincerity is the key to every successful relationship, including you and your clients.

2. Write down your elevator pitch “What value Pilates workout can add to your life” and practice out loud, whenever you can. Believe me, after 100 repetitions it will be less scary to talk to a real potential client.

3. Craft your business cards with the information about your website and social media profiles: it is absolutely natural to give a business card to a person who asked for your contacts. Moreover, it is an easy way to let others know what you are an expert in without being pushy.

How to Deal with Seven Nightmares of Every Pilates Trainer - at
Ready to advertise your Pilates classes? Absolutely 🙂

4. Write about it. If you are too shy to talk about your services, write about them: publish your articles about Pilates offline and online, be helpful in discussions on forums, or draft a book to choose what’s yours; embrace your talent as a writer! Of course, your articles should bring real value, not directly promote and glorify your classes.

5. Ask your current clients to share their experience and write testimonies about how Pilates helped them specifically. Don’t forget to ask for permission to publish their stories. In most cases, people love to help out.

Hope it makes your life easier 🙂

Nightmare #3: Pilates Workout Injuries

Yes, Pilates does strengthen your core and back. Yes, Pilates relieves back tension and improves spinal flexibility. And yet sometimes it happens: you’ve got a new client with a stiff back, you do all must-do preparatory exercises during the class, everything seems to go well, and the next day that client calls you to tell she has a sharp back pain and can’t get out of bed.

Hurting the client is very scary and could destroy your self-esteem if not your reputation. Moreover, even if you have all Pilates certificates in the world, it could happen. And you torture yourself asking over and over whether it was your fault or an unlucky coincidence. 

So, how to cope with it? First, and it goes without saying, try to get the best Pilates education available and always expand your professional horizons by continuing education, attending workshops, and exchanging experience with other Pilates trainers.

Second, get a tailored professional liability insurance and a client’s signed acknowledgment release and assumption of risk: like every other workout, Pilates has its risks of accidental injury that are only partially in your control as a trainer. If in doubt, recommend the clients to consult with her physician first.

Finally, take it slow. Personally, I don’t take the words of Pilates about “the whole new body in 30 sessions.” If I feel the client is not ready yet to perform the Jackknife, I will not push it; instead, I will try to gradually increase her core strength and overall flexibility with numerous less-challenging exercises.

Nightmare #4: The Fear of Not Being Good Enough A Trainer

There is a fancy word for this kind of anxiety: “Atelophobia,” the fear of not doing something right or the fear of not being good enough. In Pilates world, it may happen, when someone tells you that your Pilates training certificates are not credible because the particular institution that released them is not so solid as the other one (meaning, one school is better than another).

So far, there are two extremities: to take a two-day Pilates training course and teach others right after that and to insist on having twenty years unpaid Pilates internship before starting one’s classes. I believe the key to keeping your sanity here is to get a full traditional training, continue education once you started your own practice as a Pilates trainer, and teach within the scope of your competence. I found it very helpful to have an experienced mentor who helps you to deal with new issues every time you need to. And of course, it never hurts to ask the studio or gym you eager to work for, what Pilates training certificates they acknowledge.

Nightmare #5:“Yoga vs. Pilates” Comparison Obsession

This issue overlaps with the Nightmare #1, but I want to highlight it because it is very casual to ask a Pilates trainer something like that: “Oh, you teach Pilates? I heard it is simplified yoga, right?” By the way, on request “yoga versus pilates” Google provide you 4,930,000 search results in 1.28 sec. 🙂

My way to cope with it: I don’t try to prove to the person how wrong she is, or how Pilates is better than yoga because everyone has a free will to choose a workout that is best for her. I explicitly state the benefits of Pilates, give my elevator pitch about the value (see above) it could add to her life, and kindly invite her to the trial class.

Nightmare #6: The Deceptive Simplicity of Pilates

You know this one: you do your best, trying to explain to the beginner all the details of breathing technique and the importance of concentrating on the core muscles, and suddenly the client asks you to speed it up and proceed with advanced exercises.

How to cope with it? Though it is definitely not a situation where the customer is a king, it is their workout, not mine; so, as long as it is safe and is along with Pilates principles, I try to tailor the style of the class to every client. In the described case, I chose to challenge that person a bit with some modifications of basic exercises, so it was not claimed as too easy anymore. 🙂

Nightmare #7: Price Discrimination Accusations

This one never gets old! I sincerely believe this issue is the one every Pilates trainer encounters.  They claim your prices are crazy, the gym next to your studio charges much less, and you owe the society the duty of providing classes almost for free.

The perception of Pilates as the posh workout is fuelled by magazines, where Pilates is named “a favorite of the rich and famous” (The Greatist, Yoga vs. Pilates by Kelly Fitzpatrick).

You and I know that a professional Pilates class is not the same, in terms of cost, as running around the block in very old sneakers. If you need clues on how to explain that to your clients, read How Much Do You Charge For Your Pilates Class? …Are You Nuts?! It will cheer you up!

By the way, a couple of days ago I’ve read an article named “For $12,500, You Can Train With Olympic Medalists in France” Yes, you got it right: for this money you have a few day sports training. Tell me about elitist Pilates now 🙂

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