Can You Care Too Much About Your Pilates Client?

A couple of years ago a future client of mine – a flight attendant in her late twenties -booked a one-on-one Pilates class with me: because of many hours spent in the air during the transatlantic flights, she felt physically uncomfortable most of the time, with her lower back aching and her neck cracking.

We had a super friendly introductory class, where I estimated her exercise capacity, explained what we were going to do over the next few weeks, and introduced her to a few basic exercises to get a taste of Pilates benefits and a feeling of what Pilates is about. She booked the next class, and just in the moment when we were about to say goodbye to each other, I cheerfully mentioned that Pilates would help her to elongate her spine, improve her posture and – get rid of an excessive lordotic curvature.

She gazed at me for a moment and then asked timidly: “But I love this curve, can we leave it how it is now?” That was an awkward situation and sort of a wake-up call for me as a teacher. Apparently, not everyone shares my perspective on one’s body issues 🙂

Since then I have had many similar experiences when my best intentions to promote Pilates and satisfy my students were not received as I intended them to be. Some of these stories are more embarrassing, others, fortunately, – less so. And I want to share my thoughts on this issue for two reasons.

First, I want to do so, because customer service is important in Pilates as in every other client oriented industry. And we, Pilates teachers, working with human bodies, face far more challenging issues there than “to charge or not to charge for a bottle of water after a class”. Second, I truly believe that because of these experiences I learned something worth sharing, became a better communicator, and, hopefully, a better Pilates trainer.

As Pilates instructors, we are walking on thin ice: most people are very sensitive about their body image. And most people don’t want to hear (shockingly!) that they have incorrect posture, an imbalanced body, and one shoulder higher than another. And don’t let the fact they somehow came to your class gives you a deceptive illusion that they see all their body “imperfections” as we do, with our eyes, trained for hundreds of hours on specialized Pilates workshops.

For instance, I refer to myself as a posture geek. I could talk and write about correct posture for hours. I even have a collection of my favorite posture-related cartoons on TED platform (feel free to look at one of them here). When entering any room, I scan everyone for “bad signs” of improper spinal alignment, decide who has the worst posture that evening and make a mental note of possible workouts to correct that poor creature’s posture.

But the truth is, to an average person all talks about posture are extremely boring. Yup, seriously. Even my beloved ones can’t digest my A Non Yawn-inducing Guide on How to Improve Posture. And it took me some time to shift my teacher’s focus from terrifying innocent people with a list of reasons why “bad posture harms you more than you think”, to take a light-hearted approach and state only one fact out loud: Your mom was right. Correct posture is good for you.
It is cool to get a lot of information from people that really know their stuff, but it can be overwhelming too

Interestingly, with the role of media in today’s world, almost everyone can acknowledge being overweight (and even skinny girls tend to be weight watcher session frequenters), but people rarely recognize the necessity to correct their posture. And it is really tempting even for most professional and open-hearted Pilates instructors to share their expertise with a client. 

Once I interviewed a trainer for my studio: a former ballet dancer, she had recently become certified as a Pilates teacher, and she saw her mission as a teacher as “explaining to clients why their current posture and spine alignment were inexcusable”.

We did not work together (as much as I love a practical approach of the Pilates method, I prefer to believe that every Pilates class should aim to encourage people instead of pointing out their flaws); but I absolutely understand her! When you spend an entire weekend at a specialized Pilates workshop, you just need to share. And it is hard to imagine that other people, who come to your Pilates class, may have other priorities in their lives: to relax after a stressful day at work, to stretch out, to practice Pilates … without overthinking it. As one of my students mentioned once, “I come here after work not to be judged”.

The moment I realized that my clients could benefit from Pilates without necessarily being engaged with it in a life-long lasting relationship, my life as a trainer became much easier.

By the way, if you are a studio owner, your life becomes much easier once you realize that your teachers will not be involved in your studio development so much as you are. You may motivate them to work extra hours and “forgive” no-shows from clients, but, at the end of the day, your business is your dream, not theirs (check out Seven Secrets I Wish I Had Known Before Opening My Pilates Studio).

To reinforce my point, this is another example of extreme over care, not related to Pilates. Some time ago I went to a local multi-brand luxury store, you know, the kind of store, where the “customer: consultant” ratio is one to ten. I was browsing harmlessly through the sale collection, when I heard screaming “Come to me, Dear, I will redesign your unfortunate eyebrows!!!” Apparently, there was a corner for a makeup consultant, who aimed to allure me to become her client. 🙂 I know that she meant no harm, but in today’s world of supply overruling demand, I always prefer to choose the nicer salesperson.

So, about the stewardess story: of course, every Pilates teacher even after basic training knows that proper spinal alignment, correct posture, and lower back discomfort are interconnected, but I sincerely believe I would rather not share my wisdom without being explicitly asked to.

Now, if a client comes to me with lower back tension, I respond to that request without pointing out (out loud), what else could be improved. In fact, a better posture as a result of proper Pilates training will speak for itself within a few weeks.

Do not let your professionalism as a Pilates trainer obstruct your kindness as a human being.

And, in case you are wondering how potential clients will know your credentials if you do not present them with a Pilates and anatomy course immediately? My answer is:

  1. Write about it: meaningful posts on your social pages, websites and Pilates related magazines will help your students to stay tuned in;
  2. Be ready and nearby when they want to ask a question: usually, the more people that are engaged with the Pilates method, the more they are prone to more information about it;
  3. Encourage your students to write testimonies and share their stories: even the most difficult Pilates stories will look more people-friendly if written by clients.

Ok, what do You think about all that? Share your perspective in the comments section below!

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