Five Ways to Stress Out Your Pilates Trainer

A couple of months ago, I had a drink with a dear friend of mine, a successful corporate lawyer in a big pharmaceutical company. We talked about all kinds of stuff, from new trends in trademark law and freshly patented inventions in the fitness industry to dealing with long-distance relationships and coping with stress at work. One moment she smiled and kindly mentioned that, well, Pilates trainers do not encounter that much stress.

I respectfully disagree.

We, Pilates instructors, personal trainers and healthy lifestyle promoters, happen to deal with (potentially) stressful situations every single day. As much mindful and loving personalities we are, some days at work are a total waste of makeup. 

So, below I share my related experience on the “my Pilates client drives me crazy” situations: subbing another trainer, a leadership challenge in a group class, unreasonable expectations from clients – to name a few. My sincere hope is that this reading will save you some energy and inner peace.

The keynote here is that you can’t always change the situation, but you can change your attitude. 

#1. Overwhelming Stress of Being a Substitute Trainer

I’ve always stated that Pilates makes me a better person. 🙂 Last Friday, I went to my indoor cycling class to get my daily portion of walking cardio. Let me mention, that kind of workout turned out to be a nice substitute to my beloved long walks, which I had to put on pause until spring because of nasty pollution my city was unfortunate to experience this winter.

So, it was not my best day, and I was not the friendliest version of myself, but I looked forward to “pedal my way to happiness” with the guidance from my favorite instructor, and I opened the door to the class – and … the other instructor was there, preparing for the class.

The problem was, I do not love that instructor; to be exact, I do not stand the sound of her voice – and you know, it does matter, how and who shouts at you during the most challenging moments. So, for a tiny part of the second, I wondered whether I could shut the door and go to the coffee house nearby instead, to save 8 dollars (the class is 15, and a perfect espresso shot completed with a croissant – 7).

The next moment I recall I was already on a bike, adding some gears and speeding up. And the only reason I stayed without (hopefully) any visual clue of hesitation, is because I‘ve encountered similar situation while being Pilates subbing instructor.  (Who doesn’t? It is great to have a permanent clientele, but sometimes you just want to have more classes. Girls need to eat, you know.)

And in fact, I did enjoy the class, though I do not love changes at all. No, I did not fall in love with that trainer’s voice, but it was quite tolerable.

I did not save those 8 dollars, though.

Instead, I went home with three life-changing lessons for myself:

A. (For clients) if possible, don’t be “that jerk who walks into the room, sees you and walks out” – the situations like that are hard not to take personally for trainers: our empathic nature will overthink it and get upset.

B. (For clients) (again): when facing a subbing, give yourself a chance to enjoy workout anyway. Even if the workout turns out not to be that good, huge chances are it will be still useful. And, by the way, researches show you squeeze out of your workout more with a different trainer.

C. (For trainers): when you are the subbing trainer, give people some slack: if people do walk away from your class without even trying, it is not about you. Yes, really: it is not about your “un-charming” personality or “different” workout style. It could be that they do not love changes (like me!) or the receptionist at the studio/gym facility did not mention the change to the client on time (some studios force their admin personnel not to), and it made the student think she was trapped, betrayed or defrauded.

So, in a potentially dangerous situation, when you are a sub teacher and feel that you are not welcome, focus on the “I am here to help these people” and be the friendliest version of yourself – this way, big chances are, you and your audience will enjoy each other’s presence.

#2. Last Minute Cancellations, No-shows, and Clients Who Play With Timing Boundaries 

Now, prepare for a small talk about the value of time. Read “Confessions of a Personal Trainer: What I Really Think about Your Last-Minute Class Cancellation” – one of the best reading articles on Fitvize. And for now, let’s speak of a different situation: when your client is not being late but staying late. 

Just imagine: this is the last class for today, and you mentally are already at home with the happy cat purring smoothly near you or your friends are waiting for you in the next noodle bar. You change your training clothes in no time (takes me up to 2 minutes), ready to fly out to the world without The Core, sophisticated breathing technique and endless answers to “what should I eat to lose weight?” You are ready to have some “you” time, and all you need is to close the door and say goodbye to the last client.

And you got stuck with the client or two who change really slowly.

Give your clients an opportunity to mischief and be capricious, and they will love you forever

They talk on phones, slowly put on their clothes, redo their makeup, and – the apocalypses of all times – decide to take a long warm shower…It is really tempting to go into thoughts such as “I am not paid for this time” and give some resentful hints such as turn the lights off and start yawning… However, I am begging you to resist that temptation: it could ruin all the good impression from your class; no matter how brilliant a trainer you are.

They paid for the class, so they have a reasonable expectation to be welcomed after and before the class at your studio too. If you are in a hurry, just warmly say so, when ending the class. People understand sincerity and no-one intends to be a burden.

Though, it’s not a good time for a full disclosure like “I need to go 10 minutes earlier today, to make on time to the other class.” A true story! I had an instructor who said so, and after she had left the studio, clients came to me asking “why our Pilates mummy doesn’t love all of her babies the same?”

So, while working with staying late and coming early clients, I cultivate my inner peace by planning extra 15 minutes prior and after the class and communicating clearly in case I am in a hurry.

#3: Safety Hazards at Pilates Studio

Every Pilates trainer knows that during the class, it is crucial to keep alert and be prepared to spot hazards such as newbies, who want to jump on the BOSU and the Cadillac the moment they walk in and cope with that through careful explanation and sanity safety check.

But the real hazard is hidden. Here is a pickle: what would you do, if your client slaps you? Imagine this: private Pilates class with a woman in her early thirties. The core muscles basic explanation, the preparation to the Hundred, and when we were going through the hundred modification in table top position, I tried to encourage her to pull in her belly button onto spine even harder by placing my palm on her stomach, just for two seconds or so. At the end of the class, she said that she almost slapped me that moment. Luckily, she resisted that urge. 🙂

I learned that day always to ask clients whether it is ok to touch their body as a way of cueing to proper technique. Also, I learned that people are different. 

Read more in the “How to Deal with Seven Nightmares of Every Pilates Trainer”

Overall, my experience says that extra precaution and extra politeness with your Pilates client never hurts. It will eliminate many potentially sensitive on-class situations.

#4. Group Class Leadership Challenge

If you’re lucky, you have no more than eight to ten students in a class so you can manage students with different pre-class Pilates experience. Pilates exercises have so many wonderful modifications: that fact makes the life of a Pilates trainer a blessing, not a nightmare.

However, what are we expected to do when one student complains that it is too hot in the room, while another one asks to close the window? Of course, we try to find a win-win solution, but what if there is none? Personally, I don’t know how to handle that. My policy so far is to rely on self-regulatory group homeostasis 🙂 I always try my best to please all the students in the class, but I guess sometimes my best isn’t good enough.

Luckily, some leadership skills can be mastered through trial and error.

Some time ago, I launched Pilates weekly classes in the International women club that unites ladies from 50+ nationalities and, obviously, different cultural background. One day, two ladies from Eastern Europe asked me to be harsher during the class (they were used to the “no pain, no gain” mantra back then) and a minute later another girl, American, complained that I hadn’t appraised her enough for her efforts during the class! Apparently, her previous trainer repeatedly told her how gorgeous her Roll Up was.

Lesson learned. The more you know the background and needs of your Pilates audience, the better you can prepare an efficient class for everyone.

#5. Different Clients’ Expectations

“Let’s do something more challenging!!!”, “It’s not working. It’s not working at all”, and “What? You sell the water here?!!” – These are my top three remarks from clients, which used to cause me a discomfort long time ago. Since then, I have figured out how to respond, and treat similar situations as a chance to win a lifelong Pilates client.

So, what to do, if clients ask you about something not Pilates-sy? There are two approaches to handling this kind of requests. Both legitimate and both have many adepts: you can either tailor a program for the client or refuse to compromise the essence of Pilates.

I tend to believe that the choice of answer is deeply rooted to how the teacher refers to her audience: as to clients or as to students. Personally, I am pro “client” approach: I do what I do not to share my wisdom, but to help people become healthier and fitter. Basically, I provide service. So when I am asked to change the workout program slightly, I am okay with that, as long as it is safe, within my scope of expertise, and aligned with Pilates principles. 

Moreover, when someone complains that “I can’t do this exercise as nicely as you can” or “I have been doing that for 10 days and did not see results,” what kind of trainer am I if I can’t implement the basics of motivation in fitness and cheer up my clients’ Monday blues?

Finally, to charge or not to charge for the water. Personally, I don’t. But there is not the one right answer here; it depends on your abilities, marketing strategy and, perhaps, what your competitors do… If there were only one advice on how to create outstanding customer care experience, let it be this: be consistent. Charging for a bottle of still water when you claim yourself as a premier boutique top studio and charge 99 USD per one mini group class seems as awkward as providing bambootique towels when your studio is sharing a bathroom with a community garage.

Try to create an atmosphere in your class, where people sense your best intentions to help them. Once you achieve that, most stresses will disappear.


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