Supporting My Students To Be More Autonomous In Their Pilates Practice

When the elevator doors opened on the top floor of New York University´s TISH School Of The Arts building on 2nd Avenue I would be greeted by the sounds of springs, classical music and the voice of Kathy Grant teaching two or three people at a time in her little Pilates studio. It was a tiny studio; there was a Reformer, a Cadillac, a Ladder Barrel, a Wunda Chair, a Spine Corrector and various small accessories like little balls, and pillows, tennis cans, and pinwheels. Like an orchestra conductor, Kathy would correct, advise and scold us from her chair next to the window (and the radiator). It was not a quite place but the concentration level was palpable. Her students were mainly made up of TISH dance majors and professional dancers. But there were others too. Actors, musicians, painters and even a few who where not artists. We all knew the protocol of the studio. We all knew what we did. We all knew that then we arrived we were expected to get the accessories we needed, to find a place in the room, and to get started with our warm-ups. In the thirteen years that I studied with Kathy I never had a private session. This model made me re-evaluate the one-to-one session model that dominated the studio culture that I had been working in.

I haven´t thrown the "baby out with the bathwater" - I still teach private sessions. However, many of my students “graduate” from private training sessions into what we call in my studio a Mixed Equipment Trio - a old school teaching model that I learned from Mrs. Grant which I am sure she learned from Mr. Pilates.

What is a Mixed Equipment Trio?

In a Mixed Equipment Trio class there are three students working at their own level in the studio. For example, one person might start on the Reformer with Footwork while another person starts on the Low Chair with Standing Roll Down and the third person starts with some Mat exercises before setting up the Tower for the Leg Spring Series. My attention is divided three ways as I move around the studio coaching and correcting each person individually.

I encourage all of my students to take ownership of their workout. During the 55 minutes they are in the studio, they are changing springs, adjusting the foot bar and taking the box on and off the Reformer. I want them to not only do good Pilates but to know how to use the equipment and understand that Pilates is not a bunch of arbitrary exercises that I´ve thrown together but rather a sophisticated system and philosophy of whole body conditioning that guides my teaching choices.

Who would do a Trio?

Mixed Equipment Trio´s are a great option for anyone who does not need the undivided attention that they would get during a private training session. Trios are for the average healthy client. Perfect for those diehards that come to my Mat classes two or three times a week who want to mix it up a bit because I keep telling them how much they are going to love doing the Short Spine on the Reformer or the Climb The Mountain on the Wunda Chair. Trio´s are for people who are willing to change their own springs and remember the order in which to do the exercises. They are for people who want to do Pilates multiple times a week. Which in my experience, is a whole bunch of people.

How does it work?

I require that my new students have at least three private training sessions with me before jumping into a Mixed Equipment Trio training session. Sometimes it´s more depending on the person. These inicial one-on-one sessions give me a chance to get to know the person and to lay a foundation from which to build upon in future sessions. I introduce the vocabulary that I will be using, the anatomy of the equipment and safety protocol. It is also during these inicial private training sessions that I design their individualized routines to meet their fitness level and goals.

My aim is to empower my students to be as independent and knowledgeable as possible in the studio. I do this by providing support systems that they can rely on when I am working with someone else during the session. Each person is given a card that lists all the exercises that they do. They can have their card next to them while they workout. When they are taught a new exercise I mark it on their card. There are also archival pictures of Mr. Pilates doing the Wunda Chair and Reformer exercises on the wall for visual reminders and inspiration.

The cards serve double duty. While my students use them as a reference tool as they move through their routines; the cards also show what exercises have yet to be learned. I find this to be key to keeping my students motivated in their sessions week after week, month after month and year after year. They get that Pilates is not just a bunch of random exercises that I have thrown together. My students see that there is a system and philosophy informing how I teach. As they advance in their practice, more exercises are checked on the list, their confidence grows and the genius of Mr. Pilates is not lost on them.

Why do I teach Trios? What is the benefit?

It is my wish that all my students learn to listen to their bodies and to to be super attuned to their needs so that they can self- regulate their sessions by dialing things up or down depending on what they might have going on that day. In a Trio everyone moves through their exercises at their own pace and by the end of the session have worked on two or three different pieces of equipment in the studio.

Trios are a lot of fun to teach once everyone is in their groove. It builds community in much of the same way a mat class or single equipment class does. In my case, I have a small studio and teach alone so offering Mixed Equipment Trios makes a lot of sense for me. It enables me to maximize my teaching hours, see more clients without adding more teaching hours to my schedule, and offer an economical alternative to the cost of private training.

The bottom line is that I want all of my students to be more autonomous in their Pilates practice. When they feel empowered by what they do in the studio, they are more likely to do 5 or 10 minutes of mat work at home or teach a few exercises to their friends. When this starts to happen I know that I have been a good teacher, that I have passed my knowledge on to them so that they may take their wellbeing into their own hands.

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