Mastering private Pilates sessions is an absolute must if you are a career Pilates instructor and want to stay in the movement industry long-term. They’re not only a personally and professionally rewarding, but also a great way to fill the gaps in your day.
When first starting out, private sessions can be a source of anxiety for newer instructors. However, as you gain more knowledge, experience and skill, your desire to work with private clients over classes will increase.
At Body Harmonics, we are fortunate to have a robust private client practice. Just over a year ago, we doubled the size of our private room at one of our studios. Our private rooms have sessions running from morning till night most days of the week. It really is a natural fit for our clients, teachers and the space we’re in. However, the success of our private practice is no accident.
Here are some key elements we use to make private client sessions magic every time. Go ahead and try them. The more of these you can master and implement over time, the more engaging your private sessions will become and the more interesting being a teacher of Pilates and movement will be for you.
Get in the right headspace and take responsibility
Regardless of how the client walks in and what kind of day you’ve had, it’s ultimately your responsibility to make sure this session works. If you’ve had a rough morning, make sure to do something to boost your energy and lift your mood so you can be fully present for your client. Perhaps that’s listening and dancing to some fun music, taking a few breaths or doing a 5-minute power workout. Whatever it takes!
Also think about what you’d like to get out of the private session and what you’d like your client to get out of it. Having an intention will help you focus and set you up for success.
Realize a private session is different than a group class
In a group class, you’re leading many individuals through a series of movements. With a private session, you’re putting all of your energy and attention on just one person.
A group class is more choreographed and designed to flow seamlessly. The instructor speaks to everyone and is almost “on stage”.
In a private session, there’s a much deeper level of personal interaction. The instructor also has the time and ability to pay much more attention to detail because there’s just one person!
One more difference is the exercises chosen. Although teachers walk in with a general plan for the private session, it may change depending on how the client walks in that day. It’s important to be flexible and let the client’s body and energy guide where the session will go next in terms of exercise choice.
Start your session off right
When the client walks in, ask them for an “update” since their last session. Keeping this open ended is best for most because they’ll let you know what’s at top of mind for them. If the client does need more direction, you can help narrow it down. For example “How has your hip been feeling since the last session?”
Choose exercises that are most relevant to them
Based on how they walk in, their verbal update, their posture type and specific issues they have, you will choose where to start. The body is a series of moving parts, so as you move things may change. Be prepared to change your plan at any point if needed. This is where the possible anxiety may set in for newer teachers. What if something goes wrong? What if I don’t know where to go next?
It’s important to continue growing your skill set so you can add to your toolbox of exercises to do with clients for a variety of situations. With time, this will come naturally. Until then, keep upping your game, going to workshops, ask colleagues and mentors with more experience what they’d recommend, read books, do Google searches to learn more about conditions, etc. The more resources you have to draw from, the more options you’ll have to work with.
Balance the dialogue and your work
When working privately, there will likely be a large conversational component. We refer to this as chit chat. As you chit chat, it’s important to keep watching the client and weaving your exercise cues throughout the session. It’s a bit of a juggling act to balance the two. If it doesn’t come naturally at first, don’t worry and give it some time.
Make it relevant to your client
Of all the points listed, this one’s my favorite because it helps turn your clients into self-mangers. As their curiosity peaks they’ll be able to tune into their bodies and bring better questions to you. They’ll also notice things in how they move that you can work on and improve.
People like to know what’s going on and why they are doing things. It’s important to share why the exercises you are doing are relevant to them and their situation. Some clients will want more details and technical explanation. Others won’t express curiosity but appreciate knowing that “moving their ankles can help loosen their hips and improve the way they activate their core”. There will be some clients who really don’t care and just want to ‘work out’ – perhaps you’ll need to do this for a while, and a few sessions in you can gradually start getting them to “tune in”. The key is to explain why they’re doing things in a way that makes sense to them. Also when they’re receptive to it.
Give feedback to your clients
It’s important to let clients know what they’re doing well and where they can continue to improve. We like to focus on what’s right at Body Harmonics.
Whenever letting a client know what they’ve done well, you want to say more than “great job” or “that’s looking really nice”. Let them know specifically what they’ve done well and how it will help them. When you say “Your pelvis is really stable today and is looking great. That’s really going to help you use your core more efficiently” they have more context and reasons to ask questions and build awareness in their own bodies.
Look for signs the session is going well
Smiles, being engaged on many different levels and good communication are the best signals that your sessions are going well. Often you can tell by the energy of your client if you’re on the right track.
Overtime, what’s most rewarding is when they can relate the things you do in your sessions to daily life and tell you about it.
If something’s not working, change your approach
If the exercise you’re doing doesn’t appear to be working for the client, don’t be afraid to change course. If they appear bored out of their mind, pick up the pace and make them work hard or just change the exercise to see if their energy picks up. You may also need to just be direct and say “I don’t think this is working, let’s try something else instead. I think it’s a better fit for you today.” Then move on.
Don’t forget to wrap things up
A few minutes before ending, begin to wind down. You can say something direct like “let’s just do one more exercise before we wrap up.” You can also do a certain type of exercise or series at the end of every session that becomes a ritual that indicates to them the session is coming to a close.
Before they go, remind them of what went right in the session. Point out their successes.
Make sure to end the session by saying “see you next week” to create a pattern of familiarity and expectation they’ll see you again soon.