Last weekend, Courtney Miller, one of the newest Pilates Celebrities presented Parts 1 & 2 of her Athletic Reformer – Full Body Integration workshop at CORE Studios in Toronto.

Courtney is an International Pilates Educator, Teacher Trainer and Pilates Method Alliance Certified Pilates Instructor. She’s studied and pursued certifications in Pilates, Yoga, AntiGravity Fitness, TRX, prenatal wellness, ballet barre, nutrition, and personal training and is able to purposefully draw on inspiration from each modality and infuse it into her Athletic Reformer repertoire.

Her repertoire is fun, filled with creative combinations, builds strength and balance in the body and is just plain smart. With the prevalence of “sitters syndrome” and other poor postural habits, Courtney minimizes the use of loaded flexion while maximizing functional movement patterns. She feels that if clients are going to cross train and embark on other forms of movement and exercise, we may as well teach them better patterns along the way through our Pilates principles.

In a reflective conversation with Monica Plewes, owner of CORE Studio, she said “Courtney kept the integrity of the Pilates principles and still made it athletic. We knew exactly where her exercises were derived from. It was brilliant – I can’t wait until she comes back to present parts 3 & 4 of this workshop in the fall!”

What was the workshop like? 

Each day started with an Athletic Reformer master class. Although it was challenging, as the class progressed, you we were set up to complete each ‘next step’ with success.

We moved onto a quick discussion of the course content we’d be covering for the day and then got into exercise breakdown for 30 exercise series and more than 90 exercises each day!

Many of the exercises were without equipment, but repertoire was covered using a wooden dowel, mini ball and resistance props to spice things up. Courtney covered teaching techniques and tips along the way and even had us all do some practice teaching!

Workshop attendees were all experienced instructors from Toronto (from Body Harmonics and CORE studio), Barrie, North Carolina and New York. We all had unique strengths and teaching styles which Courtney respected. She encouraged us to integrate her repertoire into our current teaching style and make it our own.

Many of the basic points Courtney made we’ve likely heard before as instructors. However, masterfully applying them is another story. She really showed us how it’s done.

Here are 5 key take-aways we covered in the workshop.

Be intelligent with your programming.

Courtney talked about intelligent exercise and programming a lot. She emphasized a good balance of mobility and strength. Also, making sure the exercise choices, variations, and cues are purposeful.

There was also a huge emphasis on recruiting the posterior chain to balance the body, but she did not do a lot of extension. By the end of the workshop, we all walked away feeling taller and more mobile in the spine.

Set your clients up for moments of success using progressions and sequencing to prepare people for the next step!

Within each exercise sequence and progression, you can decide how far you’d like to take your participants. For example, if they are not able to demonstrate a high level of success with bilateral footwork followed by unilateral footwork, then you would not progress them to footwork with load transfer. Only when there’s a high level of success, you’d move on to the next step.

The same thing applies in to the design of your class. If you are building up to climb a tree you should ensure your participants have good pelvic stability, spinal mobility, core strength, craniovertebral flexion to initiate spinal flexion, hip flexion and hip extension prior to attempting this exercise.

This seems simple, but may take time to make ensure all the checks and balances are in place. Spending a bit of time on class design is important to make sure this happens effectively.

Build challenge through coordination and full body integration.

There are so many ways to build challenge in a class that can be just as or more effective than simply increasing resistance. Playing with number of reps, changing tempo, using breath, adding a prop, and decreasing resistance are just a few.

When you begin to layer these elements, create a bit of choreography and even integrate upper body this helps challenge the brain and integrate work in the body from head to toe.

For example: do squats, do bicep curls, combine squats with bicep curls, then increase the speed or add unique breath combinations.

Another example is adding upper body work to footwork after participants can successfully complete basic footwork.

Use time wisely

When teaching a group class, it’s important to keep it moving so it’s engaging to participants and you have enough time to complete all the exercises you need in the class.

Think through the flow of your class and minimize spring changes and box position as much as possible. For example, if you choose to work with the short box, what else can you do other than a seated shortbox series with the box in the same position? Knee stretch, side lounge leg in strap series and modified control front with forearms on the box are a few options.

Also, make transitions part of your class. For example, to change springs between footwork or bridging and supine strap work, consider a roll up series with legs draped over the bar.

Teach in a musical way

Courtney loves teaching to music. She feels that music inspires your emotions and helps time go by. That being said, she also realizes it’s not everyone’s preference and she respects that.

Regardless of whether or not we teach choreography to music, when we develop the skill of teaching to music and using the voice in a musical way, we become masterful teachers.

Language will become more concise, cues will be more purposeful and the class will flow together flawlessly, like synchronized swimmers moving in unison.

Definitely a workshop to attend!

If you work with athletes or strong clients, Courtney’s workshop is definitely one to put on your list. It’ll fill your mind with so many fun ideas and help you set your clients up for success in their programming.

Take action now!

I’ve learned that action without insight is worthless. So today’s challenge is to choose at least one thing from this article you would like to put into practice. Feel free to share it in the comments section below. I’d love to see what you’ve chosen!


Author: Larisa Makuch

Larisa Makuch Pilates Larisa Makuch is a Pilates & Movement teacher, teacher trainer and ELDOA instructor. She draws on her experiences to create innovative teaching and business strategies. Larisa has a Body Harmonics Comprehensive Pilates diploma, several Specialist diplomas and a BA.

“For me it’s all about helping people move better, feel better and build their confidence each and every day. I especially enjoy those ‘aha’ moments when clients and colleagues make discoveries that translate into more freedom, more joy and less pain in their lives.”