Yesterday, I had a chat with someone who has rheumatoid arthritis who was interested in becoming a Pilates instructor. I told her that she definitely should, especially since arthritis is something Pilates teachers see in clinics all the time. I started my Pilates instructor training nearly three years ago. Right from the jump, I heard things like, ‘I would like to teach Pilates, but . . .’ and I still hear that today. One of my favourite YouTubers recently retrained to be a yoga teacher, something she’d wanted to do for years, but she felt held back by her lack of strength and flexibility. I told her that those things would make her a compassionate and thoughtful teacher because she’d be able to help others who held the same limiting beliefs. What you perceive as a deficit can actually help other people relate to you and feel comfortable with you.
Why do we all follow Elyse Myers on TikTok and adore her? She tells stories we can all relate to. Why did her video of her messing up LIzzo’s ‘About Damn Time’ dance get more views and engagement than her video of her actually doing the dance? Because everyone who did that dance must have messed up at least once, and Elyse put that out there and expressed what most of us were feeling.
If you want to be a Pilates teacher, your greatest strength can come from what you consider your weakness: inflexibility or inexperience. Everyone who teaches Pilates had to start from somewhere; everyone who comes from a background of dance or physiotherapy started from zero at one point or another, and they worked hard to learn everything that they know. Teaching Pilates involved continuous learning – taking workshops and classes and courses. That’s one of the best things about the job: there’s always more to learn, and you can push yourself to
add new work to your repertoire and help your clients.
This is what I would go back and tell my younger self when I was just starting out as an instructor:
Find the instructor training course that is best-recognized in the city where you plan to work.
Many studios prefer one course over another. Figure out the best-recognized course wherever it is that you want to work, and do that course. It can save you a massive headache because many studios are quite particular about the training they’d prefer their instructors have. Do as many workshops and classes as possible that add more to your repertoire, like a prenatal course or a course on fascial stretching.
Get a business partner.
The hardest part of being a teacher, by far, is running a business. If you decide to work as a self-employed instructor, find a business mentor who will help you market yourself. Have them make connections to other industry professionals, like physiotherapists and massage therapists and chiropractors, who can help you build your business.
Don’t rely on social media.
I worked really hard at Instagram for nearly three years. How many clients did I get from it? Seven. In three years. Five of them were pregnant women whom I approached first and asked them if they wanted prenatal classes. Email marketing, business to business referrals, and word of mouth recommendations are far better than using social media, especially since Instagram is now an ecommerce platform that caters to product-based businesses rather than people selling services.
We need instructors who represent the kind of clients we want to serve. We need people of colour, people of size, people with disabilities and chronic pain, and members of the LGBT community working as instructors. What differentiates you from other instructors is what will get clients in the door and keep them coming back. The elitism in the industry can be staggering at times, and the best way to dismantle that is through meaningful representation.
You don’t have to be able to do every exercise.
I had an instructor tell me that, when he was training to teach Pilates, of the thirty other people who were training with him, only he and one other person could do every exercise. There’s a difference between being able to do exercises and being able to teach them. I struggle with exercises like Shirt Spine, Shoulder Bridge, Hip Lift, and Swan Dive, but I can still teach them. Not being able to do an exercise also means you can learn ways to adapt it, with props and modifications, and that helps you to help a broader range of clients.
Teach your clients how to change their own springs and equipment.
The instructor I spoke to yesterday was concerned about her arthritis affecting her ability to handle the equipment. I have a somewhat similar issue because I have weak grip strength. I told her that I teach clients how to adapt and change the equipment, and that this keeps classes going at a reasonable pace. Having to change everyone’s equipment takes up too much time.
Keep doing your own Pilates classes.
Walk the talk as a teacher. Make time for your own classes. My instructor training – the concentrated hours of Pilates – is what healed over a decade of chronic back pain. I finally developed strength in my abs and glutes. In the last few months, the pain has returned. As soon as I felt the familiar twinge in my back, I immediately knew that I hadn’t been doing enough to keep my abs and glutes strong, even though I’d been walking a lot more than usual. Keep doing your own Pilates classes and trying new things so that you can share them with others.