Question #21: When clients want more of a challenge.

When a client comes to you with pain or dysfunction, it is common to get stuck in the safe zone of exercises that have guaranteed success, both as being pain-free and achievable. There comes a time however when the client is ready to progress, and is eager to do so because they are no longer in a state of dysfunction. In this week’s question, Betsy is wondering how do you give clients the increased challenge that they desire while also keeping them safe.

The answer in short is…give the client want they want. Our teaching skills equip us with the tools to teach movement at any level in a way that is safe for any body. We must use our judgment and knowledge to make smart exercise choices that are beneficial and not contraindicated for a client’s specific diagnosed condition, but that leaves us with hundreds of options to help them move and feel challenged and motivated.

Some of my favorite tools for guaranteed success are progressions and build-ups. These are step-by-step series of movements that give the client the skills to accomplish the most difficult Pilates exercises, but also to allow the client to progress to a level where they are comfortable on any given day. Maybe they make it to step 5 one day, and step 3 on another. Either way they have progressed from a beginner foundational movement, while also reaching their limits.

Here is an example of a build-up series for Backstroke on the Reformer…

Setup: Lying supine on the long box with legs in table top, and hands in straps with back of hands in front of forehead with elbows wide.

  1. Press gently into hands to create a strong frame of the arms and roll up into an ab curl, and slowly roll down – 3 times
  2. Roll up into an ab curl and hold, then press legs straight forward to long and back to table top – 3 times
  3. In the ab curl, press arms and legs forward together to a long reach and return to the start position – 3 times
  4. Hold the ab curl. Press arms and legs forward to a long reach then lift all 4 limbs to vertical. Circle arms and legs around to the sides and into the long reach forward, then return back to the start position. – 3 times

The bottom line is that our clients need to feel that they are progressing but our job is also to make them stronger, and to help them move better in all planes and directions of movement. We can’t always treat our clients with kid gloves, nor should we need to. Movement is safe, not scary so let’s help our clients feel secure as they move while also giving them the opportunity to feel stronger and more capable than they thought possible.

Do you have a question related to your teaching or movement practice? Send it to to be featured in a future Ask Holly.

Written by
Holly Wallis, Certified Movement & Rehabilitation Specialist, PMA®-CPT
Director of US Operations, Body Harmonics Pilates & Movement Institute
Studio Director, ReActive Movement, 6200 LaSalle Ave, Oakland, CA 94611

© Movement Monthly 2019. All rights reserved.

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