There is a life-defining moment when a person realizes that they would like assistance with a certain aspect of their
health and walks into a studio or gym. They could be there to lose weight, gain pain relief or more energy, to relieve depression, become better or maintain their edge in their sport or help with the inevitable aging process. There is usually a certain vulnerability accompanying that visit to the studio. They are admitting that they need help with a certain area in their life and they are putting themselves out there to learn a new skill or movement form— something that they are not good at, yet are willing to be a beginner or to start again in a situation they may not have been in for a long time. They are about to unveil their body to someone they hardly know; it is the coach’s job to guide them and create a partnership and not to overly control them.

Coaching skills are an extremely important aspect of physical training or bodywork because referring to a person’s body is about as personal as it gets. Most people have a negative mental script they replay to themselves regarding their body. A trainer has to encourage and point out areas of achievement to keep their client’s focus positive. A coach needs to be realistic, but at the same time not overwhelm the client with too many cues or goals. This varies, depending on the needs and intention of the client. If the goal is pain relief, the focus is on what the client wants to participate in and to help them move toward that goal. For instance, a woman may need to continue to be employed, to pick up her little children, to drive and climb stairs to maintain her independence. As she progresses, the coach will help her redefine her goals.

In a Pilates session, it is the trainer’s job to provide opportunities fo a positive movement experience. This retrains the nervous system to find way where movement can occur with little or no pain. Without proper coaching, it is difficult to learn how to modulate pain; it can become all-encompassing. There needs to be someone to help the client find the small, subtle movement that lessen or relieve their pain. Then the client realizes, “When I move this way, the pain is not there—maybe the is hope that I can get past this.”

If the goal is to improve posture, then the keen eye of a trained instruct is invaluable. Chronic pain is often th result of poor posture or a destructive movement pattern that has caused wear and tear on the body. If a joint has nc been in proper alignment for years, the cartilage has worn away, causing an inbalance in the joint. Usually, joints a out of alignment because the soft tissue (muscle, tendon, ligament, fascia) has had an uneven pull on the bones of the joint; muscles are stronger on one side of the joint and weaker on the other. So bringing the posture into better alignment is really a very important step in the healing process.

This is also true if the goal is to achieve better performance in a sport, such as running or tennis. When the joints of the body are in better alignment, it helps to prevent injury and creates a stronger body that will fatigue less quickly. Because a person’s alignment is built into their proprioception (awareness of body position), a posture may feel normal even if it far from ideal.

When the body is in a new position, it can feel very off-center, even if it is better placed. It is essential to receive instructor feedback to know where and how to make those subtle movement changes that place the joints back in their proper alignment before exercising. Knowledge of results is very important in motor learning.

Exercise adherence is also important. It is helpful for an instructor to transfer a person’s external motivators into internal motivators by pointing out the achievements gained and the benefits that are possible. Working with a Pilates coach can help a client to be committed to a program, rather than just show up for a class. The connection between client and coach will make the difference.

Barbara Bruni  is a certified Pilates instructor and is certified and licensed in the Gyrotonic and Cyrokenisis methods of exercise. She is also a licensed massage therapist and specializes in myofascial release and structural integration.