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The Most Dreaded Question...

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

So, you're teaching your class, you're in your flow, your students are following your words, and then you get the dreaded question:

" Excuse me.. where am I supposed to feel this? I feel it in my (insert random body part here). Is that correct?”

Aaannnddd..... your class grinds to a stop.


I was teaching as part of an open day yesterday. It was going to be a challenge: Introduce people to Pilates and the reformer for the first time, make it fun and make them feel something so that they will want to come back and take classes. Do it in 30 minutes. No PROBLEMO, I got this, I'm a pro! 20 years experience should count for something, amirite?

However, no matter how many years you have been teaching, it can go wrong.

You cannot phone it in.

Anyway, we've done the ribcage breathing, and we're moving and grooving in footwork. And I get personally attacked by this question:

Where am I supposed to be feeling this?

(insert horror movie scream here)

Questions can be confronting, especially when you don't know the answer. But today I’m in a good place. I got this.

There are several ways to handle this one:

  1. Short and sweet: "You feel it where you need it the most. Where you're weak or where you're tight."

Pros: short and to the point. Doesn't bog down your class with a long explanation. Just throw it out there and keep them moving!

Cons: Not a very satisfying answer.

One of the great things about Pilates, is that it attracts people who are looking for more knowledge of their bodies and more depth in their physical practice and relationship to their body. It is simply a shame to shut down discussion with a glib response. Also a little shamey : obviously you suck: you are weak and tight: therefore, you are a LOSER! Do you feel judged? Good! Buy my 10 class card and you may be a WINNER someday!

You can't do that anymore. This isn't the 80's. Toxic exercise and diet culture is garbage.

We can do better.

You can keep those rainbow leg warmers though. They never hurt anybody.

2. The long answer:

It depends and it will vary from person to person where you feel this exercise. You might feel it in your feet, because you're keeping them steady as you move the carriage. You might feel it in your front thighs/quads, because you use those muscles to straighten your legs. You might feel it in your back muscles because you're using them to maintain neutral spine. Did you wear high heels to Beyoncé last night? You might feel your lower back and your calves working. Our bodies change every day. We all do different things outside of the Pilates studio. It is hard to say what you will feel.

Pros: good, thorough explanation

Cons: Blah blah blah, can be long winded. May stop the continuity of your class.

Client may be thinking: you lost me at quads, what are my quads again? Can we do clams? I really feel my butt when I do them.

I do stand by #2. You don’t have to bring the class to a standstill to communicate it. Spoken clearly, it shouldn’t take more than 90-120 seconds to say. It’s absolutely worth it if it alters someone’s perspective of what movement and fitness are supposed to do.

Global vs Local

Sometimes, where/what to feel will be super clear.

Some exercises are local: simple movements that focus on a specific muscle or group (for example: side lying leg lift, skaters: hello glutes!), some are global: they move through different positions of the body (for example:short spine stretch).

The exercises that have a local focus usually are simple and don’t demand lots of coordination. That doesn’t mean easy! That just means that they are easier to “feel” in a certain place because they’re not complicated. Clients often feel that these are effective because they burn (I’m looking at you, upper ab curl pulses, side leg work with a looped band).

The more global, full body movements are more difficult for people to feel in a certain place by reason that the effort is more generally distributed throughout the body, so there’s often not a specific place that will burn, and more so, this will often vary from person to person. I find that these demand a greater mental focus as you're creating a movement flow and focusing on sequencing through the whole body. When the weakest links in the body are exposed here, you go back to the small, local exercises to build the strength, flexibility and awareness in that muscle group, then come back to the full body exercise.

So go forth! Create your classes with a balanced combination of local and global exercises! Answer the dreaded question with the nuance that it deserves. If the discussion gets over-involved, offer to have a coffee date with your clients after class to continue the discussion and use the opportunity to build relationships. Understanding the why and the pursuit of knowledge should be encouraged.

What questions have stumped you while teaching class?

Let me know in the comments.

I’m here for you as a teacher and mentor.

I’m starting a mentorship for former students.

I only have space for four peeps.

We connect through WhatsApp, you get responses within 48hrs to your Pilates questions, advice on how to deal with challenging clients and/or work situations

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NO ROBOTS (except spellcheck) were used in the writing of this blog post.

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