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Fanning the Flames Instead of Feeling the Burnout

Fanning the Flames Instead of Feeling the Burnout

As a Classical Pilates instructor since 2001 and a studio owner since 2005, I’ve observed and learned from many instructors. Some I connected with personally, some I was intimidated by, and some didn’t live up to their reputations. A colleague recently asked me if I ever ran out of things to teach during a private session, and my reply was, “not since I was a newly certified teacher.”

Burnout does happen, but it doesn’t have to. Romana taught us that Pilates is an exercise for life. From Joe Pilates’ writings, we learn that “Contrology is complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit,” a construct that should lead to the longevity of this lifestyle. Teaching Pilates can be a career for life– it is a journey that takes years of consistent practice. Consider the What, Why, and How of Classical Pilates to stay dedicated and keep your flame from flickering.

The job of an apprentice and a newly certified instructor is to understand the WHAT of teaching Pilates. What is the purpose of the exercise? What is the order? What are the spring settings? What are the six principles? What are the safety standards and modifications? What can be done to progress the client appropriately?

This first step of the journey identifies the potential of any new instructor. However, only teaching and cuing the WHAT leads to boredom and burnout from both the teacher and the client. Moving beyond step one adds immediate fuel to the fire and gives a new instructor a stronger voice.

Step two is understanding the HOW of teaching Pilates. How do you cue the client to work deeper? How can you change the cues for a client with a different learning style? How do you address the client’s injury or condition without changing the intent of the exercise? How is the same exercise done on various apparatus? How does using the whole system lend itself to more controlled movements?

The WHAT is more about the logistics of the body and the method, and the HOW connects the mind to the body. Teaching the HOW makes your cues feel unique to each client and makes you more relatable in the client/teacher relationship. However, this second step can last for years, and for many, the fire and passion of teaching wanes. In my observation, this often has to do with more time teaching and less time being a student. Often, instructors seek to study a complementary modality or yearn for a more profound knowledge of anatomy and physiology. A great continuing education course, a Pilates conference, or a fantastic mentor can also reignite an instructors’ desire and lead them into the third step of a Pilates instructor’s journey.

This is the WHY of teaching Pilates. Why can one body successfully execute an exercise and another cannot? Why should I omit a particular exercise? Why is one exercise considered specifically a breathing exercise while another is not? Why did Joe Pilates make the choices he did, and why did my teachers make the choices they did? Why does an exercise with the same name feel different on the reformer vs. the chair vs. the barrel (hint: physics!)?

The WHY is more about the mind while bringing it back to your own individual practice. Cueing the WHY distinguishes you from other teachers. It is the source of every Pilates epiphany (and we all know how good a Pilates epiphany can be) because the WHY isn’t in the manual. The WHY keeps you learning, researching, questioning, moving forward, and engaged. Exploring the WHY also helps you revisit the WHAT and HOW with a new perspective. Perhaps the WHY is the spirit of practicing and teaching Contrology. It is this part of the journey that keeps the flame burning and gives you a career for life.


Hallee Altman was certified by Romana Kryzanowska in 2001 and opened Candlestick Pilates in 2005. Hallee is also a MELT Master Trainer and co-creator of MELTed Pilates. She has presented at multiple Pilates conferences and teaches both virtually and in-person. Website: candlestickpilates.com IG: @candlestickpilates83rd, @halleealtman

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