Fundamentally, teaching Pilates is about movement, and movement is about the human body. As anatomy specialist Gary Carter puts it, knowledge of the body allows teachers to “see their clients” more clearly, which enables them to make stronger decisions when preparing an exercise plan. So, it makes sense for Pilates teachers to know their Soleus from their Serratus Anterior!
Pilates teachers often attract clients with injuries and health problems, as well as pre- and post-pregnancy.
Because of this Kristin Loeer, Polestar Mentor and anatomy teacher, points out that teachers “need to be able to understand the implications of whatever the client is presenting with, so that when we ask them to describe their condition to us we understand what this means for their body and their ability to move.” Pilates teachers might not need to know the human body in the way a medical student would, but they should have a practical understanding of everything that plays a role in human movement.
Loeer also warns that Pilates teachers without a working knowledge of the internal structures could be putting clients at risk because they might not recognise when certain exercises are making health conditions worse. This is particularly important given the complex needs of certain Pilates clients.
Fundamentally, Pilates teachers want to be able to support their clients and get them back to health – and what better reason could there be to get educated about the body? As Loeer points out; “The more we know about the body and the person, the greater the chance we can help them.”
Can this knowledge improve your teaching of the Pilates method?
In short, yes. Knowing what is happening in the body when a certain exercise is performed means that PIlates teachers can be precise in their cueing. This, Loeer claims, can help Pilates clients develop greater body awareness and help them achieve that much sought-after “body and mind connection.” As an added bonus, knowing about the mechanics of the body helps teachers to easily modify exercises – and allows them to get more creative. When you understand what an exercise does, you can apply your knowledge of the body to play around with it.
Anatomy knowledge also helps Pilates teachers to correctly identify pathologies in their clients.
This means they can put together the right exercise programme for their clients’ needs. People who can’t lift their arms overhead, for example, might be suffering with tight muscles around the shoulder blades and upper back. Ooi says understanding this means that teachers can “include movements to promote proper mechanics of the scapula, to improve thoracic spine mobility [and] improve the shoulder joint mobility.”
This knowledge is also essential for teachers taking group classes as Hollie Grant, creator of The Model Method, points out; “A good Pilates teacher tells you where in the body you should/could be feeling the exercise. Without this how are you to know if you are doing it correctly?”
Our “Anatomy” is comprised of more than just bones and muscles. The Nervous system might not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think about anatomy. But, actually, it maybe the most important to understand because of the profound way it influences our movement. We would never be able to use our muscles without a nervous system because it connects our brain to our muscles.
Pilates teachers also need to understand how nerves work as they are often faced with clients suffering from things like neural tension, sciatica or carpal tunnel syndrome. This is why the second of the new Polestar anatomy workshops focuses on the fascial and nervous system, helping teachers get to grips with these vital but little-understood systems.
Can it enhance your own experience of Pilates?
If you wanted yet another reason to deepen your anatomy knowledge, Loeer claims that understanding what is going on inside your body can totally change your experience of Pilates. Knowing about the bones, joints and muscles in your own body can help you identify what you are feeling when performing certain exercises. It might also help you make sense of why some movements feel impossible. As we’ve already established, the fascial system, the organs, circulatory and nervous systems all play their part in moving the body. So, knowing how to influence these might also give you the tools to help you achieve a particularly tricky exercise!
Loeer is leading our new anatomy workshops, which are designed specifically for new Pilates teachers and those who are training to become Pilates teachers. She explains that these workshops apply the theory straight away. “Rather than just learning names and shapes of bones, or muscles and their attachments from a book, we will familiarise ourselves with bones and muscles on the living body. Instead of just memorising anatomical facts, we instantly explore the relevance the bone shape or the attachment points may have on movement.”
As well as covering bones, muscles, fascia and the nervous system, these workshops also focus on how all these elements work together. As Loeer explains; “[As Pilates teachers] we work with the whole body. We need to understand how fascia impacts on muscles and bones and how the nervous system impacts on everything.”
“Knowing anatomy gives us power through choice”, Loeer says. “The more choices we have to explore movement in our own body, the richer our experience and the more tools we have to help our clients.”
Join Kristin on 29th April 2018
- Applied Basic Anatomy & Physiology 1 – The Skeletal & Muscular Systems
- Applied Basic Anatomy & Physiology 2 – The Fascial & Nervous Systems
Article and interview by Scarlett Hirst, Moss Pilates London.