Assessment Tips for Pilates Instructors

When I was fresh out of my Pilates training program the hardest thing for me to really wrap my head around was how to properly assess and gather information about a client so that I can best serve them through the Pilates method.

I knew that I was supposed to give them the studio intake and waiver so they can fill out the information, but beyond that it was up to me to interpret the information and translate it into movement. In the back my mind I always wanted to ask more questions than what was on the waiver but I felt it would get in the way of the work out. As I grew as an instructor, I began to realize all the questions I needed and wanted to ask always came up during our Pilates session. I realized I might as well just ask them in the beginning.

The 5 major parts of client assessment are:

  1. Asking open ended questions that pertain to the person as a whole – mind, body and spirit
    1. Follow the S.O.A.P. (Subjective, Objective, Assessment, Plan) format is great for staying organized. 
  2. Listening whole heartedly to the answers without judgement
  3. Look at their body before it moves
  4. Look at their body during movement
  5. Palpation of muscles

When these five areas are addressed, Pilates training can begin. I know the aforementioned techniques for assessment can take a lengthy time for someone just starting out, but with time, assessment can take 15 minutes or less if you have them answer a questionnaire before the session.

  • Asking questions that pertain to the “mind, body and spirit”

These questions tend to center around goals; why they came to Pilates, how much time they think they will be able to spend doing Pilates (days, months, years), if fitness is a regular part of their life routine, as well as how they manage and recover from muscle pain. This is the time to ask about injuries, surgeries, disease, meaningful tasks that are challenging, their motivation and recovery plans.

  • Listening – give clients time answer all the questions without interruption

Take the time to listen! Period. You may be the first person who has actually let them vent.

  • Assessing a body before it moves is a great skill to have in your toolbox

Knowing how to give a thorough proper postural assessment is one key to being a great Pilates instructor. This will help you design workout programs so your client can see the most improvement in the shortest amount of time. Be sure to assess your client in a standing position, seated position, prone, side lying as well as lying on their back. Imbalances can present in either position. For example, you may never know a client has tight hamstrings or calves if you never have them sit with their legs stretched out.

  • Assessing a body in movement is the next step in the process

This portion of the assessment should also be done standing, sitting, lying on their back, as well as on their side to get a well-rounded picture about their muscle patterns, articular structure and function. In Pilates the reformer warm-up is a great tool to assess movement abilities. Footwork, bridging, abs, supine arms and feet in straps is enough to know if a client is ready for more advanced progression and exercises. 

    1. Footwork will let you know leg strength, coordination, and whether they are great at moving slow, fast or isometric holds. Foot work will expose any ankle/foot, knee and hip imbalances. You can also see if they have pelvic control and if they move into a posterior tilt/tuck every time they push out towards straight legs.
    2. Bridging show you how well they use their core to articulate their pelvis and spine. You can learn if they are able to find their neutral spine/pelvis or if they clench their glutes to initiate the bridge. Inner and outer thigh imbalances can also be revealed.
    3. Abdominal work such as chest lift, reverse crunches and the Pilates abdominal series will let you know if you client is flexible, mobile and strong enough to support their 10-12 lbs head during a chest lift. Reverse low belly crunches will give you an idea if your student is ready for rollovers, jack-knife, short spine and more. The abdominal series will let you see coordination as well as how much load your clients abs can take before their transverse gives way allowing the rectus abdominus to blow out and look like a bread loaf.
    4. Supine Arms will reveal arm strength, shoulder mobility, wrist strength, and coordination.
    5. Feet In Straps is a great indicator for pelvic stability and control. You can find out someones true hamstring length during double-leg-lower-lift if they maintain a neutral pelvis/spine on the lift portion. Hip mobility and leg flexibility are revealed during hip-circles.
  • Assessment is best with palpation

Touch is a powerful thing and a necessary skill as a Pilates instructor. Even if you are not the one doing the touching but guiding them how to take their practice into their own hands. Touch helps guide clients as well as give feedback to an instructor to let them know what muscles are working and which ones they need to activate. Palpating the core muscle groups while going through the movement assessment will help a client connect and activate the necessary muscles to achieve the given task.

Touch can also be a very tricky thing because it makes people feel vulnerable. Remember it is our place as instructors to make our clients feel comfortable. If they do not feel comfortable with palpation, then the structure of trust is weakened. I found as an instructor, the more confident I feel about the tactile cues I am giving, the more comfortable the client feels.

All in all it is better to assess and have the answers you need so you can best serve your client rather than find out about a major illness or injury in the middle of the session.

Thank you for reading. Share your thoughts and views on this in the comments section below.

June 10, 2020

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