Many articles have already been written aiming to help a person enter the gym/studio space. There is a lot of fear surrounding starting a new fitness program for some. Social media/marketing, in general, has helped perpetuate this problem. People are afraid their bodies are not “good enough” to even enter a studio!  And while these articles maybe do help someone take that first step of entering a pilates, yoga, or fitness class, there is not enough talk among us teachers on how we have caused or contributed to this toxic phenomenon.

Focusing on the non-aesthetic benefits of working out in our social media and marketing can help, but if the teacher is always talking about “toning, shaping, and lifting”, it creates a rift.

Can we be more inclusive, body-positive, and accessible? Yes, of course!

But, there may be another critical point we are missing.

We can do even better in our transportation of information to support and nurture our students more.

Giving cues and corrections is an essential part of the job as movement teachers. Whether you are a pilates, yoga, dance, or barre teacher, our clients and students rely on our expertise and the relay of information of what we deem helpful or “correct” for the person. Our corrections should come from helpful feedback, not criticism.

In many fields, criticism has been so ubiquitous that we barely even notice it anymore. In some methods, criticism is used to form a hierarchy within the structure (whether it is from Teacher to Student, Director to Dancer, Teacher to teacher trainee, “advanced” practitioner to “beginner”). Criticism hides under the term “correction,” but it deserves to be unpacked. There is a big difference between feedback and criticism.

Criticism is the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.

Feedback: information about reactions to a person’s movement performance used as a basis for improvement.

As movement teachers, we absolutely want to be able to help people improve their skills. That is why they are coming to us. But, often, we are not looking deep enough into how we are talking with our clients and delivering our observations.

What is criticism? Corrections under the guise of being helpful either knowingly or unknowingly make the receiver of the comments feel bad about themselves as a person or their abilities.

Criticism is a thinly veiled attempt to make the student (or client) move differently but usually doesn’t give the information needed to adjust.

It’s sneaky because it can sound a lot of different ways that are seemingly innocent.
Just because it’s a common cue doesn’t mean it’s correct.
Sometimes the teacher aims to be funny, but it is at the student’s expense. These are just a few examples:

  • “You need to keep your shoulders down if you want to look like you have a neck.”
  • “Belly button to the spine so you don’t have a mum tum.”
  • “Let’s work off that Dad bod.”
  • “I don’t know what your last pilates teacher taught you, but this is not correct.”
  • “We have been doing this exercise for the last month. You should be able to do it by now”
  • “No pain, no gain. You aren’t trying hard enough.”
  • “If you would just try a bit harder, you can do it.”
  • “This is the last time I’m going to correct you on this”
  • “This is so easy! Everyone can do it!”
  • “The fact that you don’t want to do it means that you NEED to do it.”

Many of these examples and many more have some variation of ableism or weight bias. Maybe the tone aims to be inspirational but is a bit misguided and ends up with a quality of shaming. The above cues lack insight into moving more effectively or efficiently for your student.

Feedback has a tone from neutral to positive and gives actionable tools to help motor learning. The teacher uses the science of how we learn to help the client achieve the skill.

When we use feedback, we help solidify positive learning environments. We help make lasting changes in motor learning. We nurture our students to have a better relationship with movement and possibly themselves.

This can sound like:

  • “Would you like to hear something that helps me in this exercise?”
  • “Would a demonstration be helpful for you?”
  • “May I assist you in this movement?”
  • “Can you try doing a little more of this….. And a little less of this….”
  • “How would it feel if you tried this…”
  • “You did this other exercise so well. Would you like to try this other variation?”
  • “Even though it looks simple, it doesn’t mean it’s easy.”
  • “Great effort, I know this was scary, and you did so well trying it.”

To make these changes, we need to understand where our unconscious biases lie, where our tendency to cue comes from, and why we would choose a different cueing technique.

If you are a teacher looking to empower your students through effective coaching, powerful cueing, and masterful teaching techniques, check out our signature program, Train the Trainers. We help other professional movement instructors amplify their pedagogy and teach authentically.