Let me count the ways clients can “cheat” during exercises and I’ll never get any sleep. The ways are endless, with more advanced or organized students cheating in more subtle ways.
Observation, a keen eye, and knowledge of proper biomechanics and muscle actions serve the skilled Pilates teacher in assessment and evaluation of inappropriate exercise execution (cheating).
90% of the Pilates teachers job is observation. Without observing the client on a daily basis, unhealthy movement patterns can be missed. With constant observation and critique, the client can correct over-use, under-use, or inappropriate use of the musculoskeletal system during exercise. This takes perseverance on the part of the teacher and student as lasting change does not occur overnight. Postural imbalances and patterns develop over a period of time, and it is unrealistic to believe they will change without diligence and practice
Developing an “eye” for proper and improper movement takes years of observation. One learns how to identify perfect form by 1. Observing professional athletes, dancers, and gymnasts, 2. Studying human form via paintings, sculpture, and drawing, 3. Working with teachers and advanced students who have a command of the Pilates repertoire, 4. Working the new and beginning students to observe the difference between experts and novices recognizing perfect and imperfect form.
First, the teacher must know the proper biomechanics and muscle actions in her own body before she can identify cheating in another body. The teacher must master (as much as possible) perfect form of the Pilates repertoire to sense when movement feels “right” and “easy”. When movement feels “right” and “easy” it usually is.
An understanding of proper biomechanics influences how a client approaches movement. If the teacher understands how the shoulder or hip functions within the joint, they can convey how movement must occur. Knowing that the arms must be 30 degrees in front of the joint to maintain shoulder integrity when lifted out to the side helps the teacher to convey this information to the client. Knowing that popping or clicking in the hip joint may convey weakness or imbalance in the spine, pelvis or abdominal muscles allows the teacher to suggest solutions such as decreased range of motion, or the need for more abdominal stabilization.
Assessment and evaluation of postural tendencies also plays a role in effective teaching. Teachers should study basic postural imbalances to understand the implications of hyper lordosis and hyper kyphosis. These tendencies influence muscle balance, functional fitness, and movement skills resulting in proper or improper movement skills. A hyper lordotic client needs to engage and strengthen the lower abdominals, gluteals, and hamstrings to correct this postural defect. Ask the client to engage these muscle groups slightly before beginning any flexion exercise. A hyper kyphotic client needs to stretch and open the muscles of the anterior chest wall while strengthening the upper back muscles. Ask these clients to pull the anterior chest wall open and the shoulders back and down before beginning any extension exercise.
Clients who overuse the quadriceps muscles benefit when learning balance between the quads, inner and outer thigh, and hamstrings. Placing a ball between the legs, or a magic circle or band on out the outer legs draws awareness to the need for balance. Including exercises such as coccyx curl, pelvic press, single leg kick, double leg kick, swimming, breaststroke, and other hamstring strengthening exercises improves function and balance.
Knowing the intention of the exercise, proper biomechanics, and the basics of good posture will more readily assist the Pilates teacher in identifying and correcting issues of Cheating Movement. Continuing to develop a keen movement eye and observation skills assist the Pilates teacher in enhancing and improving movement outcomes for the student and satisfaction for the teacher.