We’re back with Part Two of the “Feel It” client series and this week we are focusing on the “I Don’t Feel It Enough” clients, also known as the “Can you make it harder?” or the “Can we add more springs?” clients. I want to be abundantly clear that the purpose of these posts is to extend our perspectives about the many levels of proprioception, the many experiences and the many lenses that our clients bring with them into the studio.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with the clients who want more challenge, spring, or intensity. However, when we understand where the motivation for these requests may originate from, we can better meet both our client’s expectations, as well as our own within the context of a session.

With that said, let’s dive in to this scenario to see what we can discover together!


Weekend Warriors, Crossfitters, Superficial Muscle Users…. Pilates Teachers have been known to put some labels on the clients who desire a more intense physical experience.  I sometimes wonder if we allow this desire to label to threaten our confidence in our teaching skills.  We know that the method takes an approach that by no means lacks intensity, but is different than that of some of the more “fitness-based” exercise methods.   So how do we bridge the gap and onboard our clients with a different approach? First, we need to understand where the want/need for more might be coming from.  In my teaching experience, I found there are two general categories:

1. They are “prisoners.”  Prisoners are clients who come to the studio under a motivation that is not their own.  They have been urged by a medical professional, been given a gift certificate by their spouse or partner or have seen that another athlete “does Pilates” and want to be a part of the trend.

2. They have assigned extreme value to a level of “suffering” within their movement practice / They have never been introduced to the other end of the muscular spectrum.  They know that if buckets of sweat are present, a burn is felt or the edge of strength is reached, that they have gotten the appropriate bang for their exercise buck.

My number one guiding principle for all clients is meet them where they are that day.  If you get on board with their motivating factor, you can oftentimes bypass unwillingness (or at least make it a little less extreme.)

Just like last week, our conversations with these clients will best serve you when you focus in on questions that solicit answers that tell you where they are coming from.


“What aspects of your movement sessions/workouts are you excited about this week?” 

“What is something that is truly challenging to you in your movement sessions/workouts that you’d like to improve upon? ”

“What types of movement sessions/workouts do you tend to mentally “check out” during?”

“What are you REALLY good/strong/successful at within your movement sessions/workouts?”


Notice how I’m not bringing elements of Pilates into the conversation.  I want to know what drives them, what they struggle with and especially what motivates them in their movement sessions/workouts.  I am not interested in whether or not they fly the Pilates flag when they leave the studio – that’s MY job.  I simply want them to see how this method can add value to the life they are already living instead of changing the way they are living their life.  If they want to make the changes for themselves, YAY!! But for now, I’m focused on helping the full person, with their life’s experience (limited or expansive) to do the things that bring a sense of being an active human being to their days.

“So that’s cool, Jenna, but HOW do I actually work with this person?”  I hear you, so let’s go through some strategies for the above.


Prisoners require a great amount of entertainment in your delivery of your lessons.  It’s not necessarily the truth that they will have a “bad attitude” but may be reluctant to get excited.  You may find yourself telling (anonymous) stories about other clients that have come from a similar background and found success with Pilates.  You might find yourself setting an expectation for the exercise: “This one is all about keeping the carriage still while you move your hips up.  We use this exercise to draw the focus to your hamstrings and glutes to be sure they are getting full attention.” Then you might try the bridge and if there is no level of response, or if the response is a request to make it more challenging, you might follow up with: “The next level of challenge is endurance.  Can you roll down through your spine, keeping the carriage still as I count down from 25?” (I don’t mess around with endurance and am a huge fan of keeping a client in a position for a wee bit longer than is maybe warranted to be sure they have some level of response.)

Overall, I find that when can maintain a high level of enthusiasm for your role within the session, throw in some meaningful anecdotes and relate the work to something that is motivating to them, you can usually invite some level of enthusiasm from them relatively quickly.



I love to use a strategy of “scaling” exercises according to the sensations that the client is experiencing with sufferers.  I will at some point at the beginning of the session do something mundane – a squat, calf raise, roll up – with no expectation other than for them to tell me when they’ve reached a level 8 out of 10 in terms of fatigue.  Once we’ve established what an 8 feels like to them, which I’m guessing includes a good deal of muscle recruitment, I now have a tool that I can use.  When we go into something that looks like a squat, like leg and footwork, I can say “I’d like a 5/6 level of effort from your lower body and the focus to be primarily on creating length in  your torso (or any number of focuses.)”  My theory is that through distracting them with a specific problem solving challenge, I can expose a different way of working with effort levels to them.  For me, this provides a dual benefit of a teaching tool for me and an exposure to awareness for them.

It’s also worth mentioning that the sufferer can be working from some level of experiences that are out of your scope of practice.  Should you not find a strategy that helps you move forward, please consider referring them to someone who may be able to help them with their trauma – it’s the most compassionate thing you can do.

These are simply some examples of how I choose to work with my clients and I’d love to hear some of yours as well.  Please share your thoughts and strategies in the comments and stay tuned to next week’s post where we explore the “I Don’t Wanna Feel It” client.  You’ll receive some helpful hints for clients who come to the studio with pain, fear or a combination of both.

I look forward to reading your comments and questions!

Related Posts