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Keeping the fun in ‘functional’.


The word “Functional” is used regularly in the fitness world, I use it myself, the use of the term itself is not in question.

Functional movement is important and as Pilates teachers we should help clients improve and sustain their movement. To make the best decisions on what is appropriate for each individual client teachers need to be educated well in the repertoire, human anatomy and movement. It is critical to our professional development that we keep ourselves up to date.

There are certainly exercises which may not be appropriate for some clients or age groups and we must gauge that on the client in front of us.  That does not mean that particular exercises that we choose not to teach, or that are not considered functional, should be consigned to the scrap heap of exercise manuals for Eternity.

Some exercises may never be functional or relevant to an individual clients “activities of daily living” but you know what, if they can do it and be safe they might have fun!

When is it inappropriate to teach an exercise? When it’s unsafe for that client.

Ask yourself – If another teacher came in and asked you what you were doing and why, could you justify it?  If you can’t, don’t teach it.

However, if they are safe then the justification needn’t always be ‘because it’s functional’ sometimes it could be because it’s ‘fun’.

There are exercises that some clients may have no ambition to achieve a good balanced “Open Leg Rocker” may be the last thing a client wishes to achieve in their lifetime. That’s when we have to remove our ego and our expectation of what my client “should be able to do”.

By way of example, I once demonstrated “Open Leg Rocker” to a class of regular clients. After some collective tutting and one or two sniggers, they all tried it. Some did well, some didn’t, some broke wind. They all loved it!

There are many sports that have repetitive asymmetrical movements, or that incorporate extreme ranges of movement, try telling a golfer or a tennis player that their sports is “not functional”.

It’s how we off set these asymmetries that is relevant to our work, enabling a ‘weekend golfer’ to continue to enjoy their game through good relevant functional movement that offsets their golf is our aim, if that is what they bring to us.

Some people do Pilates to “do Pilates”.  It’s their choice of movement practice.

Pilates may not be an Olympic sport but it is widely recognised and used as a form of recreational exercise and like any other form of exercise it has participants of varying abilities.

Some enjoy gentle, simple work and get a lot from it.  Others do it for the challenge of mastering more complex movements and enjoy the sense of achievement. It’s these more complex movements which are often deemed non functional but are embraced by the clients who love the challenge of a strong session.

This is where our skills as a teacher come to the fore. We have a duty of care to ensure that our clients receive a balanced workout with the elements they require in that moment and on that day. Listening to and paying attention to their needs – sometimes today’s just not an Open leg rocker day!

I do Pilates because I love Pilates, I do it because I like the simplicity of parts of the work, the challenge of others and the sheer fun of all of it!  I do my knee rehab when I need it, I offset all the time spent picking up my 4-year-old twins (and their toys!) when I need it and I also just “do the work”.

Put simply…do your rehab, do your back care, your pre/ post natal specific exercises when necessary, keep it fun, keep it functional and keep it relevant for your own private practice and ultimately, to the client of front of you and “Do the work….”

Because it does.

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