How we learn

By: Carla Ricalis

If you’re new to Pilates, you might be realizing that there are a few things you didn’t know you could or couldn’t do.

For example, there might be a balance sequence where you discover how easy it is to stand on one leg and do an overhead reach. But balance on the other leg? Forget it.

Or attention might be drawn to how one shoulder tends to be slightly higher when you stand. Or maybe rotation is an easy movement to do to one side, but not to the other. 

Everyone begins with different levels of awareness and self-knowledge. But starting to learn what you can and cannot do (yet!) plays into your workout’s progression. 

And rest assured, your instructors are taking note so that they can work with your habitual strengths and weaknesses in order to get you moving in complex patterns and sequences with eventual (!) ease and focus. 

Take a look at this summary of the 4 Stages of Competence as it applies to your Pilates workout. 

And if you’re an instructor, this is a quick review of an important component on how to teach others and teach them well. 

Unconscious Incompetence – we don’t know what we don’t know. 

At this stage, we’re unaware of what we’re unable to do. We have little comprehension or understanding of what we’re doing incorrectly and perhaps lack the appreciation of the value the exercise can provide. 

Training in a Pilates studio can be a very different movement experience for many people.  Not every exercise you do will start at this level, but if it’s your first time moving on the Pilates equipment, you might find that your instructor is trying a few different approaches to help you better understand the movement. 

For example, most new clients will learn the Reformer Footwork in one of their first sessions. 

And while lying on your back, bending and straightening your legs is a fairly straightforward movement, learning to do it with progressive and regressive spring tension can be tricky.. 

The challenge of controlling the Reformer carriage with ease and control is a common one. 

For some clients, pushing against increasing spring tension and pulling back decreasing spring tension can be a primary reason that they’re in this stage. Unlike other forms of equipment based fitness, the tension changes can be unfamiliar and it’s up to a great instructor to teach them how to move through it with cueing, correcting, images and in this particular exercise, rhythm.

Regardless of where you start, most clients who stick with it regularly, will naturally progress into the next stages. 

Conscious Incompetence – we know what we don’t know.

Becoming aware of what we’re unable to do puts us in the second stage of conscious incompetence. 

And the shift from unconscious to conscious incompetence can often be as quick as a single rep of an exercise.

In my experience this is where the building blocks of a client’s workout start to form and they begin to truly appreciate the value of Pilates.. 

It’s their “aha!” moment because now they see what needs to be worked on. 

But it can also be where some clients, depending on their personality, tend to get the most frustrated. 

And physically, that frustration can show up in their movement as tension and breath holding which creates barriers that will inevitably slow their progress down. 

So therefore, this is also the stage where instructors can really earn their pay; because they’ll need to know how to adapt and modify the workout in order to guide their client in a smart, safe and challenging way.

This is the stage where we want movement to be accessible without frustration and with the intent to reset a client’s focus on developing new skills with efficiency and effectiveness.

Conscious Competence – we understand how to do what we couldn’t do. 

At this stage, clients become aware of what they’re doing and the value of doing it. 

For example, there is an understanding of the neutral pelvis alignment that appears with questions or confirmations prior to certain exercises (‘am I in neutral here?). Clients are conscientious of what they’re doing, but it still takes concentration and energy to maintain it during familiar exercises

and even more to sustain it with exercises that are new to their programming. 

It’s here that the workouts can start to evolve into a more challenging level. 

For example, (all things considered), if a client has been doing Frogs and Leg Circles with Feet in Straps on the Reformer, this is the stage to introduce the Stag (or Pas de Chat). Because of the similarities it’s accessible but it’s still a new movement on the machine that will stimulate their spatial and body awareness. 

And instructors might find that layering in new exercises at this stage will reap better (and quicker) results with movement execution and understanding because clients can relate it to exercises they’ve done that complement the new movement.

Unconscious Competence – we don’t need to think about what we now know. 

This final stage is ultimately where we want to be with a large part of your Pilates workout. 

We want clients to be able to come into the studio and have a familiarity with certain, key movement patterns (ie: Roll Down on the Cadillac, Footwork, Mid Back Series, Lat Pull Standing, etc) so that we can add and disrupt them with integrated movement and resistance that will stimulate their neuromuscular system. 

In this way, we’re constantly layering the 4 stages of learning into all exercises but at a different pace. 

A great example is the Reformer Side Splits. By challenging the control of the carriage and your body with various movements in the legs, we’re progressing clients through these 4 stages. 

But once they’re at a point where they can execute all of the traditional variations with ease, control and focus, then we can start to add in other elements; rotation, resistance, arm movement, head movement. 

And that brings them back through these different levels of learning because we’re constantly stimulating and challenging their attention and abilities. 

There are so many things to think about as an instructor and a client in your Pilates session. Understanding where you are with various movements in your programming can add to your workout’s purpose and your exercise goals making it an even more rewarding and exciting experience!!

For more information about teaching clients with these and other Adult Learning concepts in mind, reach out to us at info@studiopower3.ca about our workshops and master classes

For More Reading and Information check out the following websites:
Understanding the 4 stages of learning and Stages

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