PAA Article:

Initial Consultation - a business perspective

As a fully qualified Pilates teacher who is running a successful studio teaching small group, semi private and one on one sessions, I think you can safely say you work within the allied health industry. The training required to work under the PAA means we work with people on more of an individual basis, and with this comes the responsibility of caring for our clients in a highly professional manner.

It is certainly a reasonable question for a client to ask why they would require an initial consultation to commence Pilates sessions – I mean aren’t they simply starting an exercise class much like the gym? NO – not really, and if we can explain the difference and set up a good initial consultation process we stand to build trust along with a client base committed for the long term.

Yes, Pilates is a form of exercise and there are various Pilates classes on offer both at gyms and fitness studios – so how do you differentiate yourself if you want to promote Pilates designed more specifically for the individual?

This is where your initial consultation process is so important.  It is about you and your client. It is your chance to demonstrate to your client the importance of being taught correctly. It allows you to gain a better understanding of the type of learner they are and also what kind of instructor may suit their needs and gives you the chance to demonstrate why they would invest in more specific Pilates classes over large group and gym classes.

Sharing information

If a client is coming to your studio after an accident or injury, it is important to assess where they currently are with their rehabilitation and then place them with an appropriate level teacher. It is not uncommon for medical practitioners to suggest Pilates to their patients, particularly those with undiagnosed lower back pain, but often the patient doesn’t realise there are many different types of Pilates in the marketplace. Being clear about how we take in new clients and what we offer is very important.

You as the instructor also want the chance to get to know your client, learn about how they like to move and how they feel about movement and exercise overall.  You also want the opportunity to demonstrate your teaching philosophy and discuss how your studio operates. It will benefit you in the long term to ensure your client understands right from the start how you like to teach and what policies and procedures they will need to be aware of within your studio environment. You may find that you don’t offer what your client is really after and it is perfectly ok to discuss this. I have had cases where the client doesn’t really like to travel to get to exercise, when this has been an important factor in whether they will exercise or not, I am happy to refer them to a studio that can fit their needs. These are the clients who will usually remember your honesty and tell others about you.  Reputation and long term growth will usually bring higher benefits financially and personally over simply accepting every client purely for the numbers.

Setting goals and boundaries

Cancellation policies are usually a big concern for most studios and if you take the time to discuss these policies in the initial consultation and explain your reasons, then you will stand a better chance of enforcing these policies at a later date.  Mobile phones can also be another policy that needs to be explained to clients, often clients are unaware that they may be affecting other people’s time in the studio by being on the phone. Being upfront is usually better than having an uncomfortable conversation later.

Think about setting goals with your client, this is important for both the client and instructor. Goals motivate people and provide a baseline to work from, it keeps you as the instructor focused and able to help them achieve their goals and also helps the client measure their progress. Ensure you both agree that the goals you set are achievable and realistic. Understanding your client’s needs and goals are important to help them progress and improve. For example, if your client has come to Pilates to learn how to move better and reduce stress, it would not be appropriate to throw them into a workout that creates more tension and overload than they can manage, or suggest a class option that you know has a completely different feel. However, if your client is fit and healthy and has a desire to increase muscle strength and tone then you will need to design a safe program that allows them to feel the work differently.

So what should an initial consultation involve?

Usually an initial consultation would take approximately one hour and is similar to taking a private session.  Your client should always complete a client questionnaire that is signed and dated prior to the session commencing.  Within this hour you as the instructor have the opportunity to cover the following:

  1. Review and discuss any relevant points noted on their client questionnaire, if there are any medical history questions that need clarification then this is the time to ensure you have all the information you need. An example would be a client who notes that they have osteoporosis but provides no further information. If this is the case you need to ask if they have had any fractures and whether they have their bone density report, the more information you can gather initially the safer they will be. Not only does this help you program safely but it covers you for any potential legal pursuits.  Notes should be clear and programs should demonstrate exercise safety and any contraindications.
  2. As Pilates addresses posture, this is the time to assess your client’s posture and make adequate notes where needed. Suggestions would be to take a quick static assessment (ensuring your client feels comfortable) and note down any postural deviations that may affect their movement quality. This would not be the time to tell them all of their postural faults, but rather it is an opportunity to point out some obvious deviations that they may not have been aware of, for example do they stand on one leg more than the other. Often people don’t realise these things and by bringing some awareness we are also reinforcing their need for Pilates, a win for all of us! You should check their balance, look at their ability to squat safely and test how flexible their spine is via a safe, controlled roll down.
  3. Begin their Pilates journey by introducing the Pilates principles and beginner exercises. Depending on your school of learning you will  no doubt have different exercise and program protocols in place to assess how your client responds to movement and your cues. Some “Pre-Pilates” such as a standard bridge, chest lift and leg lifts are often used in this dynamic assessment. We should also remember to teach safety at this point. How to get on the reformer, explain the springs and that they will be working on a moving bed, ensure they know how to safely get in to the leg straps. This may seem straight forward and simple but we often overlook WHS obligations. We also want our clients to learn to be autonomous as this is where the biggest change occurs. When our clients can take ownership there is a sense of empowerment. It is well known that Joseph Pilates did not baby his clients!
  4. Take notes: this ensures everybody is aware of any specific needs or concerns regarding your client and a program should be included in the file with any recommendations. This ensures that any other instructor who may need to teach your client is aware of everything and helps keep up-to-date records if dealing dealing with other allied health referrals.
  5. Remember Joseph Pilates’ famous quote:

In 10 sessions you will feel the difference

In 20 sessions you will see the difference

In 30 sessions you will have a whole new body.

One of the primary principles of Pilates is commitment, and for us to give our clients the best opportunity to see the benefits of practicing Pilates we may need to encourage them a little. Some people are hooked right from their first session, others take 5 to 10 classes to really feel it in their body.

Offering introductory packages is usually the best way to get your client committed and “hooked” to Pilates and you. We often see small packages offered, it might be worth offering special discounts for a 10 session package to really give them a good head start. This gives you the chance to really get to know your client and for them to really begin to understand that change can happen in as little as 10 sessions.

A good Initial consultation can do way more for your retention and client base and can help alleviate any potential problems that may arise during their sessions.  Good luck!


By Lisa Jackson

PAA Ordinary Committee Member
Owner Core Pilates Brisbane
PITC Senior Faculty
Buff Bones Faculty