How to Motivate your Clients to Keep Moving

Article by By Polestar Educator Carlos Marin Burguillos

Polestar Pilates celebrates 30 Years of Movens Mundi “Moving the World”. Make this year amazing for your clients by motivating them to keep moving!

The definition of adherence to treatment, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is:

“the extent to which a person’s behavior — taking medication, following a diet, and/or executing lifestyle changes — corresponds with the agreed recommendations from a healthcare provider.”

Adherence to an exercise program or a certain activity, in this case, Pilates, is something fundamental to ensuring the healthy objectives the practice generates are obtained. For this reason, we are going to explore the possible influences, variables, and tools we can implement in our teaching to make this happen.

It should be noted that adherence to physical activity is influenced by the motivation of the subject since it is a psychological component that controls the direction, intensity, and permanence of the behavior (Murcia,2007).

In fact, motivation determines the initiation, maintenance, and completion of behaviors in which we are involved, and its analysis can help us to understand how people begin and continue in physical exercise (Deci and Ryan, 1985). The Theory of Self-determination (Deci and Ryan, 1985), an explanatory model of human motivation, directly relates self-determination to intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is what drives us to do things for the simple joy of doing them. The execution of the task itself is the reward. To be intrinsically motivated is to take on a problem as a personal challenge. It is to face it just to find its solution, with no hope or longing for an external reward for doing it (Jiménez, 2007). 

This is why being aware of the achievements obtained and the mere enjoyment of the sessions are two essential factors to facilitate motivation and therefore adherence to the pilates program. In this order of things, our work as Pilates professionals gives us a multitude of options to promote the intrinsic motivation of our students and thus improve adherence to the method. 

To facilitate its practical application, I would like to divide these endless elements into two large groups: the development of the program and the pedagogy during the sessions.


In this section, we will cover topics from the selection of objectives to planning the “base exercises” integral to achieving each of these objectives in a session.

In order to maintain and improve the intrinsic motivation of the student, it is important that the exercises chosen are within the student’s comfort zone and close to their limit, allowing for an achievable challenge with determined effort.

As teachers trained in Polestar Pilates we have two tools developed with this purpose in mind:

Polestar Fitness Screening(PFS): A tool through which we can precisely determine the functional objectives for a specific client, to be best able to adapt to their needs.

Polestar Program Design & Sequencing Guide: A tool in which we define the essential exercises of the program according to the objectives determined in the PFS and the ever-changing capacities of the student throughout the program. This we combine with the categories of movement which facilitate developing the program by integrating all planes of movement, positions, and apparatus.

In short, it is about the program being adaptable enough to change instantly to meet the physical and mental state of the student, not the other way around. 

This is most easily achieved in individual classes, where we can modify the pre-established program in a very efficient and immediate way; but how do we achieve this in group classes, regardless of how small they are? 

When working in a group setting, each student presents different characteristics and objectives. Because of this, a personalized adaptation of programming is diminished and we need other tools to give the sessions a certain “mobility”. 

In addition to the basic progressions and regressions of each exercise and the option of creating homogenous single level groups (which is not always possible), I propose three ideas that have been very useful for my study:

  • Before the student joins the group and after the “evaluation of movement ”(PFS), invite them to do at least a couple of private sessions to lay a foundation that at the very least reviews potentially dangerous movements and movements requiring the most modifications for said student. This allows the student to feel more comfortable when joining the group, autonomous, and therefore safe when just by saying “Antonio, the shoulders”, the client knows exactly what you mean, and you can continue the group class with this individual cueing. 
  • Evolve each exercise almost “from zero”, even if it is one repetition for each modification. This will help your students to “enter the movement” and become aware of the state of their body in that precise moment for that specific gesture, to feel the progression in the effort, need for control, coordination, etc., and decide with criteria where to stop or how far to continue with the progression of the exercise.
  • Carry out a collective evaluation once every season (or determined number of weeks) in which each student scores themself, without the intention of “qualifying”, but rather to determine the progress and the points still to be reinforced at the individual level, and mark some general guidelines or “keys” that facilitate the most deficit movements. It will serve as positive reinforcement for the students who already have them integrated and give a boost to those who need it.


Pedagogy is a general theory of learning that studies the laws of the general process of education and training with an emphasis on creating a learning environment that is suitable to multiple learning styles. I include in this group everything related to the way of teaching during Pilates sessions, which has an influence on the intrinsic motivation of the student.

It is essential to keep the student’s attention focused on the session so that learning can occur. Although many of the factors that influence this process are endogenous to the student, we can significantly influence this process.

LANGUAGE: Let’s divide language into “verbal” and non “verbal” to analyze the way in which it influences attention and student motivation

NON-VERBAL: Non-verbal communication is defined as a process where we transmit information to another person without using any type of word, spoken or written.

Nonverbal communication includes:

  • Gestures
  • Facial expression
  • Eye contact
  • Body language
  • Posture
  • Clothing
  • Spatial distance
  • Physical appearance
  • Rhythm
  • Intonation, and tone of voice

Playing with these variables offers endless possibilities and therefore can significantly influence the perception of the exercise by the student.

For example, the act of walking around the room and placing yourself in different points can influence the students feeling of integration, even more so if you look at each student, nod or smile, or approach and speak privately to a specific student with a lower tone of voice if the moment requires. Take into account the response of each student to these gestures, as not all students feel comfortable when they receive special attention or see their personal space “invaded”. Again the adaptability of your non-verbal language to each concrete learner is the key to success to maintain their focus and motivation.

VERBAL: Verbal communication uses words to convey a message. I propose several ideas that cover various objectives that will influence the intrinsic motivation of your students:

  • Words are associated with connotations beyond their own meaning. For example: “Trying” to do something implies the idea of ​​failure if it is not achieved. This can frustrate more competitive and less skilled students. I propose the word “explore”, where each action becomes part of an exploratory process with no glitches or errors, but movement options.
  • Talk about what you do want your students to do. Sometimes we try so hard to say what “could go wrong” that we are unintentionally pushing our student towards that option, or posing “success” as something so unattainable that it blocks any intention of movement. Look at the difference between these two instructions: “lift your leg and try not to move your pelvis at all ”, vs “raise your leg and feel how your pelvis rests heavily on the mat ”.
  • Use language that is accessible to your students. Using technical language does not elevate your status as a teacher, and what’s more, it could create a gulf between you and the student, making it difficult to communicate. This can generate frustration if the students are unable to understand the exercise when it is supposed to be something within their reach. What’s more, I suggest that you use colloquial words, and from time to time use a joke to break the tension, grab the attention of your students and generate an atmosphere of trust in the session.
  • Teach simply. Sometimes we want to say so many things about the exercise that after two minutes of explanation we still have not transmitted what movement we are asking our students to perform. I propose a simple scheme avoid falling into this error:
  1. Describe the initial position (if it coincides with the end of the previous exercise, eliminate this step).
  1. Define the base movement of the exercise (if it entails any real risk for the student, now is the time to comment. Otherwise, it gives rise to error, because experience is where you learn).
  1. State the objective of the exercise (you do not have to do it explicitly, just state what you want the student to achieve).
  1. Propose some guideline or technical indication that facilitates the achievement of the objective.
  1. Observe the execution and decide if it is necessary to make any correction (touch or verbal), reinforce some part of the exercise, or reward a specific gesture.
  1. If necessary, create a loop between the previous two, or add modifications in the exercise returning to point 2.


In the same way that you can decide what kind of teacher to be (the serious teacher, the authoritarian, the joker), you can choose the way to approach an exercise. Apart from the general teaching guidelines which are more concrete, I propose some fun options:

  • Games: When playing a game, you are able to grasp the attention of your students and help them tap into a more playful feeling. This facilitates interaction between students and creates a bond between them that favors adherence to the method. A simple way to incorporate a game is to have students maintain a certain position that requires balance and have them pass various objects to each other, such as balls with different weights.
  • Simon Says: Once a specific exercise has been explained, modify some aspect with each consecutive repetition. This will keep the student’s attention, in addition to challenging their ability to react to external changes. For example, during one-legged footwork, alternate between one leg and the other, toe or heel of the foot, place of support on the bar, etc.
  • Give it a Turn: Create a sequence of fluid movement in which each gesture links with the following, and when they have it fully integrated, reverse the order of execution, or vary the order of the parts.
  • Improvise: Give specific guidelines that determine the essence of the exercise according to its objective, and suggest that they move the rest of their body freely and even randomly. You can put on music and give them time to express themselves and explore freely.

I hope that this small compilation of ideas has been interesting and especially useful if you decide to put them into practice.Carlos Marin Burguillos Educator for Polestar Pilates Spain, Valladolid.


Jimenez, M. Intrinsic motivation. Competence, self-determination, and control. On:

Fernández-Abascal, E .; Jimenez, M .; Martín, M. Emotion and motivation: Human adaptation.

Madrid: Ramón Acelles S. A. Study Center, 2007.

Deci, E .; Ryan, R. Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation,

development, and health. Canadian Psychology, v. 49, n. 3, p. 182-185, 2008.

Murcia, J.A., Gimeno, E.C., & Coll, D.G. (2007). Analyzing motivation in sport a

study through the theory of self-determination. Apuntes de Psicología, 25 (1), 35-51.

Reader Interactions


  1. Me ha gustado mucho el artículo, Carlos. Me ha recordado a los talleres del curso de Polestar, donde aprendí muchas claves para hacer que los alumnos se muevan más y con el tiempo mejor.

    Me llevo algunas ideas nuevas y refresco otras apartadas.


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