Whose Class Is It?

Seems like a silly question; YOU pay for a class and sign up reserving YOUR spot. YOU arrive at the studio, gym, or , and YOU are ready for your class, YOUR class. Let’s pause here for a moment and let me ask you an important question. Does your teacher demonstrate or take their class? There is a big difference.

I have been a licensed massage and bodywork therapist for over 11 years, but before that I was also a fitness instructor. So why am I writing a blog post about fitness classes and not some earth-shaking post about the importance of massage therapy? Fear not, that will be coming because trust me massage therapy IS IMPORTANT for EVERYONE! The reason for THIS post is this: after treating my 10th client (in a week) who was injured doing a group fitness and yoga class, I decided it was past time to get the message out to ALL who exercise and especially those planning to begin an exercise practice!

The true story for the inspiration of this post

My client comes in with low back pain. Yes, I realize that is such a vague complaint but this one was a bit different. My client had back surgery. Not too long after recovery from surgery, my client acquired an injury in the same area as where the surgery took place. This places my client in the “special population” category.

Why a special population? Well, having a back issue that requires surgery is a flag due to integrity of the spine, period – end of story. Add an injury on top of that and BAM…..special population category. The back surgery and additional injury were not what brought this client to me. In fact, after recovering from the surgery and subsequent injury, this client was doing well. The pain came from attending a yoga class at a local center.

Let’s pause for a moment.

Yoga is safe. Pilates is safe. Movement is good. I promise. Ready for this because this is the make or break moment for all of us attending a movement class, the teacher needs to have the knowledge of anatomy, kinesiology, conditions, poses, and most of all how to modify for those attending the class! There, I said it! Being good at a specific practice be it yoga, be it Pilates, be it body pump, be it cross-fit, doesn’t always mean that you are a good teacher. GASP!

Teachers need to know more than just the knowledge of the movement. They need to know how to build strength in a safe way to make specific movements, poses, etc. achievable. Perhaps most importantly, they need to know the purpose of the exercise and the populations that should not attempt the it!

Not all movements, poses, etc. are appropriate for all people. A weekend workshop won’t always give you this knowledge! Usually it gives you enough knowledge to be dangerous. Hence, personal practice, study and research should be a continuing part of any teacher’s life! ANY certification gained (group fitness, Barre, Pilates, yoga, etc.) has a class…..my concern is how long was the class? Was it a 4-hour, 8-hour, 16-hour, 200-, 500-, 800-hour? How long has this instructor been teaching, and do they practice what they teach?  Do they invest in continuing education? Do they have a mentor?

Back to our true story and my injured client:

While my client was in the yoga class a pose was being executed. My client attempted it, resulting in pain that was burning and stinging, causing my client to stop all exercise for a few days. Not good! I asked my client if the instructor was keeping an eye out for proper form. Wait for it…he said, “No. was doing the class and never really walked around at all.”

Trying to hold my frustration at bay and hoping there was a hopeful answer, I then asked my client if he had spoken to the teacher beforehand to alert him/her to my client’s back condition. Client said, “Yes.” OK, now I’m a little frustrated, disappointed, and angry because, first of all the teacher should have taken special care to keep a vigilant eye out for the participants in the class – especially one that falls into the special population category! And second, whose class is this anyway? Why is the teacher TAKING their own class? This isn’t their workout, it is YOURS! You PAID to attend. You PAID to be taught, not to follow along! If that were the case, just watch a workout video or pull something up on YouTube! Yes, teachers often need to demonstrate a pose/movement. But it is their job to TEACH and monitor each participant. How can you see body mechanics and form while taking a class or even standing in one spot? How in the world do you keep an eye on your folks who are in the special population category? Plus, who is the class for — the teacher or the participants?

When I take a class, I expect the teacher to show moves then stop and walk around and check the class. Why? As a former fitness instructor and soon-to-be yoga teacher (insert happy dance!) my class was my responsibility. THEIR exercise practice was why I was there. My exercise practice came either before or after that particular class. So many people today have physical issues and as a whole are sicker and in worse shape than ever before. . It is the responsibility of the instructor to ensure that the class is safe for ALL participants.

Now, to be fair it is important and the responsibility for anyone attending a class to inform the teacher of any physical limitations BEFORE class! Teachers should always ask attendees if there are any restrictions they need to know about before class begins, however let’s be real and fair. Attendees -this is your responsibility too. Be smart and be your own advocate. If there is something the teacher needs to know about your body – be responsible and tell them. Also, as an attendee of a class, sign up for the appropriate class. If you are new, you have no place signing up for an Intermediate/Advanced, Level II, and III anything!

The studio where I work, teaches Pilates, yoga, and other forms of mind-body focused movement. Clients are required to invest a minimum of three private sessions before attending a small group equipment class. In addition, they must complete a new client health history form, liability wavier, and sign off on the studio’s policies.

For those attending a mat-based class, they are still required to complete a new client health history form, liability wavier, and sign off on the studio’s policies. These health history forms ask all kinds of things including high blood pressure, glaucoma, osteoporosis, osteopenia, etc. Why? Because there are certain movements and poses that would be contraindicated! Pretty smart! Get to know your client’s body before teaching! In addition, classes are small. Why? Because a teacher can only effectively watch so many bodies at a time, and the teachers at the place where I work care deeply that their clients get the right work for their body!

Yeah- I like that. It’s smart, it’s safe, and better yet, when they aren’t sure about something, they seek help. I have been consulted to ensure a program is appropriate for a person with a specific condition. I’m proud to work alongside these people.

So why am I, a massage therapist, doing a blog about exercise?

Well, given my background and now my healthcare profession, I want people to be safe and nosey when it comes to what certification and license others have. Your mobility, your health and mobility are important! Do your homework and research. Make sure, the person teaching the class is knowledgeable and is truly TEACHING YOU and doesn’t take the class with you. After all, they are your teacher and not your workout buddy!

Committed to your wellness journey,
Candy Fleming, BS, NC-LMBT #5963

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