I originally wrote this blog for a Pilates Reformer studio to be given out to their instructors. The points raised though are fundamental for safety in all Pilates classes and indeed any exercise environment, just replace the word Reformer with any piece of equipment!
Participating in any exercise programme carries a risk of injury, (in fact just being alive does!) but add in a piece of equipment with a moving platform that you can stand on, kneel on and move with and the risks are naturally going to increase. With the increase in injury also comes an increase in litigation and legal responsibility.
In an excellent article for IDEAFIT, Shirley Archer explains
“Risk of liability exists when a teacher can be potentially held responsible for what caused an injury and therefore can be required to pay for damages that result from the injury”
Injuries can lead not just to serious consequences for the client but lawsuits and unfortunately there are more and more cases happening.
As Pilates teachers we need to be aware of the risks of how to manage them as best we can. Here are some thoughts for you to consider especially when teaching group classes…..
Am I qualified to teach this?
It may sound obvious but you need to be sure that your training and level of qualification is sufficient for the class and exercises that you are teaching. If you add in a cardiovascular element for example or regressively adapt a for a pre-natal woman, are you sufficiently trained in this? If you are not sure you should contact your insurance company and training provider and they will give you clear guidance.
But there was nothing I could do to stop the accident….
A typical example is someone doing standing work and falling off a reformer. Now this can happen to any of us! A client loses focus, the carriage springs back and they fall on the floor. It happens so quickly and if you are teaching a group class you could be on the other side of the room unable to stop prevent the fall.
Regardless of the teacher thinking, “but I told them to….” I believe it is part of our duty of care to avoid or minimalise the risk. The teacher chooses what to teach, it is their responsibility of what they add into the class.
Consider if the client was ready to stand on the platform?
Were you in a position to help them balance if needed?
Did you check the spring tension first?
Could you have given them something to aid their balance?
Some studios have guidelines when teaching certain exercises in group classes. They may not allow kneeling up arm work facing the footbar, they may ask to always ensure 3 points of contact with standing on the Reformer, so both feet and a pole. They may ask that the teacher ensures that all the reformers are set to a default position after the class, eg all springs on, footbar up, small props put away.
Was the exercise suitable to teach?
I think as teachers we often can get carried away trying to be more creative and inventive. We can see an exercise online and think “Wow! That looks great- the class are gong to love that!” But we need to consider the safety implications of that exercise.
Am I qualified to teach it? Is it even Pilates???
If there is a risk of unbalancing how can I give more stability?
Should the exercise only be taught in a 121 situation so that I can spot the client?
What is the point of this variation? Apart from being creative does it have value to the client?
Was the equipment being used for its intended use?
In some equipment cases, courts have focused on the maintenance and purpose of the equipment. Making sure before each class that you check each piece of equipment you are going to use to ensure it is suitably maintained, clean and in good working order is essential.
Has the appropriate screening been done?
Every client should complete appropriate screening forms, this may include assumption of risk and a health questionnaire. Please check with the studio management and always ensure you verbally screen the class before you begin. If you are not happy with a client participating in your class again it is your duty of care to ask them to seek appropriate medical clearance or attend a more suitable class for their level.
Was the correct technique used?
Making sure that you teach the correct placement of the equipment and technique when using it is crucial, for example gripping the footbar. On some Reformers to release the footbar, you pull it up. This means that the teacher must ensure that the client does not curl the thumb around the footbar ( what I call a “pull” grip) during exercises as they can easily pull it up and release it from its locked position. We do not want to use this grip on the footbar anyway! On the footbar we push into it with all the fingers and thumbs on the same side- handles and straps we use a “pull” grip.
Shari Berkowitz has an excellent blog on grips. Click here to read more…
Accidents can and do happen but we need to ensure that we have done all we can to minimalise and avoid as much risk as possible. Know your teaching limitations, contact your insurer or training provider if not. Talk to the studio, make sure you know their policies on screening and equipment maintenance. Don’t assume your client will not sue you because you have a great relationship- always consider the exercises and levels that you teach.
Photo credit @pilates_barne