What riding my bike taught me about the difficulties of Pilates equipment maintenance

A couple of weeks ago my boyfriend and I went cycling through wine country in Dahlonega, Georgia.  We stayed in a cool container cabin at the Hiker Hostel, visited a few wineries, and cycled 32 miles and climbed 2500 feet.  Whew!  My quads were bricks!

About 3/4 of the way through our ride, almost to our last winery, I was cursing my bike.  My fitness.  The hills.  You name it.  And every time my bike took 5 seconds (yes, 5 whole seconds!) to shift gears while climbing, boy was I furious!  That’s like 4 or 5 more pedals at an effort that I didn’t want to be at!   It was the straw that broke the camels back.

The thing is, around town I don’t mind that my bike doesn’t shift right away.  However, on these short, everyday trips, I’m only riding for 10-20 minutes at a time and there aren’t such steep hills.   I simply think of my bike as a mode of transportation, not an object to love.

I use my bike all the time, but I’m not really interested in working on it.

So I don’t.  And as a result, it frustrates me when I absolutely need it the most.

While I was riding, I was chastising myself.  Why didn’t I just YouTube how to adjust my shifting?  Why didn’t I take the time to fix it?

Actually sitting down and adjusting the tension on the cables so it will shift smoother is actually pretty easy.  It takes 5-10 minutes, maybe, and provides a much more user friendly and enjoyable ride.  But, I hadn’t taken the time to be proactive and learn how to prevent it or fix it until after it caused me a bunch of heartache.

Pilates equipment maintenance is the same.  It’s easy to ignore it.  The machines function fairly well, and over time you grow used to the quirks and bumps and little squeaks that develop.

What I want my clients and the Pilates industry to realize is that, someday, your un-maintained Pilates apparatus will fail you.

In the cycling world, you can turn to YouTube for literally thousands of video tutorials on how to maintain and repair your bike, no matter what size, style manufacturer it is.  Or, if you don’t want to work on your bike yourself, you can pay to take your bike to a professional and get a tune-up at a local bike shop.

As the Pilates industry grows, the need for this support network does too!  Your Pilates equipment facilitates the teaching of your method, and unsafe, inefficient and noisy equipment detracts from that experience.

We want people to fall in love with Pilates and what it can do for their lives.  Don’t let sub-par equipment performance detract from the head-over-heels feeling.  Just like riding a poorly-maintained bike can turn you off of bike riding, a poorly-maintained Reformer, Cadillac or chair can turn you off of Pilates.

To help grow the Pilates industry, I want to create the same on-going equipment support opportunities for Pilates equipment owners that bike riders have.

First, we need education for equipment owners.  I can’t tell you how many studios I visit or instructors I talk to that think their equipment doesn’t need regular care beyond wiping the upholstery between clients.  It’s not their fault… the industry just doesn’t stress the importance of safe and effective equipment.  Maintenance of Pilates equipment needs to be as natural as an oil change on your car.

Second, we need expert service-providers to turn to for on-site maintenance and repairs.  I serve the Southern US and Northern California.  The Pilates Guy is in the LA Area.  The Pilates Engineer is in New York.  And the Pilates Doctor is in Colorado.   These are my colleagues who work specifically on Pilates Equipment.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure the Pilates industry will exactly copy the bike shop model and create such an abundance of local repair shops.  This situation is quite unlucky for those studios who aren’t near these four US locations.

Third, we need an online resource for Pilates equipment owners to learn about caring for their equipment themselves, independent of the major manufacturers and easy for non-technical people to understand.  This will give studios the option to do it themselves, no matter what their budget, location or technical ability and desire.  It will provide reviews and advice for every major brand of equipment to give Pilates professionals the chance to make educated buying decisions.  Most importantly, it will be another way to keep Pilates studios in peak shape to help attract new clients and retain existing ones.

During that bike trip I got a taste of what it’s like to be a consumer who uses a machine yet doesn’t maintain or repair it, even though it’s a simple fix.  I had learned to live with the sub-par performance of my bike, and it bit me in the butt at the time I asked just a little bit more from it.  Luckily, there are tons of resources out there for bike owners and I can teach myself how to fix it myself.

Now, it’s time to create those same resources for you, my beloved Pilates instructors and studio owners, to grow our awesome community.

If you’d like to help me create resources and grow this corner of the Pilates industry, please consider taking 3 minutes out of your day to fill out this survey.  It will only be live until April 11th, 2016.  As a thank you, I will email you a copy of my four-page Ultimate DIY Maintenance Guide.

Thanks for your help!

How to create and actually perform an equipment maintenance routine

Pilates equipment maintenance is an easy subject to gloss over in the grand scheme of running a successful business.  Everyone knows they should be doing it, but few do.  It’s like cleaning your house or maintaining your car.  The average person knows there are basic schedules and tasks they should do, but they often put them off until it’s really necessary.  It’s too easy for other tasks (often more fun or seemingly important tasks!) to get in the way.

Sometimes I go into a studio and it is immediately evident that I’m working with someone who is Type-A about everything (seriously, everything).  Their laundry room at home is impeccable, I’m sure.  Dirty clothes sorted by color and type, special hanging racks for air dry only clothes, every drawer and basket labeled.  Nothing overflowing from its place or casually set aside in the heat of the moment.

In their studio, they aren’t really sure about what kind of maintenance they should be doing, but in the meantime they want everything to look and feel great so they clean like they’d clean their house.  No dust, no dirt, no hair, no debris, no grime.

For these people, my job is to make small tweaks.  Give them a few extra tools to make them confident in their existing habits, and effective with the few special techniques that will really make their studio shine.

But for the other 95% of my clients, regular maintenance falls by the wayside.  Not for lack of knowledge or desire, but the realities of running a business simply get in the way.  Then, the task snowballs, growing in size and scope until instead of just one hour of easy tasks, it requires several hours of troubleshooting.  Not. Fun.

I’ve been there.

We all know that regular care for our Pilates equipment is essential to a long life.  You may have even picked up a few tips here and there on my instagram, facebook, or #StudioTips blog.  But now you need to figure out how in the heck to fit in one more hour of unglamorous work to your already packed and probably pretty great life.

Your goal is to have safe, functional Pilates equipment that will last as long as you need it to.  (I work on twenty year old equipment very often, so it is not crazy to think your equipment can last your whole career!)

Here are some tips I’ve picked up from studios around the country backed by research.  After all, change is hard!

Make small changes

Instead of saying, “I’m going to add one hour of maintenance to my schedule every Friday afternoon,” Think in baby steps.  “After my last client on Friday I will wipe all the Reformer rails,” is a much smaller and more specific target to achieve, making success much more likely.   Linking new habits one at a time to existing habits is a great way to start.

Plan to fail

You probably won’t be able to check off your weekly maintenance every week, or your quarterly routine exactly on time every time.  So, instead of saying, “What the hell” and thinking you can just pick it up again next week, figure out where your plan went wrong.

If, on Friday afternoon you are just exhausted and ready to go home so you don’t want to take the 15 minutes to clean the rails on each Reformer because Netflix is calling your name, try cleaning the rails at the beginning of your day on Fridays.  Or, at lunch on another day of the week.  Make it easy to avoid excuses.

Another great way to prevent yourself from avoiding the small, easy tasks like lubricating a noisy hinge is to keep your maintenance supplies together in an easily accessible place.  If you don’t, hunting down the right tool for the job will be more effort than actually fixing the problem, making it easier to put off a simple task.

Spread the responsibility

If you work in a larger studio with multiple instructors, try assigning each instructor one task or piece of equipment.  If John knows he is responsible for the Wall Towers, and Lisa is in charge of the Reformers, you are breaking down the large task into smaller, more manageable chunks.

Get creative with your staff and think of ways to incentivize this un-glamorous task by setting goals and recognizing great work.  If your staff consistently performs the weekly and quarterly tasks for a year, throw a studio party or  give everyone an extra vacation day.  Have a bulletin board with space to post flattering comments from clients, like, “The Push-Through Bar was so quiet today!” or “Your studio is so clean!”  Or, add a space on your current employee recognition system that allows others your staff to praise their peers not only for customer service but for studio care.

Find a way to make sure equipment maintenance is seen as a normal and integral part of the studio’s success.

Additionally, some studios will train a student of theirs and trade Pilates sessions for regular maintenance work.  One hour of work for one hour of group class.  Or, two hours of maintenance work for a Private session.  The availability of your student and how much you value a regular routine should influence the agreement you make.

Track your progress

Without a way to easily track your habits, it is easy to convince yourself that you are more consistent than you actually are!   Having to make choices (or dig deep into your memory to try and remember when you did what) depletes your willpower.  Having a calendar with an easy-to-follow checklist not only helps you recall the activities, but actually reduces the burden on the brain and gives you a little psychological lift!

This is why I created my Equipment Maintenance Log.  It’s the only planner made specifically for Pilates studios to track their equipment and maintenance routines.  Never forget when you last changed a spring or did a safety inspection again!

Do you have any other tips or tricks for keeping your maintenance routine?  Tell me about them in the comments below!