How many times do clients perform each Tai Chi gesture?

This question is asked at almost every training and frequently in email exchanges with rehab professionals out in the world.  It is an excellent question and shines some light on how we traditionally think about guiding clients.

While assigning specific sets and repetitions may make us feel structured and objective in our program planning, I have personally found it many times to be an arbitrary decision and somewhat disempowering to the client.  For example, many times in my past I have assigned the old standard 3×10 for client strengthening programs with certain percentages of people reporting to me increased pain, others limited progress, and finally some with desired changes.   It wasn’t until I started observing each client closely to determine when they could no longer adhere to proper principles of movement did these seemingly random outcomes begin consolidating into routine improvements.

In Tai Chi, quality of movement is primary and a guiding foundation for determining questions like, “how many” and “how long”?  A few of the most important principles to consider are:

  • Tai Chi posture (bent knees, neutral pelvis, cranial crown lifted)
  • Relaxed, full breathing
  • Slow, Rounded, Fluid movement
  • Dantien focused movement

Educating clients on these principles directs their attention to movement quality, which can be applied to all aspects of their lives.  It also helps them pay closer attention to their home exercise programs to determine when they begin creating compensatory movement patterns.

For individuals with cognitive limitations, it is our responsibility as professionals; through keen observation, to determine for them when their movement quality declines.  In these cases, note how many repetitions a client is able to perform with proper principles and assign this number for independent exercise.  The limitation of this method is the assignment of repetitions based on a single session with the knowledge that peoples abilities fluctuate constantly, however we also know that moving in any functional way is better than not moving at all.  With each follow up session continue to revise the prescribed number based on your clients abilities.

The best way to improve our own ability to determine when clients break from efficient movement principles is to practice regularly ourselves.  During Tai Chi practice, choose a single principle to focus on and notice what happens when your ability to attend to it fades.   Does your posture shift?  Lose your balance?  Drop your hip?  Or does something subtler happen in your awareness before an outside observer might notice a slip?  Become more aware of yourself and your awareness of others begins taking care of itself naturally.

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Be Well,


Brian Signature

Originally published January 2015.