Functional Training Institute

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: How do you cue?

cue coaching

Last week we explored what key elements make an effective cue when coaching, and this week we will dive further into the types of cues and which will help us achieve understanding, congruency and retention with clients.

I’ll kick this off with a somewhat left-field story..

My first ever course day as a participate with FTI (about 6 years ago now) was Fundamentals of Mobility with the legendary presenter, Gary Wagner. While exploring glute activation exercises, Gaz went into great depths getting us to visualise holding an orange in between our glutes, setting up with a glass between our feet and squeezing that orange so hard we made orange juice in the glass below – “JUICE THE FRUIT!” he called it

I know – weird story – but not only for the rest of that day, but still 6 years later, if someone shouted “juice the fruit” across a room I think I would still instinctively fire and squeeze my glutes!

Why is this story relevant?

There are three categories of cues:

  1. Internal Cues
    Internal cues direct your attention to an internal feature, process or action of the body – for example: “activate the glutes” or “brace your core”.
  2. Neutral Cues
    Neutral cues are aimed to motivate and support, but have no specific direction for example: “great work, team!”.
  3. External Cues
    External cues direct your attention to something external to the body or create a visual reference – for example: “juice the fruit!”.

A huge amount of evidence shows that external cues are superior to internal cues when it comes to learning and optimising motor skill performance in general population and athletes.

Nick Winkleman, PhD, explores this in depth, along with motor skill learning and motivations in his book ‘The Language of Coaching’ – I highly recommend you get your hands on it if these concepts are new to you, it’s a must have if you want to grow your skills as a teacher and coach.

So why are external cues more effective than internal cues, particularly when it comes to general population clients?

Firstly, many people don’t have a strong mind-muscle connection, or to take it a step further they may not know what a muscle or group of muscles is called! In these cases telling someone to “brace their core” is all fine, but do they actually know what that means and how to do that? Using the phrase “pretend someone is about to punch you in the stomach” will most likely produce the result you’re after without the confusion!

Secondly, using external cues is much easier to remember – the more relevant (and depending on your audience, out-there or silly like in Gaz’s case) a cue is, the more likely a client is to retain that information and think back to it the next time they perform that movement. If you have a go-to set of cues as a coach, it also means you are using the same phrasing each time you work with a client, meaning you are using consistent language to further solidify that concept in their mind.

So, take the time this week to tune into what cues you use and ask yourself…

Are they more internal or external? 

Are you consistent with the cues and 

language you use? 

Are your instructions simple?

Next week we will continue on by discussing the gold-standard in demonstrations when it comes to teaching a client a new skill.

But for now here are some of my favourite external cues (some of them are a little silly, but the more you make someone laugh the more they will remember it, right?!):

“Close the gap”

Referring to closing the gap between the hips and ribs by drawing the hips up toward the ribcage, this is a great visual that can help clients come out of an anterior pelvic tilt into neutral spinal alignment at the top of a deadlift or while completing an overhead press.

“ Take your pants off”

Referring to completing a hinge movement and aiming to drive hips back as the chest comes forward.

“Thumbs to bum”

A funny and memorable way to ensure the kettlebell stays high up your thighs when completing a swing or clean.

“Push the ground away” 

To encourage scapular protraction or get maximal muscle engagement in a plank or push up.

“Break the band”

To use when cueing a crab walk or banded squat to cue maximal glute engagement.

And of course, “Juice the fruit”!

What are your favourite external cues?

Share in the comments!

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