Cueing Clients: Do & Don’t

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Written by Kim Leggett (Clean Health Online Master Coach)

Effective cueing is a vital skill that every great coach has mastered. It can make or break how your client learns a new movement pattern and whether or not they get value out of their sessions.

Regardless of the clients level, coaching proper technique with the right cues is one of the first ways they evaluate how in-tune you are to movement patterns. It is one of the most important things that you will need to get comfortable with as you progress within the industry. Beginner clients often don’t have much body awareness and therefore are going to be looking to execute movements from the cues they are given.

Knowing how to cue successfully is a skill you can develop with practice and experience but here are a few do’s and don’ts when it comes to cueing:

DO:

Understand that NOT all clients learn in the same way

Not everyone learns in the same way and knowing how each client is better able to learn a new movement and retain this information can make a session much more enjoyable. 

The different types of learning styles and how they learn most effectively are:

  • VISUAL learners learn by seeing
  • AUDITORY learners prefer to learn by listening and speaking
  • READING/WRITING learners like to read and take notes on programs
  • KINAESTHETIC learners prefer to move and learn by doing
  • Keep it SIMPLE

Most new clients will never perform a new movement correctly, so don’t get stuck on that. Some clients will have no problem, but with others you’ll just have to focus on what’s most important for that day —for example if teaching a hip hinge exercise, this may be driving the hips back and letting the chest come down. If you give the client too many things to focus on, you’ll both get frustrated and disappointed. So stick to one to two key points that you want them to nail when performing a new movement.

Use EXTERNAL cues
The idea of this is to give a client an external cue like “push the floor away,” as opposed to an internal one like “push your feet through the floor.” This ensures the clients thinks less about what’s taking place when learning a new movement pattern. Use the environment and a client’s natural reflexes to help them understand a movement concept or body position. These external cues are so much more meaningful to the client, using fewer words than internal cues making them so much more effective.

Tap the muscle you want ACTIVATED
Knowing when to do this in order to elicit the client executing the movement properly takes experience. For example, kinaestethically cueing a client to drop their shoulders from shrugging by tapping them can actually worsen the issue. A better strategy to get a clients shoulders down would be to tap their lower and mid trapezius and cue them to pull their shoulders “away from their ears.”

Give CLEAR examples
Keep each cue short, easy to understand and that has meaning to the client.  The cue should “stick” after establishing meaning and using it during the movement.  One of my favorites is “tuck the tail” when coaching a posterior pelvic tilt to provide a more neutral spine during a movement.  I don’t have to do a whole of explaining of what the means and I get what I am after and the next time I use that cue they will know exactly what I am looking for — it’s sticky.

DON’T:

Use excessive technical jargon
Even if the technical breakdown of a particular movement is correct, most of the information is meaningless to the client. Phrases like “extend to hip,” “squeeze your glutes” and “externally rotate your shoulder” will be a foreign language to most clients, causing a great deal of confusion.

Over-explain & assume
Use as few cues as possible to get the movement you are after.  Too much verbal coaching can overwhelm and confuse your client, leading to some big-time frustration if they can’t master the movement.  Establish more meaning during rest periods, but continue to keep it short, to the point, and understandable. On the other hand, don’t assume that your client understands what you’re saying- they need to SHOW that they understand through correct movement! Find the perfect balance when you’re cueing a client.

Your ability to communicate as a coach will determine how successful your clients will be.  Sharpen that skill, and you will be more successful as a coach and provide so much more to your client.

References:

  1. Clean Health Fitness Institute. (2020). Performance PT Coach Certification Level 1. Mahoney, T. (2019). Cue it up: 5 Keys to Cueing Movement. Retrieved from: https://www.acsm.org/blog-detail/acsm-certified-blog/2019/05/10/5-keys-to-cueing-movement

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