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Cueing Your Clients Correctly Is Important

The older I get and the more I learn about the human brain, and exercise, the more I realize that we cannot ignore the fundamentals of training. One of those fundamentals is cueing. Sounds simple doesn’t it? As health and exercise professionals we cue/tell people what to do all the time. Actually it is not simple as more and more research tells us that there are good, not so good and bad ceus. Cueing is probably the most ignored aspect of teaching somebody how to move. Using appropriate cues is critical when you teach physical education classes, train a personal training clients, work with a group of athletes or doing rehab. Cueing is actually a form of communication and a method to influence others what to do isn’t it? Think about some great speakers like the US president John F. Kennedy and Obama, their words get a crowed moving. How does that happen you might think and how is that going to influence how you will apply cueing strategies to your population?

Well, the first thing that happens when we get cued we get an image in your head. Just try this, ask a friend to tell you how to do a certain exercise – something like “I’d like you to very slowly sit down in this chair while keeping your low back straight” You see, even when you just read this cue a picture or short video played inside your head as you saw yourself sitting down or you saw your back being straight – magical isn’t it? In actuallity there is nothing magical about this as this is a normal process of imagery and your body preparing to move. Athletes use this technique all the time when they need to perform a task. Consider 100 meter sprinters; before they explosively get out of the blocks they have practiced imagery – imagining themselves sprinting even before the the actual sprint occurred. On a more scientific level, imagery involves the visualization or cognitive rehearsal of a movement (Feltz & Landers, 1983; Hird et al., 1991; Vealey & Greenleaf, 2001).

Tell me more: Nick Winkelman, (currently the Director of Education at the world renouwed Athletes Performance) and I go way back to the days that he was a young roocky personal trainer breathing down my neck at Oregon State University (OSU). Form the first day I noticed a difference interacting with him; he wanted to know why we move one way or another way, why some people claimed deadlifts should perceed squats and so on. This young man reminded me of myself years ago – why do we do this – why do we do that and so on. His curriocity and drive for perfection got him into Athletes Performance and the rest is history – he is an upcoming rockstar in the strength and conditioning world.

Anyhow, Nick and I just attended the 2011 NSCA convention in 2011 and iso staying late nights wasting our $$ in casinos he introduced me to Gabriele Wulf, a professor at UNLV – just a short drive away from the convention center – so of we went. One of the most important pieces of information I walked out with after picking Dr. Wulf’s brain apart is that how you cue/what you say is critical for retention, execution/motion and carry-over to other activities. One of the fascinating strategies we discussed is called internal vs. external cues. Internal cues typically involve the use of body parts, for example: when we teach somebody to squat most of us use body-part terminology. Let me give you an example: you are teaching a client how to squat. After you demonstrated the squat  you probably say something like: “spread your feet shoulder width apart, then start bending your knees making sure you squeeze your glutes while keeping your low back straight.” Now, what  “image” did you see in your head when you just read these cues? – you were focusing on the body-parts just mentioned didn’t you? Now imagine if somebody just said something like “drop down?” What image did you get now? Different isn’t it? The last cue used here made you “look” at your body from the outside – almost experiencing an out of body experience.

Although internal cues “work” to teach somebody a movement it’s retention and carry-over effect is smaller than using external cueing. So what are external cues? Those typically use information that is external to the body like “drop down” or “aim high.”

At this moment you might think that all this ceuing is just some crap somebody came up with and that you don’t really care about it at all, so let me convince you of it’s importance through a real live example. About 8 weeks ago a client was referred to me as being unable to do some specific ballet jumps (yes folks, ballet dancers are highly skilled athletes believe me). The client informed me that she was a high level professional ballet dancer that sustained an ACL rupture 6 years earlier and although she had seen 6 rehab professionals trying to help her to return to “jumping” she was unable to because of pain and pure fear to hurt herselves. After an extensive review of her previously used rehabilitation and return to function strategies as well as a full orthopedic evaluation I could not find to much wrong with her – she just could not jump properly. After explaining what external cueing is all about and how it can effect movement I sat her down and gave her the following external cue “I want you to fly when you jump – just fly” I repeated with a calm voice “just fly” about 5 times. When she was ready to jump I said ” show me how you fly.” She jumped perfectly and had no pain what so ever!! Actually she could not stop crying for almost 10 minutes afterwards, so imotional she was about all this.

How do you cue your clients?

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