Right on Cue

I have mixed feelings about receiving cues while I’m working out at the gym. Some cues can be very helpful. Some cues I can recognize as helpful, but I’m not in a state of mind at the time to receive them. Other cues are just annoying.

One of the benefits of going to a group exercise class or paying for a personal trainer is receiving cues that enhance your workout. Good cues can make you increase your weight on reps, go faster in cardio bursts than you thought you were capable of at that moment, prevent you from injuring yourself and even boost your confidence, from doing something well because of the cues.

Recently, I received an excellent cue that really helped me with a move, I typically have difficult with – a step down on a box, bench, etc. The coach reminded me to ground down with the outer edge of my foot, rather than the inner edge. She also suggested I try without my shoes to get a better feel with my foot. I also gave myself my own cue – to look ahead rather than look down, to avoid letting my mind take over and inhibit the move. These cues really helped. My step down wasn’t perfect, but it was much better – enough to encourage me to keep trying.

Annoying cues are typically unsolicited from someone that is not paid to give you advice. I used to work out at a gym where a resident personal trainer (there were many there, he was not the only one) would often offer this type of advice. One time I was practicing a single legged kettlebell dead lift, in a particular way that another trainer had taught me to do it, for a particular reason. He thought it was helpful to offer why I was doing it wrong. Aside from the fact that I didn’t think I was doing it wrong, I am not the type of person in a general gym setting that wants to be pointed out in that way. I also would hear him gossiping with clients/gym buddies about how others were doing something wrong. Definitely not helpful, or cool!

There have been times where, even if the advice is useful, at the moment I would prefer just to be left alone – mainly because I just want to enjoy the moment. If I am not doing something that is going to hurt me. If I am doing something that might be targeting a slightly different muscle than the one intended, but I am still doing a useful movement, it can be nice to be left alone. If I have received a few cues that day already, I might just want to let loose, get sweaty, enjoy the moment, without worrying about perfect form. An example is if I’m learning a new move in a kickboxing class. I understand the importance of proper form. But if I am mostly doing it right, and I have received a lot of feedback already, just let me punch the bag! I am not going to be entering a ring anytime soon, and as long as I not going to hurt myself, let my punches reign free!

Whether I am weight lifting or practicing Warrior 3 in yoga, verbal feedback (one should always get consent before giving physical feedback) from your coach is usually welcome. The feedback should be realistic though. If I have been trying for months to do Eagle’s Pose in yoga, and it is clear that my physiology does not allow me to get into that pose, it is not helpful to cue me into the pose again and again – better to give me an alternative.

Cues I typically find helpful from my coaches (who are there to give cues – not random unsolicited people):

Reminding me to bring my shoulders down when doing deadlifts.

Encouraging me to add weight, if it’s clear I can handle it.

Making sure my knees are tracking over my feet properly and my back is flat during squats.

Telling me I am doing something well and to keep at it just like that – ie – “great push-ups Nicole”.

Encouraging me to speed it up when I appear to be slacking in Tabata (and I haven’t indicated I am tired, injured, etc. already).

Providing visualization cues, such as in spin class (close your eyes, imagine you are on a winding path, pretend you are passing the bikes to your right). Oh, and remember to keep your heels down so you are not only using your quads!

Reiterating that I should put a step under my bench so I can properly screw my short legs into the ground and brace my core while doing bench press.

Seeing that I am having difficulty executing a movement properly and showing me a subtle change that allows me to do such move.

Stretching cues – such as move your leg a bit this way, if you want to feel it in your hips, not your quads.

What cues do you find helpful when you are exercising?

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Nicole Plotkin is a law clerk who loves to: exercise, think about what to eat next, snuggle with her dogs, and enjoy life with her wonderful husband.

4 thoughts on “Right on Cue

  1. I really like your list of cues that you like; they reminded me of the help I feel like I need when working out. Proper knee placement is always paramount for me, in strength training and yoga. I don’t do a lot of iyengar yoga, but went to a class last Saturday, and there are tons of cues provided. I appreciate it, especially about my shoulder placement (rolling them back to be closer together when I’m doing ab or glute or leg work on my back). Also, cues like rotation of thighs or upper arms, etc. affect knees and shoulders (in a good way). Thanks for this post– thought-provoking in a very good way!

  2. For years PT’s in gyms and coaches in sport have told me “shoulders down” because I am
    Notorious for raising them/tension. Neck injuries and anxiety lead to neck tension & headaches. This has been my life for 15 years. Until this year.
    Current gym, coaches identified my tendency to shrug. While the cue might be “shoulders down” they have actually taught me and trained the correct movements and I focus on correct engagement of my back, not on a release of shoulder tension.
    The result. I now get to the end of a class where haven’t had one reminder of ‘shoulders down’ because the cause has been addressed. Not just the symptom. The cue isn’t shoulders down” but more pointed (or a poke in the lats with a ‘switch on here”). So much more useful telling me how to fix the problem.
    I love my coaches!

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