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Stop telling your client to activate their glutes

by Jonathan Goodman | Follow on Twitter

Stop telling your client to activate their glutes. This is how you cue and this is how your clients learn.

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Model: Robin Kennedy Photographer: Darcie kennedy
This is a guest post by Mike T. Nelson. If you’re interested in contributing please go to our contribution page.

Pat yourself on the back. Do it now. Ok, done? You’re passion to get better led you to the PTDC. As such you also know that cues are critical to your success. Exercise cues convey how to do a particular exercise.  Even experienced lifters have their coaches/training partners use cues.  If you could spy on top powerlifters you would probably hear “hips, hips, hips, hips” during a squat or “up, up, up, up.”

I’ve ran many experiments here at the Extreme Human Performance Center using 2 different types of auditory cues.  I’ve compared my informal results with many other coaches who train hundreds of people a week.

In virtually every experiment I ran, one particular method came out on top.  It was not even really a contest. For all the pubmed ninjas who are waiting to pounce on this one, I am way ahead of you with my giant list of references at the end to put the smack down on ya.  Boo ya!

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This information is not new, but rarely used.

Before I reveal this super secret uber ninja method and how to use it, let’s look at how your body uses cues.

Smart Body

Your body is really smart. Really really freakin’ smart. The main reason it is so smart is that it has all the data! Every second of the day while you’re above ground, your brain is receiving updates from all aspects of your physiology. Heart rate, fat and glucose oxidation, ocular information from your eyes, auditory information from yours ears, hunger from your gut (hmmmm, Chipolte burrito), and on and on are constantly being sent. Most of this information is unconscious to you though (and that is a great thing). Upon movement, the amount of information coming to your brain spikes up even higher to allow coordinated movement.

First, the bad

Keep the above information in mind as we hop into our car and travel to a place where the PTDC doesn’t exist to take a sneak peak at these trainers “top notch” training methods.

Despite a look of nervousness and a sense that each of these trainers have a void in their lives; we see trainers vomiting cues all over clients. (Note: Jon Goodman wrote a great article about this on Mike Robertson’s site).

Now that we’re clear on the cue vomitus information, we need to look at WHAT cues they’re using. Let’s sneak up to one of the elusive trainers in the wild and drop in on their conversation…..

….be very very quiet…..

“Ok, I really want you to feel this dumbbell swing in your glutes.”

“What are my glutes again?”

“Your butt cheeks.”

“Ok, but I can’t feel anything there”

“Try harder”

“I am trying hard, still nothing”

The trainer slaps the client on the butt to wake up their sleepy glutes since their glutes must have spent all night passed out at the bar and not done their job, despite the client walking in on their own power without the help of a motorized wheelchair or a little Rascal.

Back to the task at hand and keep quiet, remember we are spying here….

“Now we are going to do some planks, so get down on all 4 like this and hold this position (as the whiley trainer does a plank).”

Clients assumes the position.

“This time I want you to really pull your abs in and contract your glutes really hard’

“You mean my butt cheeks?”

“Yes!”

“But I still can’t feel them and I am pulling in my abs now too”

“Good, squeeze your lats now too and try to bring your pelvis up to your bellybutton”

“Um, ok, what are my lats?”

You get the idea

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Other than the trainer using terms the client does not know, what do you see going on here?

What type of cues is the trainer giving the client?

Internal vs External Cues

The trainer is giving the client internal cues that are “feeling based.”

“Can you feel this (insert favorite muscle here)?”

“I want you to really feel the lats, glutes, abs, calves, etc.”

The assumption (which is a big one), is that “feeling” a muscle results in a better contraction and thus better form.

But does it really?

I am going to piss off a bunch people right now and say an affirmative no (but I will show you a very simple fix).

Brain Operation 101

Remember how I said that your brain has all the data?  It’s true! When the well intentioned trainer above was attempting get the client to “feel” their glutes the client’s attention was hijacking their brain power from the real task at hand, complete the exercise.

What is the overall goal of a dumbbell (or kettlebell) swing?

It is to feel the glutes or to move the weight from between the legs to about level with the horizon in front?

I vote for moving the weight.

MMA Butt Kicking

Imagine this…..I hire your favorite MMA athlete to come over and kick you in the left glute cheek right before you do some kettlebell swings. In the meantime, I will run to Vegas and place a very large sum of money that you’ll have increased sensation in your left glute.

Did I make you better? Nope…..

Heck, you probably now have a bruise the size of a softball along with lots of extra sensations.

By focusing on internal sensation and feeling, the trainer is assuming they know what’s best for the client.

But the client already has all the data. Therefore a better way is to cue the final movement and let the client’s  brain figure out the best way to accomplish it.

The end movement is the goal, not sensation. Sensation is a byproduct of the process (and not a very good one).

Becoming a personal trainer

Gym Time

When do you feel the best in the gym?

Is it when you are feeling every little movement or when you walk in and all the weight just feels stupid light with almost NO feeling?

I vote for the later.

You are in the zone, a state of flow, and it is just happening with little thought. Weights a just flying up and you don’t even hear the Lunk Alarm going off.  You are setting personal records faster than Kelsey Grammer goes through wives.

Our clients want the same thing.  It is our goal to get them addicted to exercise and make it an enjoyable process .  We can do that by focusing on external cues.

Internal vs External Cue Examples

Internal Cues

Feel your glutes           .

Feel your lats.

Breath behind the shield

Try to dorsiflex your ankle more on the next landing

External Cues

Move the weight from point A to B (starting to ending position)

Move the weight from your shoulder to overhead.

I don’t want to hear you breath

I don’t want to hear you land the next plyometric

Notice the difference?

External cues focus on the outcome, but leave the process open ended for their brain to figure out how to be accomplish the task. Remember, their brain has all the data and is best equipped to run their body.

The trainer is just helping the client out in the process, not working to assume they know what’s best (internal cues).  You don’t need to go searching for your feelings while training.  Save that for a late night at the bar, listening to far too many country songs.  External cues minimize any extra sensations (note: I said minimize, not eliminate).

When you are hungry, you want food. You don’t need to keep asking yourself all day “Am I hungry? Am I hungry?”  Nope.  It is all done unconsciously for you by that really big bad a$$ brain you have on your shoulders.

Summary

I know this goes against probably everything you have ever been told by several top trainers who get great results; but I believe everyone can get even better results faster by adopting an external cue mindset.

Don’t take my word for it though. You don’t have to and I don’t expect you to from one article by some crazy trainer who has been spent way too long in school and runs crazy experiments on his athletes. What I do want you to do is be experimentally based.   Run your own experiment to compare external vs. internal cues and see what you find.  It will be hard at first since external cues are not what you are accustomed to using, but give it a shot.

How do you cue? Comment below and, as always, please share. Also don’t forgot to “like” the PTDC’s Facebook page.

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Mike NelsonFor over 18 years, Mike T. Nelson has dedicated his life to researching human performance. His dedication to this subject is why the world’s top organizations call on him to help their members perform at their best, organizations include:  DARPA – the military’s elite research group, The International Society of Sports Nutrition, American College of Sports Nutrition, National Strength and Conditioning Association, and others.  Sign up for his newsletter at http://www.miketnelson.com

 

References

Chiviacowsky, S., Wulf, G., Wally, R., & Borges, T. (2009). Knowledge of results after good trials enhances learning in older adults. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 80(3), 663-668.

Freedman, S. E., Maas, E., Caligiuri, M. P., Wulf, G., & Robin, D. A. (2007). Internal versus external: Oral-motor performance as a function of attentional focus. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research : JSLHR, 50(1), 131-136. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2007/011)

Lewthwaite, R., & Wulf, G. (2010). Social-comparative feedback affects motor skill learning. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology (2006), 63(4), 738-749. doi:10.1080/17470210903111839

McNevin, N. H., Shea, C. H., & Wulf, G. (2003). Increasing the distance of an external focus of attention enhances learning. Psychological Research, 67(1), 22-29. doi:10.1007/s00426-002-0093-6

Porter, J. M., Anton, P. M., & Wu, W. F. (2011). Increasing the distance of an external focus of attention enhances standing long jump performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31823f275c

Shafizadeh, M., McMorris, T., & Sproule, J. (2011). Effect of different external attention of focus instruction on learning of golf putting skill. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 113(2), 662-670.

Shea, C. H., Wulf, G., & Whitacre, C. (1999). Enhancing training efficiency and effectiveness through the use of dyad training. Journal of Motor Behavior, 31(2), 119-125. doi:10.1080/00222899909600983

van Vliet, P. M., & Wulf, G. (2006). Extrinsic feedback for motor learning after stroke: What is the evidence? Disability and Rehabilitation, 28(13-14), 831-840. doi:10.1080/09638280500534937

Wu, W. F., Porter, J. M., & Brown, L. E. (2011). Effect of attentional focus strategies on peak force and performance in the standing long jump. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e318231ab61

Wulf, G., Hoss, M., & Prinz, W. (1998). Instructions for motor learning: Differential effects of internal versus external focus of attention. Journal of Motor Behavior, 30(2), 169-179. doi:10.1080/00222899809601334

Wulf, G., Landers, M., Lewthwaite, R., & Tollner, T. (2009). External focus instructions reduce postural instability in individuals with parkinson disease. Physical Therapy, 89(2), 162-168. doi:10.2522/ptj.20080045

Wulf, G., & Lewthwaite, R. (2009). Conceptions of ability affect motor learning. Journal of Motor Behavior, 41(5), 461-467. doi:10.3200/35-08-083

Wulf, G., Mercer, J., McNevin, N., & Guadagnoli, M. A. (2004). Reciprocal influences of attentional focus on postural and suprapostural task performance. Journal of Motor Behavior, 36(2), 189-199. doi:10.3200/JMBR.36.2.189-199

Wulf, G., Mercer, J., McNevin, N., & Guadagnoli, M. A. (2004). Reciprocal influences of attentional focus on postural and suprapostural task performance. Journal of Motor Behavior, 36(2), 189-199. doi:10.3200/JMBR.36.2.189-199

Wulf, G., Mercer, J., McNevin, N., & Guadagnoli, M. A. (2004). Reciprocal influences of attentional focus on postural and suprapostural task performance. Journal of Motor Behavior, 36(2), 189-199. doi:10.3200/JMBR.36.2.189-199

Wulf, G., Schmidt, R. A., & Deubel, H. (1993). Reduced feedback frequency enhances generalized motor program learning but not parameterization learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology.Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 19(5), 1134-1150.

Wulf, G., Shea, C., & Lewthwaite, R. (2010). Motor skill learning and performance: A review of influential factors. Medical Education, 44(1), 75-84. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2923.2009.03421.x

Wulf, G., Shea, C., & Lewthwaite, R. (2010). Motor skill learning and performance: A review of influential factors. Medical Education, 44(1), 75-84. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2923.2009.03421.x

Wulf, G., & Su, J. (2007). An external focus of attention enhances golf shot accuracy in beginners and experts. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 78(4), 384-389.

Wulf, G., & Su, J. (2007). An external focus of attention enhances golf shot accuracy in beginners and experts. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 78(4), 384-389.

Wulf, G., Tollner, T., & Shea, C. H. (2007). Attentional focus effects as a function of task difficulty. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 78(3), 257-264.

I need to thank Aaron Schwenzfeier, Frankie Faires, Adam Glass, Craig Keaton, Cal Dietz and many others for their help in the formation of this article.

About the Author
Jonathan Goodman

Jonathan Goodman is the creator and head coach of the PTDC and has a distaste for third person bios ... Hey, I'm Jon and I'd have to say that this site is pretty awesome. Thanks for being here. If you're interested in my brand new book, it's called Ignite the Fire (revised, updated, and expanded). My team and I have also created the first Academy and certification for online trainers. Click here to check out the Online Trainer Academy.