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The Art of Cueing (Not the Science)

by Jonathan Goodman | Follow on Twitter

I encourage awkward silences. I’m talking about the kind of awkward silences that happen when your girlfriend is sitting beside you and you phone buzzes with a text from “sexy Stefanie”. The reason why I enjoy these awkward silences is because it’s the only time when I can guarantee people tell the truth. Unfortunately I […]

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I encourage awkward silences.

I’m talking about the kind of awkward silences that happen when your girlfriend is sitting beside you and you phone buzzes with a text from “sexy Stefanie”.

The reason why I enjoy these awkward silences is because it’s the only time when I can guarantee people tell the truth. Unfortunately I don’t have access to narcoanalysis drugs introduced Dr. William Bleckwenn in 1930 to procure vital information in the first meeting with a client. (Yeah this stuff exists, I checked Wikipedia so you can be pretty sure it’s legit…)

The First Awkward Date (err I mean meeting)

The art of cueing goes all the way back to the initial meeting with a client. It’s here that you are in a position of power. They have made a conscious effort to come to you for help.

As they sit across from you at the table it’s your job to find out as much information as you possibly can from them. The goal is not to agree that you can help them lose 10lbs, nobody cares about 10lbs. The goal is to figure out all of the reasons why they are really there. These are what you will connect to your cues later on down the road.

Considering that it’s usually the first time you meet this person they will put a wall up. In order to break down their barrier you must take as long as needed in this introductory meeting and make it as awkward as you can. Ask questions like “why” and say “go on…” as much as you need to. Only move onto the next question when you’re satisfied with the answer.

Ideally you will come out of the meeting with information like “I want to be able to fit into my red dress again. The one that I wore 5 years ago on a cruise with my husband on the tropics”. Or maybe it will be a performance related goal like “I want to be able to do tend to my garden again without back pain”.

Whatever the reason don’t ever forget it. This is the most important information the client told you in the entire meeting. Keep it in the back of your head somewhere, you’ll use it again soon.

personal trainer marketing and cueing

Cueing but not overwhelming (where functional fits into training)

Every time I read a book that gives me 10+ different cues for an exercise a kitten dies. I like kittens and don’t want them to die so please start cueing more efficiently.

To use a term that has been basterdized exercises are functional. Most everything we teach our clients to do in the gym have been done before.

√ People have sat down so they’ve squatted.

√ People have picked up heavy shit so they’ve deadlifted.

√ People have pushed open a door so they’ve pressed.

√ People have pulled open a door so they’ve pulled (Like the creativity of using a door for both examples? The mental juices are flowing baby!).

Instead of cueing people on every part of the movement why not figure out a relative starting point based on the clients expertise?

Figure out a relative starting point based on the clients expertise and previous experience – Click to tweet

Follow these steps for teaching a new exercise:

Step 1: Show two reps properly executed of the exercise. If you cannot perform the exercise perfectly bring in a video of it done right. Being able to visualize vividly what an exercise should look like it essential to the learning process.

Step 2: Ask the client to perform the movement for at least two reps. You can have them do more as many as you like here. This is the information gathering stage.

Step 3: Identify the two MOST PRESSING form corrections that the clients needs. Everybody is different. In the example of the squat one clients might need to keep their chest up and another client may be better served by you telling them to brace.

Step 4: This is where the art of cueing comes in. Remember when they told you in the first meeting their reason for working out in the first place? That is probably why you chose the exercise your client is currently performing.

Take your client to the side and paint the picture for them. Tell them why the exercise they are performing will help them reach their goals. Add in the form corrections. Then finish off the brief talk by saying that you will use one word and they need to think hard about correcting their improper form every time you say it. So an example could be,

“So what you just did was a squat. Remember when you told me that you wanted to fit into the red dress that you wore on that cruise with your husband. This exercise is going to play a big part in helping you get there. The reason is that the squat burns a lot of calories both during and up to 72hrs after the workout.

In order to perform it well I need you to keep your chest up to protect your back and squeeze your butt as hard as you can to generate more power. So every time I say “chest” it means you’re dropping your shoulders and need to fix it. Similarly every time I say “glutes” it means you aren’t squeezing you butt enough. Make sense?”

Step 5: Have them perform the exercise again and cue constantly. Say those two words over and over and over again.

The art of cueing – Why it works?

Grooving movement patterns takes time and the best way to do it is with continual reminders. This is no better showcased by legendary coach John Wooden as described in Daniel Coyle’s fantastic book The Talent Code.

In step 4 above you have connected the two most pertinent cues to the clients emotional reasons for exercising and kept them short. During the clients workout I simply have to say the word “glutes” and they know now only to squeeze their butt but they know why. A cascade of events happen in their mind that starts with one simple word. The trick is connecting that word with the action you want performed and the reason for performing it.

It both saves you work and is much less annoying to your clients performing these simple steps right off the bat. I always hated explaining myself over and over again. The last thing I wanted to do during a workout is explain the reason why squeezing a butt is important.

Building intelligent clients is the key to making your job easier and getting them to perform better. It takes some foresight. Just think then how easy it is a year down the road when you’re teaching them a harder version of the exercise. All you have to say is glutes and immediately they know to squeeze. No explanation needed.

Any cueing tricks? Comment below and tell me how you do it.

If you want to know more about cueing here’s some further reading:

Stop Telling Your Clients to Activate Their Glutes – Mike T. Nelson on thePTDC

Topic of the Week: What Types of Cues Should Trainers and Coaches Provide? – Bret Contreras

Improve Your Coaching Cues – Jon Goodman on Mike Robertson’s site (this is an article I wrote a while back for Mike. It’s somewhat similar to this one but focuses on the science a bit more. I don’t completely agree with everything in it anymore to be honest.)

Photo credits: Model: Robin Kennedy Photographer: Darcie Kennedy ~妍~

About the Author
Jonathan Goodman

As the creator and head coach of thePTDC, I'd have to say that this thing is pretty awesome. If you're interested in my book, it's called Ignite the Fire. Feel free to come hang out on my Facebook page where I talk explore the perfect balance between fitness, business, and living an awesome and fulfilling life.