Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Coaching Tip of the Week: Improve Your Cues By Talking Less And Being Positive

One of my favorite things about being a strength coach at IFAST is getting to work with interns each semester.  I am very passionate about teaching and helping other enthusiastic coaches/trainers.  I enjoy this because I know I am helping them, but also because I learn a great deal from it all.

Each intern presents with a slightly different background, and therefore, different questions and perspectives.  Each semester is another chance to argue/present my case as to why my coaching and training methods are "correct".  HAVING TO EXPLAIN A TOPIC OR YOUR METHODS IS ONE OF THE BEST WAYS TO REALLY GAIN A FIRM UNDERSTANDING OF THE POINT AT HAND.  For example, when an intern asks me a difficult question I often learn something from trying to explain the answer to him or her.

One of the other great things about having interns is that at the end of the semester I ask them to give me feedback on how I can improve my coaching.  I always want to get better at what I do, and my interns spend a lot of time with me (the IFAST internship is 640 hours) so they have a great perspective.

One of my recent interns, Jae Chung (a.k.a. Tony), pointed something out to me that I need to be more aware of - my verbage/cuing language.  Many times, without thinking, I will tell a client to do something with way too many words.

For example, if someone is arching their low back then the perfect cue for this is usually "ribs down", and as Jae pointed out, the goal is eventually to just say "ribs" with your client knowing what you mean.  However, sometimes my inner teacher comes out and I want to explain every little thing to my client - "You are arching your low back, which can cause pain and is not the ideal way to stabilize your body.  We want you to learn to use your muscles to stabilize you and not the bones of your spine.  When you arch your low back, your ribs "poke out" in the front (show them this).  Therefore, I want you to think "ribs down" during your next set." 

Obviously, this example is a little extreme, but I am sure I gave this explanation at one point as a coach.  Now there is nothing wrong with it if you have a client that is really interested in learning, but it could turn your session into a few hours instead of one hour.  It will also make it harder and less efficient to coach a lot of people.

Therefore, pay close attention to how you cue your clients.  Thanks Jae for making me more aware of this!

And while we are on the topic of cuing, another great tip is to refrain from telling your clients "don't do ______".  NEVER USE THE WORD DON'T.  If you tell them not to do something, then this will be in the their mind and they will consciously be thinking about it and most likely do it.

To get my point across better, imagine someone says to you, "Don't look over there."  Well, what are you going to do?  I bet that you are either going to look or you are going to think really hard about it.

Therefore, try to use positives ("Keep the bar close") instead of negatives ("Don't let the bar drift away from you").  

So the point of this blog was two-fold.  First, I wanted to share with you some ways to improve your cuing (one of those from the awesome Tony Jae Chung), and secondly, I wanted to point out a great way to learn - take on interns and always ask for feedback from them or clients, fellow coaches, etc.

Have a great week everyone!


  1. Great post Zach! I completely agree with everything you said...going along that same line of thought, I think in Mike's blog recently, he mentioned working with someone and while cueing them to do something to make the movement more effective, the person asked why he hadn't told them that before. All he said back was, "You weren't ready for it!"

    This is a valuable nugget of information I have kept in mind when coaching clients ever since. And I guess it falls under "progressing" your cues, along with keeping things simple.

  2. Great post! =) Thanks for mentioning me on your blog. Just to clarify -- I believe what instigated this discussion was the cue, "get your ribs down." I think four words is a little too long unless it's your first or second time working with a client.

    The cue you provide in this post, "ribs down," is just fine IMO. I think there is a slight difference between two words and one, so maybe just "ribs" is preferable.

    Or to be more precise, there are certain situations where it's definitely better to distill your cues down to one word. Say, in Oly lifting, where you definitely want many of your cues to be snappy ("JUMP!") and timed perfectly.

    With something like a low-key corrective exercise, I think "ribs down" is probably just fine. =)

  3. Thanks for the comments, Kasey and Jae!

    Kasey, that is a great point. I wrote a post similar to Mike's idea a while back found here:
    Basically, the idea was to write down the two or three most important things to look for/cues for each exercise. That way you are not tempted to throw out a ton of cues. You realize that you first need to work on those two or three things first and until they master those then do not worry about the rest.

    Jae - No problem, man! I agree with you - as usual:)

    1. Hi Zach, I'm in a similar position as you with regards to my arm, right arm below the elbow. I've been training for about 12 months and was wondering if I could pick your brain about what you may have figured out in terms of ways to overcome some of the drawbacks and achieve a balance in musculature.

      I would really appreciate it if you could get back to me.

    2. Yeah I would love to chat. Just shoot me an email at