6 Awesome Coaching Cues


One of the many benefits of the internet is the accessibility to top coaches from around the world.
Now there is that slight problem of deciding who is good and who is merely pretending, but with a little persistence it usually becomes quite clear.
Here’s a hint:

The more they toot their own horn, the less likely they are to be awesome.

One reason I enjoy watching coaches give Youtube presentations, read their blog posts and as and when opportunity arises, attend a workshop/seminar, is that I can get a fresh perspective on a lot of what I do with my own clients.
Sometimes it’s a tweak in technique, occasionally it’s a totally new technique, but more often than not, and most valuable to me as a coach it’s a teaching cue.

This is something I try to emphasis when I teach a workshop these are often attended by other coaches and/or up and coming instructors. I encourage them to listen and write down the coaching cues I give so that they can use them, albeit in their own style, themselves.
So here’s a few of the most effective cues i use, and where I’ve stolen them from other people, I’ll do my best to credit them.

  1. “Tit’s Out, Arse Out” – A little crude maybe, but it gets the point across.
    This is reference to the chest elevated, arched back position that is common in many lifts from deadlifts, squats, swings, bent over rows and many more.
    For years I struggled communicating the shoulders back and down, the chest high, and the hips pushed back until one day I said to a client “you know, like a playboy bunnie” and they just got it, they replied back “oh, tits out, arse out” and I’ve used it ever since.
    of all the teaching cues I’ve used, this one has a near perfect strike rate, everyone gets it.
  2. “Open a window and look through it” – This one is in reference to overhead pressing ad comes courtesy of watching a Mike Mahler dvd featuring strongman Mark Philippi.
    Mark was talking about the head movement used in the Log Press, where the head must be moved out of the way of the implement as it is pressed upwards. The head going back will also elevate the chest and activate the upper back giving greater stability to the shoulders and allowing the upper chest to come into play on the lift.
    It’s also the same action used in the kettlebell press/push press and jerk.By throwing the head back, you will automatically lift the chest up. I you’re lifting kettles or a strongman log, the chest lift will actually initiate the movement bouncing the weight off the body before the arms & shoulders need to do any work. Do a sharp inhale to amplify this even further and you’ll lift more weight, faster.
    With a barbell you get less of a bump start but you still get the added stability of a fully engaged back, the upper chest can still play a greater role in the lift and the bar can travel in a more direct and therefore shorter route to lockout.
  3. “Imagine I’m going to punch you in the stomach!” – Usually said while looking the client directly in the eye…
    Yup, this one comes from Pavel Tsatsouline, and refers to bracing the core for a heavy lift.
    There’s so much confusion about how best to brace for a lift, from the suck the belly in crowd, to the push the belly out crowd and everyone in between. But if you really just think about it for a moment, your body knows what to do, you’ve been doing it since were a kid trying to lift your mummy’s handbag. You’d inhale, brace, grunt and lift. My kids do it, I’m sure I did it.
    Now unlike the other two cues, this isn’t a position to go to or a movement to remember, instead it’s a measure to prevent movement and position change. A properly braced midsection (not just the abs) is what keeps the spine safe and allows power transfer from lower to upper body (and vica versa)
    So rather than go into lengthy explanations on how the various muscles pull to create intra abdominal pressure, blah, blah. You simply tell the person that your going to drill them, full force into the gut. I may even feint a punch. Without fail the client will perform a perfect bracing action to protect themselves. Now they know how it feels, it’s time for them to apply that same feeling while under load.
  4. “Stay Strong” – This is a little bit of psychology and a little bit of semantics, but it really works.
    How many times have you said “Don’t stop” to someone. Or maybe a better example is “Don’t do this…..” and they immediately do the thing you said not to?
    I’ve had this phenomena explained to by a psychologist, and to fair it baffled me, but what I do remember is that we don’t hear the word “don’t”, so “don’t stop” will register as “stop”
    Not very encouraging, eh?
    Change the words you use to “Stay Strong” and you’ve got two positive words as opposed to two negative ones. Even if misheard, it’s hard to misinterpret either Stay or Strong.
    So when encouraging your clients/training partners, use clearly positive messages, and Stay Strong is the best I have be for physical or mental strength.
  5. “Big Exhales” – It was during a Steve Cotter seminar that I picked this one up.
    Steve explained the reflex we have to inhale deeply after a sharp exhale. and we know reflexive actions are usually stronger and faster than voluntary actions. So in order to maximise our oxygen intake, forget about it and focus entirely on getting the air out.
    As you recover between sets, try it, exhale as hard as you can, over and over and very soon you’ll feel the heart start to slow and the breathing  rate lower.
    Learn to apply this during sporting actions, it’s a must if you’re working high rep weight training drills, be it 20 rep squats, kettlebell sports or high rep callisthenics.
    Any time endurance is necessary or a quick recovery is vital, big exhales.
  6. “Pull yourself down” – Don’t surrender to gravity, actively lower yourself into an exercise.
    I actually don’t remember where I got this, but it’s worth it’s weight in gold. For pull ups, squats, bench, one arm push ups and other high tension lifts, being active on the decent is like spring loading the body ready to power out again.
    An uncontrolled descent will mean that you have to use a lot of force to arrest the fall before you even attempt to lift. While this maybe the point of low load drills such as kettlebell swings and plyometrics, it is counter productive for heavy lifting.
    Be active on the descent, pull your self into it, load the muscles like drawing back on a bow & arrow, then let fly. Feel the extra stability and tension assist you power the weight up.

There is also one cue I’ve stopped using.
I used go on about pulling the shoulder blades back and down and it always took a while for this to sink in to people. More recently I’ve focused on telling people to stick the chest out (see “tits out arse out”) and guess what, the scapular are retracted and depressed as the chest elevates. In fact it’s largely the movement of the scapula that causes the chest to expand.
But by focussing on the expansion of the chest the scapula move naturally into position rather than being held by unnaturally produced tension.
I find this easier on the athlete both in terms of understanding and application.
Try it for yourself.

I’ll be running a workshop at Wild Geese on December the 2nd, the topic is Bodyweight Training. As in all my workshops you can attend as a participant looking to increase knowledge of bodyweight training and protocols, or as a coach who is looking for coaching cues and teaching skills.
Drop me a line to book your place.

Date: December 2nd
Time: 1000 – 1600
Topic: Bodyweight Training
Cost: €50
Location: Wild Geese, 14 Magennis Place, Dublin 2
Places remaining: 15 (at time of writing)
To book: info@wildgeesema.com

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