PJ Stahl’s Strategy for Cueing Your Athletes with Purpose

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When it comes to the true art of coaching, cueing efficiently can be a challenge.

Over cueing can give a distracting amount of information for an athlete and no real focus is given to the movement at hand. Under cueing by a coach can also be overbearing and does not give the coach any specific deviations to look for in each exercise. I have created a Cueing with Purpose strategy that will allow coaches to instruct more effectively and athletes to improve their movements more efficiently.

In all of my years of experience as a head coach and gym owner, I have found that using one cue per exercise per round is the best approach for both coaches and athletes. My entire coaching staff goes through a Cueing with Purpose training system to learn to use a single cue per exercise approach and it has proven to be very successful.

When coaching an exercise, for example the barbell back squat, I will use one cue per round as the focus of the movement. This will let the athlete know exactly what the coach is looking for and will also give the coach a specific focus on what deviations to look for in the movement. I have discovered that my coaches are more engaged and my athletes have fewer deviations in their movement patterns with this training strategy.

Here is an example of the a Cueing with Purpose strategy for a Barbell Back Squat in strength section of a workout.

8×4 Barbell Back Squat

Set 1:

Neutral Spine – The goal is for the athlete to maintain neutral spine position throughout the entire squat. From the shoulders to the hips the athlete will brace through the core to stabilize and maintain spine positioning.

Set 2:

Foot Position – The goal is for the athlete to have correct foot positioning during the entire squat pattern. There will be a slight turnout of the feet of about 1 inch. This will be maintained without compensating or rotating during the squat movement.

Set 3:

Knee Position and Tracking – The goal is for the knees to track outward inline with the middle toe as the athlete squats. The athlete will activate the glutes to create slight external rotation of the hip and keep the knees tracking outward as the full squat is completed.

Set 4:

Torso and Shin Angle – The goal is for the torso and shin angle to be parallel to one another at the bottom of the squat position. At the top of the squat the athlete initiates the movement by pushing the hips back, then bends the knees to lower into the full depth of the squat. At the bottom of the squat the athlete will have parallel torso and shins before they return to the standing position.

Set 5:

Head Position – The goal is for the athlete to maintain a neutral head position. The head should be inline with the neutral spine. When descending or ascending the athlete must maintain a neutral neck/head position without deviating by looking up or down.

Set 6:

Breathing and Bracing – The goal is for the athlete to apply a breath hold at the top of the movement to brace the core.  As the weight continues to get heavier and the fatigue starts to set in the athlete must focus on taking a deep breath and while holing their breath, bracing through their core as they lower in the squat for midline stability. After approaching the 2/3 point on the ascent of the squat the athlete can release the breath.

Set 7 and Set 8:

Individual Cues – This is when the coach will give customized cues for each athlete. These will be based on the individual athletes’ performance in the first 6 sets. These cues typically focus on the deviations of the athletes’ movement patterns.

I always start my cueing strategy with the spine. Next, I build from the ground up. Typically starting with the feet and working my way up the body. This may vary slightly depending on the exercise. I finish with individual cues for every athlete to give customization to the workout and emphasize specific deviations that need attention from each athlete.

The overall system will look like this. The coach will give the specific cue for that individual round and will talk about the correct form he/she is looking for and potential deviations. Next, the coach will cue the class to perform the movement. While the movement is happening the coach is now scan all athletes’ movements for that specific coaching cue. It is important that the coach only references the cue that was given and not start cueing opposing deviations (unless a deviation puts the athlete at risk). After the set has been completed, the coach will then give specific feedback to each athlete referencing their movement in association with the cue that was given. As the athletes rest and/or change their weights the coach will now move on to the next cue for the next set and repeat in the same fashion throughout all rounds.

After finishing set 6, with the focus of “Breathing and Bracing” we then move on to “Individual Cues”. This means that the coach will walk through the entire class and give a specific focus cue to each athlete. These will be different for each person depending on what the athlete specifically needs to be working on. This allows for customization of the workout. Giving each athlete individual attention and significant cues for their own personal development empowers the athlete and decreases overall injury potential.

When applying cueing strategies in the future think of these steps to make it as effective as possible.

  1. Give one cue per round for the athlete to focus on.
  2. Have the coach only focus on looking for deviations in the cue that was given.
  3. Give corrections on the cue based on the athletes’ performance.
  4. Give personal cues to each athlete based on individual needs.
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About PJ Stahl

Power Systems Master Coach, PJ Stahl, MA, CSCS is creator of PROJECT STEEL and a Reebok Ambassador. His background in competing in collegiate level Division I gymnastics paired with his experience coaching professional athletes, he was naturally led to become a fitness performance coach. PJ utilizes over 20 years of experience and over 25 certifications as a well-rounded elite fitness expert in personal and group training. PJ currently resides in Los Angeles where he owns and trains out of his studio, Lock Box Fitness & Performance Center.