As a coach trying to promote the best possible experience for our clients and athletes we need to be able to communicate in the best possible way to get the best results in the limited time we have with each people whether in an individual setting or while training groups.
Good form is important. Poor form is dangerous. Luckily correct form isn't a set point is a range so perfection isn't the aim but getting our clients in "safer" positions under any load in the shortest amount of time is where great coaches excel.
Coaches tend to over complicate things in the name of the above. It all comes from a place of good intention but as soon as you start asking a client to remember more than one thing at a time while under a heavy load it is a recipe for disaster. I call this "overcoaching" and the aim of today's article is to help you avoid it.
For this reason, I began thinking about the rules of coaching movement to regulate my own coaching and I believe it has been successful and I wanted to share that approach with you guys.
I call them my "rules of 5."
What are the rules of 5?
As a coach, you'll probably use more than 5 words to explain the concept you are trying to get across.
You should eventually be able to distill it down to something extremely short and simple for the highest chance of success.
From Wikipedia: "Reciprocal inhibition describes the process of muscles on one side of a joint relaxing to accommodate contraction on the other side of that joint."
Electromyography (EMG) is an electrodiagnostic medicine technique for evaluating and recording the electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles.
Definition of coaching cue:
"Coaching instructions and cues are methods of verbal communication that can be used specifically by strength and conditioning and sport coaches to focus an athletes’ attention for enhanced sport performance."
Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. Read more HERE
Good coaching cues usually focus on one particular area or thing with the aim of hitting as many birds with one stone as possible. This is the focus of the athlete's attention during a movement. The aim is for everything else to be subconscious.
Different Types Of Coaching Cue
External or "performance cues"
Internal or what I call "body cues"
I normally call these "body cues" as they are simply coaching cues with a focus on the body. Examples might be "break at the hips," "push your knees out" or as I spectacularly witnessed recently mid-deadlift "activate that lats and push your hips through."
I genuinely nearly spat my drink all over the place when I heard the last one. I wish I could tell you I didn't. But I am a terrible human, which explains a lot.
In my experience, internal cues add complexity rather than removing it which often hinders learning which can be frustrating for both athlete and coach.
There are exceptions to this and times when people respond better to internal cues which is why it is so important to treat everyone as an individual and be prepared to try any kind of cue when the situation arises.
In a group setting, internal cues usually should be avoided.
External cues focus on an outcome or result rather than the body. Examples of this might be "move it quickly," "bend the bar," "grip the floor." The idea behind external cues is to take focus away from the body to allow movement to be subconscious.
There are many studies showing that external cues increase performance more than internal cues.
HERE is an article listing many of those studies if you want to research further into this concept.
Here's the weird thing with internal cues we see higher EMG readings but a lower performance output.
External cues actually REDUCE EMG readings in muscles. This means when movement is more subconscious we see muscles relaxing and contracting with better timing.
This is one of the reasons why you shouldn't choose exercises simply by EMG readings alone as they do not tell the full story
In essence, we see less RECIPROCAL INHIBITION. This means muscle on one side of the joint isn't resisting a particular movement (like in the video at the end of the article) meaning the joint can move through a full range of motion without unnecessary tension in a muscle that should be relaxed.
This translates to being able to lift more weight, or to jumping higher or performing better in some way.
For strength sports, this is exactly what we want. For bodybuilding, this is also what we want because lifting more weight for more reps through the same range of motion usually results in more muscle growth.
Use external cues for the win when you are coaching movement.
With that being said there are exceptions to this rule. Internal cues can and do work for some people so shouldn't be disregarded.
Normal Or Neutral Cues
These are in fact an absence of a cue and are essentially just words designed to positively impact a lifters mindset. Examples of this might be "strong" or "powerful" or not saying anything at all. I like to use these on competition days or testing days where you want lifting to be as subconscious as possible and their mindset to be as confident as possible.
I've always found a that a positive neutral cue can produce amazing results on the big comp day. At this stage, a client shouldn't need any cues whatsoever so you are free to just get them in the headspace they need to be for a great performance.
When External Cues Aren't Optimal
As above external and internal cues aren't appropriate during competitions, fitness testing, any time when movement should be completely subconscious otherwise you are risking 'getting in their head' when everything should be about flow and unthinking performance.
It's also not optimal when they don't work. If someone is struggling with movement and changing their technique through external cues give internal cues a go and see if you have success.
If you don't, think about regressing the exercise and then building back towards what you are trying to achieve at a later date. It could be that you just don't have the right external cue just yet. You'll get there and when you do make sure you make a note of the cue that worked because it could work on someone else later down the line.
Avoiding overcoaching and coaching as effectively as possible will both make your service better and make training with you more effective, motivating and safer. It will be more fun and offers you the chance to be better than the PT's around you (or to teach them these rules as well I hope.)
Talk to your clients like human beings, coach them in ways shown to positively influence human behaviour and movement and watch how your clients and athletes improve by using the rules of 5.
Thank you for reading!
Types Of External Coaching Cue
By Chris Kershaw
Chris is a Personal Trainer, Strength Coach, writer, man of small stature and reader of The Discworld Series with a decade in the industry.
He trains everyone from beginners to high-level athletes. His favourite clients are people getting into the gym for the first time because they can make the biggest changes in their lives.
You can reach me through the email address email@example.com
My Instagram is Chris_Kershaw_Strength.
Thank you for reading!