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3 Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective

Written on August 16, 2012 at 10:51 am, by Eric Cressey

When it comes to strength and conditioning programs, I’ve long been a proponent of the phrase, “It’s not just what you do; it’s how you do it.”

Whenever I visit a commercial gym, I’m reminded of just how badly most people butcher exercise technique.  A lot of people get hurt with exercise, and it isn’t necessarily because the exercise is inherently bad, but because their execution of that exercise (or their “intepretation” of it) is grossly flawed. 

To that end, I thought it would be a good idea to kick off a new series about coaching cues we regularly use with our clients and athletes.  Here are three to get the ball rolling:

1. “Make a double chin.”

I’m a huge advocate of teaching the packed neck during strength exercises, as a lot of athletes have a tendency to slip into forward head posture the second they get under load.  However, the common cue of “tuck the chin” really doesn’t work, as a lot of athletes will simply open the mouth or take the chin to the sternum.  Neither of these patterns are ideal.  Simply telling someone to make a double chin usually fixes the problem instantly, as it’s a pattern that is already in their existing schema; they’ve been making goofy faces every since they were kids.

This is, of course, a cue you might want to avoid if your client does, in fact, have many chins.

2. “Stare at your fists.

Prone bridges are a tremendously valuable anterior core stability exercise, especially for beginners.  Unfortunately – and possibly because they’re so common in group exercise settings – the technique gets butchered all the time, as folks make themselves “too long” with their set-up.  When the hands are too far out in front of the body, the challenge improves considerably, and folks often drop into a forward head posture, “buffalo hump” at the thoracic spine, and lumbar hyperextension.  Here’s what the poor technique looks like; you’ll see that the athlete is simply training in an excessively lordotic posture:

Here’s how it looks when it’s corrected:

 

3. “Work like a see-saw.”

I’m a big fan of single-leg deadlifts, but the truth is that a lot of people struggle to master the hip hinge in unilateral stance.  One of the quick and easy ways to correct this is to tell an athlete to “work like a see-saw.”  In other words, imagine the dumbbell in front as being one side of the see-saw, and your foot in the back as the other end.  Since the foot weighs less than the dumbbell, you’ve got to get it further out on the see-saw to have the same counterbalancing effect.

The same is true in the warm-up period, even if you don’t have weights in the hands:

Did you find these tips helpful?  Looking for more coaching cues like these? In the comments section below, let me know what exercise technique gives you trouble and we’ll cover it in a future installment!

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  • Kris

    These are great, thanks.

    I’d like to see some side lunge cues (sit back into a chair, act), and single leg squat cues. Thanks again.

  • ben

    I got the pack the neck one from mike robertson. Awesome, love it. Work like a see-saw for the single leg DLs though – Awesome! That is new to me and I do indeed struggle with my posture with those, especially when weighted. Thanks as always.

  • http://www.bodybymitch.com Mitch

    “Make a double chin”

    Great tip. It was pointed out to me by your staff (repeatedly) last year when I visited. Huge takeaway for me.

    Since then I’ve read Weingroff’s article (http://charlieweingroff.com/2010/11/packing-in-the-neck/) and a few others and I’m sold.

    Cheers,
    Mitch

  • dwayne

    Eric,
    what’s your thoughts on the RKC plank, or contracting your glutes in the plank. Cheers.

  • http://www.jamescipriani.com James Cipriani

    Really great cues. Love ‘em!

  • Leor

    I absolutely LOVE this new series. Over the past 2 years of coaching I’ve come up with a bunch of cues that work but I’m always looking for simpler ways to make my clients do things right.

    Thanks!

  • john

    Thanks for a great article. I lost/broke my head position a month ago with light deadlift supersets with pullups and I WRECKED my neck and trap. Still hurts. Been training for years–and those rookie mistakes will get you the older you get. I’ve learned the hard way….

  • http://starfactoryfitness.com Conor

    Great advice here Eric. I’ve been telling my athletes to tuck the chin and it doesn’t always look right so I’ll have to show them the correct form again. Make a double chin is something I’m going to try out with them. An important aspect of many lifts is correct posture but that cue should also add some humour.

  • Lisl

    Great article and very helpful tips, thanks Eric!

    Does keeping knee in flexion aid greater Glute activation for the single leg RDLs?

    Would love any of your coaching tips on military press, rows and squats. Your content is always brilliant.

    Thanks!
    Lisl

  • http://www.davedreas.com Dave

    Split Squats. Would love the coaching cues regarding split squats.

    Love the content, Thanks

    Dave

  • Josh

    Wouldn’t number 1 help with number 2?

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Hi Lisl,

    I don’t think it changes much. Really just a matter of preference.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Dwayne,

    I think activation is okay, but it doesn’t need to be an all-out max effort. The same goes for core bracing; it should be on, but not over the top. You need to have both low-threshold and high-threshold strategies, and this trains the former.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Josh – Probably, but it wouldn’t get to everything we’re trying to fix. The goal is to accomplish the task in as few cues as possible.

  • http://2bfitforever.com Stacia

    Eric, I get so much from your posts, I work with mostly older clientle and have so much trouble getting the hip hinge. I use drive the hips forward and back but that deosn’t seem to compute. any suggestions?

  • http://www.GoToBALL.org Ted

    Medicine ball cues.

  • Hugh G Rection

    Instead of a seesaw, we actually call these “the drinking bird” exercise.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Stacia,

    Have you tried using the dowel rod as a cue? It can really help.

    I also like “imagine I have a rope tied around your waist, and I yank it back; where do your hips go?”

  • Darren

    Simple but effective always looking for simpler ways to cue. Cheers!!!

  • http://www.strengthspeedagility.com Mike

    Dave, a cue we use for split squats is “chest up” & “drive through your heal”

  • http://www.LOOPerformance.com Vince

    I often walk around with a dowel rod during group session. When someone isn’t perfect, the dowel rod on the back always seems to help them self correct the fastest. Particularly with plank variations.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Agree, Vince; it’s a good tool to use.

  • http://thewrightclinic.com/wellness Paul Wright

    @Hugh: I too use the “Drinking Bird” for the hip hinge in RDL, SLDL…also have the phrase that pays: “Push the tush to recruit the glute!”

  • Cody

    Packing the neck has made a huge difference in my deadlifts. Great tips Eric.

  • movingallthetime

    I’m going to try the double chin cue, but I train the SLD with the raised leg motionless. seesawing that leg back makes the body work exactly like a seesaw, with the back leg acting as counterweight to lighten the load you’re actually deadlifting. Which isn’t what we really want.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    @movingallthetime – can you please get a video of you performing the exercise and post? I’m having a hard time interpreting what you wrote. Thanks!

  • Stephen

    Tried the DL with the “doublechin”. I had never managed such a good push through the heels before. Really felt it in my glutes and hamstrings the next day. Thanks Eric.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Awesome, Stephen!


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