Having a trainer to help guide you through workouts lessens the mental load you take on yourself in attempting to work out solo. A trainer picks your exercises, sets, reps, rest periods, and is able to watch your form and give you coaching cues as needed.
These helpful eyes keep you from creating bad habits in the weight room and avoiding injury as a result of poor form.
While training a couple of my clients this week I realized there are certain cues which everyone, no matter what their goal is, should keep in mind.
While a couple may seem self-explanatory, I’m willing to bet NO ONE thinks all four of these coaching cues while working out. Especially #2!
Here are the 4 coaching cues everyone needs to know
As a strength coach I’ve seen a WIDE variety of bodies…thick and thin, tall and short, highly athletic and well, athletically challenged, to say the least.
However no matter the client’s abilities I’ve found there are a handful of coaching cues that everyone needs.
Each of the 4 cues listed below benefits your results in the weight room and are reasons why you should keep them in mind when you’re working out. While one could argue there are plenty more cues you could think of, I find these cues to fit universally with any clientele type, for any goal, and while performing any exercise.
As a result cues such as “grip the ground with your feet”, “drive your knee’s out”, “sip air”, “big chest”, etc. are left out on purpose as each do not fit the bill for each and every particular exercise.
Take a look at the four listed below and the next time you’re in the gym try to pay attention to all 4 of these tips. You’ll gain fitness from them, I promise!
#1 – Start With Your Strong Side First
Ok so I might have lied right out the gate. Obviously this cue only applies to exercises that will have you using 1 leg, 1 arm, or 1 side of the body. However I found it important to include because so many people think backwards in relation to this topic.
When performing an exercise that is unilateral, meaning one side performs the exercise at a time, it’s almost 100% likely that the two sides won’t feel the same. In fact, chances are one side is actually stronger than the other.
During times when a client has a weaker side, 100% of the time the client will want to do the weaker side first as a means to “catch up” to the other, more dominant side.
There are 2 problems with this way of thinking:
- By performing reps on the weaker, less efficient side first, you’re never really getting a clue as to what the exercise should feel like. Instead you’re more or less doing poor reps because the entire chain feels “off”.
Solution: Start with your stronger side first and take a mental picture of how it feels, then try to mimic or search for that feeling on your weaker side.
By performing reps this way you’ll at least give your body and mind a blueprint as to how the exercise should feel. This way when performing reps on the other side you have a feeling you’re looking for. When you find it, or at least come close to it, you know you’re doing the exercise properly. Which leads to the second problem with this situation.
- People feel the need to do more reps on their weaker side.
This again is not a good way to think.
Solution: Think more WORK, not more reps.
In order to “catch-up” to your stronger side, performing more reps will likely mean lowering the load since you already can’t handle the load for the given amount of reps which you did with the other side.
While in certain circumstances you may need to lower the load a little bit, I personally rather have my clients get through as many good reps as they can with the heavier load.
For example, if you’re doing 6 reps of a half kneeling kettlebell press and can only get 3-4 without form failure on one side, perform a couple sets of 1-2 reps on your weaker side with the same weight. Even if you only get 1 rep each time you’ll be using heavier loads, which leads to you getting stronger.
As a side note, there’s always a carry-over effect in unilateral training anyway which again points to the fact that you should simply worry about doing the exercise the proper way first. Starting with your strong side first tremendously helps to ensure this.
#2 – Don’t Look In The Mirror
I guarantee you that 95% of the people reading this article are culprit’s for this one.
Who doesn’t look at themselves in the mirror when they workout!? Or better yet who doesn’t lift their shirt up and flex their abs in the mirror when they workout!? …ok that one might be a poke at a few of the people at my gym, but in all seriousness, there is some validity to this coaching cue.
Mirrors provide instant feedback. You don’t have to search your mind or body for what muscles feel what, how low you’re going, or whether or not it looks like what your trainer just demonstrated… which is exactly why you shouldn’t look in the mirror when you workout.
Proprioception is your body’s awareness of itself in space. It’s what tells you there’s someone standing 5 feet away from you versus 2 feet. It’s what allows you to dribble a ball without looking and step back in a lunge knowing where you’re foot is going to land.
Looking at a mirror while working out robs your body of the ability to increase your proprioceptive awareness and as a result, allows your eyes to play tricks on you.
When you look at the mirror you begin to avoid other sensory mechanisms responsible for the feedback your brain gives your body about your position in space. You no longer notice the feeling of your feet on the ground, let alone your toes in your shoes. Your awareness of where your shoulders are sitting and where your hips are going fall by the wayside; you become too fixated on what your eyes are telling you instead of what your body is telling you.
Don’t believe me?
Try closing your eyes the next time you do a squat or the next time you do a lateral lunge. It’s notable harder! In fact closing your eyes during an exercise is a legitimate way of increasing the level of difficulty.
Don’t get carried away, though, I’m not suggesting you close your eyes during every exercise, or really any exercise at all, instead I’m shedding light on the fact that staring into the mirror while performing your exercises is actually robbing you of an ability you have to gain more atheism.
Next time you set up in the squat rack, face the other way. You’ll be surprised; a good portion of you is going to want to turn around. In fact you may notice you’re not able to handle the same amount of weight that you used too. Don’t give in though, train yourself to face away from the mirror and you’ll see proprioceptive gains in your fitness abilities.
#3 – Control Your Breathing
The only group of people I’ve ever worked with that don’t strain or hold their breath during exercise is experienced “Yogis”, and even they allow their breathing to fall apart during exercises that challenge their abilities.
Breathing is an exercise you do every day. In fact, you could argue that it’s the single most exercise we do day in and day out.
Yes, breathing is an exercise and you perform roughly 20,000 reps each day.
As a coach, watching someone’s breathing patterns tells me a lot about a person. I can tell just by the way they breathe whether a person is stressed, anxious, scared, weak, strong, relaxed, in pain, injured, or in control and each and all are important as it relates to your ability to gain a high level of fitness.
9 times out of 10 you will hold your breath when challenged. It’s somewhat natural and relates to what we were just mentioning previously regarding looking into the mirror.
A challenging task requires focus and concentration. Sometimes it requires so much concentration that we literally forget to breathe. This results in poor breathing mechanics which can lead to compensations in your movements and poor motor patterning.
To avoid creating such issues pay attention to the way you breathe.
I start every training session with some form of a breathing drill. This does two things for the client:
- Allows them to decompress from what’s happening outside the gym and focus on what’s about to happen inside the gym.
- Trains them to take control and own their breath during exercise, which can lead to more strength and flexibility.
A simple crocodile breath performed for 10 breaths can effectively train your body how to breathe the proper way.
To perform, simply lay on the floor with your head resting in your hands. Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth for 10 breaths.
In this case, the floor will provide feedback as to whether or not you’re breathing the proper way. When done correctly your torso and chest should rise and fall with the rhythm of your breathing.
If the weight of your body is too much to push-up with a breath, you can sit against a wall with your knees up against the sides of your chest. Sit up as tall as possible and again perform 10 breaths. In this case, your thighs will be your feedback mechanism to let you know you’re doing the exercise properly.
Breathing drills such as these will get your mind and body in the proper place for training.
Next time you’re working out pay attention to how you breathe. Perform a breathing drill like the ones mentioned just now and it’ll be easier for you to not only pay attention to your breathing but also control it when you notice yourself straining.
#4 – Finish With Something To Bring You Back To “Neutral”
Is Life a balancing act right?
Training should be viewed in the same way. I’m not talking biceps and triceps, or chest and back. The balancing act I’m referring to has to do with your core and the movements you perform during a training session.
Without getting too specific and detailed with flexion and extension patterns, it’s important that you at least know what the two are and how they affect your spine and your core performance.
Or, perhaps in a more relatable way with regards to your spine: Flexion is bending forward; the extension is bending backward.
We all have flexion and extension patterns that are omnipresent throughout our body.
Training trends have taken to a bit of an extension-based bias due to the increasing number of sedentary people we have in our country. As a trainer, our job is to make you healthier, fit, and reduce your chance of injury.
To combat your sedentary lifestyle we have you, the client, move around a lot during your session; squatting, lunging, stepping, picking things up off the floor (deadlifting), and bridging, each and all geared towards strengthening your hips, building your glutes, and taking you out of your sedentary (flexion-based) lifestyle.
While I’m certainly not against any of the previously mentioned exercises, its important that there’s a balancing act we follow. Not everyone is the same, and not everyone NEEDS heavy extension work. In fact some people live in extension in which case heavy anterior core training, yes flexion, is needed to make them more fit.
If you’re doing a lot of extension exercises in your workout routine make sure you finish with something that’s going to bring you back to neutral.
You’ve lit up your extensor muscles, paraspinal, glutes, and hamstrings, now throw in some exercises to balance it out.
The Solution: Anterior Core Training
Turn on those “show” muscles on the front of your body to help balance out the training effects from all your extension-based exercises. Here are a few of my favorites that work well in bringing the body back to a happier place as it relates to positioning.
The next time you workout, throw in a couple sets of one of the exercises show above. Your stomach will thank you and so will your back!