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Get A Cue!

Coaching cues are an important ally not only to coaches, but also for self-coached athletes and recreational lifters. I think of cues as very quick mantras that improve performance when used correctly.

Over the years, I've given a lot of thought to the best use of these cues, and I thought I'd share my perspective on the subject with you in this post.

Internal VS External Cues

An "external" cue is one provided by a coach, training partner, spectator, or anyone else trying to help you out. An "internal" cue comes from you, generally in the absence of external cues from someone else, or (sometimes) in addition to them. Internal cues are in essence a form of "self-talk" that you use to coax a better performance from yourself.

Energy Cues And Technical Cues

Energy cues are used for the purpose of increasing your energy and/or elevating your mood. Common examples are all too familiar:

"C'mon, it's all you!"

"Easy weight bro, easy weight!"

"Tight and fast!"

Examples of energy cues are endless, but they all share one thing: a lack of technical instruction or direction.

That's what technical cues are for. Examples include:

"Chest up!" (Commonly used for squats or pulls)

"Tight lats, loose hands" (Often used for cleans)

"Pull those shoulder blades down and back" (For rows)

Positive And Negative

It's important to note that good cues accomplish two important things:

1) They help you to focus on what's most important at the moment.

2) They help you zone out distractions- things that tend to creep into your mind when you don't want them to. For example, your cue of "crush that bar into a pulp" might help to keep your nagging self-doubt at bay, and it might take your mind off the fact that you have a stressful meeting to deal with later that afternoon.

Your Cues Portfolio

The use of cues can be frustrating at times- one day a certain cue works like magic; the next time, it doesn't work at all. Why is this?

My belief is that a cue works only when it addresses and improves a significant bottleneck in either your energy or performance. By definition, if the cue works, the problem it was addressing is no longer your most significant limitation, so now you need a new cue to address and solve your current most significant bottleneck. And this is why you need a portfolio of cues.

With a cues portfolio, you can rotate cues as needed, depending on your situation. You can write them on wall (or in my case, on the squat rack, as shown in the photo here) or in your training journal.

Please Share Your Thoughts

If you have thoughts about cueing that I haven't touched on here, please hare your thoughts by leaving a comment!


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  1. David Kayser on Sep 18, 2007 11:13:35 AM:

    A method of internal cueing which i find works most effectively is the use of mental images. I find it superior to self talk in that it works with the direct link of mind to body. The methods I use are based on almost 60 years of work by Akhter Ahsen who formulated the ISM (Image-Somatic Response-Meaning) Model of mental imagery. I read with interest Charles' description several month ago of using imagery to change a closed chain exercise to open chain. I have been experimenting with it for a few years now after reading Dr. Ahsen's work on what he terms "ultra-percetion."

    Dave Kayser

  1. Roger Freihoff on Dec 20, 2007 5:35:27 PM:

    Following up on David's comment:
    Word cues/anchors/(emotional) triggers... work better for me than pictures, but only because I feel practically blind in my 'inner eye'. There are few sights in my life that I can visually recall, and I have to look at something in a focused manner for a long time to be able to visually recall it. There is the occasional exception, such as Uma Thurman vs. Darryl Hannah in the greatest 'cat fight' of film history in Kill Bill 2. But otherwise, I would be a lousy witness to identify somebody I've seen only a few times.

    I have no doubt that I could strengthen it with practice. I read Paul Scheele claiming that about 1/3 of the population aren't visual thinkers, and I think his 'Natural Genius' program is supposed to help address the issue. I suspect any type of visual training such as drawing would help. I also suspect that 'inner senses' can be trained (or hindered by injury or inaction) just like muscles can, and that some people are just more naturally gifted than others. Perhaps parents are the most common influence, through both nature and nurture.

    For word-people like me, expressions like "It's Showtime!" (like in the Eddie Murphy movie) or a simple "(Ready, Set,) Go!" are well-known cues. When I'm 'on my game', which is seldom, I find single verbs describing what I want to do work best. Simply "Lift" or "Push".

    I'm not sure if it's the same for anybody else, but I find selecting verbs that start or end with hard or soft consonants 'trigger' something different. eg. I'll select "Push" over "Squeeze" to initiate a movement that 'starts hard', and use "Squeeze" to continue a movement after it's started. I prefer "Land" over "Crash" when I want reduced impact, which I usually try to do.

    When 'saying' my inner-self-talk's 'volume/loudness' (which can't be heard outside of my mind), I prefer starting with a 'harder/louder' "Push!" emphasizing the hard "P", verbally squeezing out the word "Squeeze" which gets 'louder' as I accelerate, but ending with a 'gentler/quieter' "land".

    I suspect that cues combining more 'inner senses' (eg. visual + kinesthetic/feeling + word-audio which could include 'inner volume' - see L. Michael Hall re: NLP's sub-modalities) would provide more effective cues/anchors/(emotional) triggers (Mind-Tek). Of course, this might all just be me alone in my own, little, mental world.

    re: L. Michael Hall's NLP/NS: His writing is kind of 'wonky', but there are reasons for that. If you want to take the time to 'get' his vocabulary to develop your 'inner senses', I've seen nobody in his league. (He doesn't know me and I get no money from him.)

    Introduction isn't as 'wonky' - it has less of his own technical language:
    "Movie Mind": http://www.neurosemantics.com/Books/MovieMind.htm
    If you have taken the time to learn his vocabulary:
    "Sub-Modalities Going Meta: Insider’s Secrets about Sub-Modalities":
    His teaching videos are at:

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