Cues: Your Verbal Arsenal

by Jackie Camborde on Feb 01, 2007

Cues: Your Verbal Arsenal Say it right, and your class will follow. by Jackie Camborde P Picture this. You're about to take your first-ever step class. You've never even seen a step class before--let alone tried one. The instructor comes in and says,"Hi, my name is Jackie, and my class is really hard. So if you get lost, just march in place or do a basic step. Ready? Let's go!" The next hour proceeds like a slow train ride in a foreign country where you are the only one speaking English. You feel lost, and you can't understand a word the instructor says. As she belts off commands like "turn step, cha-cha-cha, over the top, hopstep," you are twisting, turning and going the wrong way at every cue. The regulars roll their eyes unsympathetically as you finally near the end of this hour of torture. Will you come back next week? Unfortunately, the answer is probably no. Why? The instructor didn't know how to give the right verbal cues to help you. The next question is: are you that instructor? It's really easy to fall into the trap of minimal cuing if you see a room full of regulars, but you want to keep your verbal cuing fresh and informative for everyone. There are several types of cues for any class you teach, as well as ways to make your cuing as clear as possible. Instructor as Reporter When building your arsenal of verbal cues, approach it the same way a reporter does an article. Find the who, what, when, where, why and how behind your words. After you've done this, you can apply what you've learned to the type of cues you want to give. Here's a rundown of seven basic verbal cues we all use. Introductory. Who are you, what class is this, and how will participants benefit from it? Your introduction may not seem to you like a time for cuing, but this is perhaps the most critical time for your students to receive cues. How you walk in the room and introduce yourself, describe the class format and explain general safety rules might make or break your class. Remember, you are creating a mood and a safe place for students to be for the next hour. Here's an example of a well-thought-out introductory cue: "Welcome to core strength, a class designed to work your total body through a series of balance, strength and agility drills. My name is Jackie, and I want to take a couple of minutes to show you the equipment we're going to be using today. I also want to make you familiar with some safety issues and a few modifications you may want to try throughout class. If you follow my lead, I guarantee you will feel you've worked every muscle in your body by the end of the hour. Any questions? Let's get started!" By introducing yourself, giving a thumbnail sketch of the class (including how to modify moves) and leaving room for quesFebruary 2007 IDEA Fitness Journal tions, you have prepared your class--and it took only a minute and a half! Your walkin sets the tone for everything to come. Never discount the importance of this time. Instructional. What are you going to do, and why are you doing it? If you teach yoga, you know that you talk a lot more than you do in a kickboxing class. Many of your cues are going to be instructional, because each asana (posture) has a multitude of alignment issues. "Now move into triangle pose. Triangle helps to open the side body, promotes balance and strengthens the leg muscles. Step back with your left leg, and turn your left foot in at a 45-degree angle. Your torso and head are facing the right side of the room. Reach out with your right arm and back through your left hip. Bring the right hand to the front of the lower right leg and the left hand up to the ceiling." Notice that each part of this cue series has an active command: move, step, turn, reach, look. It's important to make each instructional cue as active and direct as possible. Directional. Where are you going? This one is pretty straightforward. Let's say you're teaching a kickboxing class. You may cue "shuffle four right, left cross, four left, right cross." You have told your class where they are going and which way they are supposed to punch. When adding di- rectional cues, remember that it will help visual learners if you point or motion in the direction you want them to go. Descriptive. How does this exercise feel? Picture a body-mind class without descriptive cues. Where would you be without them? A descriptive cue gives participants an example they can relate to. It offers an image they can see in their mind's eye to help them accomplish the task at hand. Think about the Pilates exercise known as "swimming.""Lying prone with arms and legs extended, flutter your hands and feet in a rhythmic fashion with the breath." The most important part of this exercise is keeping the core muscles engaged to stabilize the body. A cue like "Draw your navel to your spine as if a block of ice were resting beneath your bellybutton" will immediately help students engage their core muscles.You can refer back to the ice block if they lose intensity. Prepatory. When do you change what you are doing? Prepatory cues are critical for any fast-moving class. Take cardio dance as an example. When moving from one choreographic pattern to another, it's important that your class knows several beats ahead of the music that you will be changing patterns. Making one word or phrase a regular cue to signify change will help. Something as simple as "Get ready to _______" or "Prepare for a change" lets participants know they are moving on. Motivational. Why are you still doing this, and how can you continue? Toward the end of class, these might be the questions your participants are asking themselves. Maybe they are starting to lose energy or focus. Your inner cheerleader/drill sergeant needs to take charge now. In step class, motivational cues are necessary throughout: "Good job! Keep going--just one more set--I know you can do it!" These phrases will all bring the energy level up. But motivational cues are also important for quieter classes like tai chi. Saying something like "Keep flowing with the wonderful energy you are exuding" helps students stay focused. Emotional. How are you feeling right now? Use emotional cues to bring students back to themselves. An emotional cue is a nice reminder for students to check in and see what's going on internally. How is their breathing, attitude or state of mind? In an indoor cycling class, this can be a way for riders to bring themselves back from the journey. "Take a moment, as you begin lowering tension, to take a little mental inventory. How do you feel compared with when you walked into class tonight?" Giving your students this type of perspective reminds them of the transformative power of exercise and how to harness it. Integrate Your Arsenal Now that you know the many varieties of cues, how do you fit them into your classes? Obviously, you can't use every cue for every exercise; otherwise you'd get through only eight counts of choreography or three yoga poses in an hour! The key is making sure you include all types of cues at various times throughout class. Remember that each person learns things from a different perspective. If you repeat a movement pattern more than once, try cues you can use: tips from the pros We asked some of the top IDEA presenters and conference attendees for their favorite cues. Add them to your toolbox! Indoor Cycling "Do you think you could add a little more resistance and pick up your pace, without going breathless? Going breathless is the easy way out; amaze yourself with what you are capable of without going there." --Shannon Griffiths-Fable, Nautilus Institute master trainer and 2006 ACE Group Fitness Instructor of the Year rpm, to add gear first and that [urge] to increase speed will probably go away." --Mindy Mylrea, 1999 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year, creator of Gliding "For trunk extension: `Think of elongating the spine. Gently pull the ribs away from the hips. As you lengthen the trunk outward, slide the shoulder blades down toward the tailbone.'" --Carol Murphy, Resist-ABall programming coordinator, owner of FitLife Create a smooth, even twist from the bottom to the top of your spine. Picture a gracefully curving spiral staircase. The top step is perfectly in balance over the bottom step." --Cheri Groom, presenter and master trainer for Resist-A-Ball and Gliding Step "Place the entire foot in the middle of the platform, and stand up tall when stepping up." --Kim Miller, AFAA certification specialist and master trainer for Gliding "If you notice someone in your cycling class pedaling too fast (which is a common concern), tell them if they want to go faster than the set Stability Ball "When trunk mobility is the goal [as in trunk curl], pelvic and neck stability are important. Cue to `gently yet firmly imprint the pelvis into the ball. Curl the base of the rib cage downward toward the hips. The ball should not move.' Pilates/Core For a V-sit, to lift the lower back out of flexion: "Zip up the lower back as if you are zipping up a skirt" --Linda L. Freeman, master trainer for Resist-A-Ball and SCW Education Yoga/Flexibility For spinal rotation: "On an exhalation, draw in from the pubic bone up to the navel, then from navel to solar plexus. All Classes "Instead of saying, `Don't do this,' focus instead on the positive. Use the word `keep' in your cue. For example, instead of saying, `Don't hold your breath,' say, `Keep breathing.' Instead of `Don't slouch,' say, "Keep your spine long and strong." --Lawrence Biscontini, MA, international fitness professional and spa consultant "For proper scapular positioning, say, `Put your shoulder blades into your back pockets,' especially when performing prone or inverted positions. `Drop your shoulders' or `put your shoulders down' can be confusing when you are upside down! It is a good way to remind people to relax the upper trapezius muscle and to rely more on the middle trapezius. "Follow up that cue with a reminder that if we cram our shoulder blades into our back pockets, we may end up with an unintended imbalance in our lower trapezius muscles!" --Rebecca Cleary, Resist-ABall master trainer February 2007 IDEA Fitness Journal instructional and directional cues the first time through, add descriptive cues the second time and use some motivational ones the third time. You don't want to sound like a broken record, so vary your cues enough to keep class interesting. Start to build a regular stash of cues you can draw from each time you teach. Since muscles have memory, it's important that some cues are similar from class to class. Your regulars know how to follow what you say, so be consistent. For example, if you teach yoga, establish a regular flow to how you teach a certain asana or a series like sun salutation. Not only will it put your participants at ease, but you will be free to watch your class and correct posture and alignment, rather than worry about what you are saying next. This brings up the next critical part of creating cues: rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal! Just as you would practice your dance moves before bringing them to hip-hop class, practice what you are going to say--aloud--before taking it into the classroom. When practicing a new routine, actually talk your way through class. Many instructors fall into the trap of perfecting their form without perfecting how to translate that form verbally. Remember, you have both visual and verbal learners in class. Your verbal folks are going to get annoyed if you are doing a mime performance. Think about stage actors and how they perfect their craft: through repetition and memorization. If they can't do these things, the whole play falls apart (does this sound a little like teaching a group exercise class?). One great tool you can use to better your techniques (both visual and verbal) is to videotape yourself teaching. It's always interesting (and sometimes daunting) to watch the tape. You start to see which cues you use in abundance and where you might be skimping. You see the habits you fall back on and also get a good idea about how to break them. When I started teaching, I felt I had to fill every moment with chatter, and therefore I came across as nervous and jittery. Once I learned that silence is not scary, my cuing became much more concise and direct. Videotaping also shows you any verbal tics you might have. For example, you may overuse a word, such as awesome, great or even the dreaded whooo! A pet word or phrase becomes a crutch when you don't know what else to say. Learning to remove verbal tics will make your class more focused and effective. Take the time to put these tips to use and you will begin to see changes in your classes. Maybe more people will have an easier time following you. Maybe you will be more able to move around the room (a must for any good instructor). Your comfort level will soar if you do the prep work and get your cues where they need to be. Your participants may not know that there is a method behind your leadership, but they will recognize that you are speaking their language, whether it is their first or 50th time in class. Make sure your cues are well rehearsed, clear and concise. Say it right, and your class will follow! Jackie Camborde is a continuing education provider, a master trainer for Resist-A-Ball

IDEA Fitness Journal , Volume 4, Issue 2

© 2007 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Jackie Camborde IDEA Author/Presenter

Jackie Camborde has been teaching group fitness classes for over 14 years. She owns Santé Studio in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and is the creator of the Real World Fitness series, and her first DVD, Real ...

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