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Top Pilates Leaders Share Cuing Tips

by Rosalind Gray Davis on Nov 20, 2008

Proper cuing is the essence of teaching Pilates. The learned skill of communicating effectively to a client on all levels is a critical ingredient of top-notch cuing. Moira Merrithew, STOTT PILATES® co-founder and executive director of education, says that successful cuing has the effect of “getting [clients] to move efficiently through an exercise, so they get the most out of it. . . . A quality instructor will be well-versed in different types of cuing, which will help address each individual client.”

IDEA Fitness Journal interviewed six leading Pilates teachers about cuing. In addition to Merrithew, they were Rael Isacowitz, MA, owner and founder of Body Arts and Science International™ (BASI™ Pilates); Marie-José Blom, founder and director of Long Beach Dance Conditioning in Long Beach, California; Nora St. John, education program director for Balanced Body® University; Ellie Herman, founder of Ellie Herman Studios in San Francisco, Oakland and New York City; and Moses Urbano, owner of StudioMo Pilates in San Diego.

These experts agree that Pilates instructors need an extensive repertoire of cues, including the broad categories of tactile (touch), auditory (verbal) and visual (demonstration), and that each of these types can be further divided into relevant and useful subcategories (such as directional cuing, which makes use of the surrounding environment to guide the client, as in “Reach the leg toward the ceiling.”)

Tactile Cuing

Herman describes tactile cuing as “the use of ‘informed touch’ to help a student find the correct alignment and muscles while doing an exercise. It’s very important to know the exact location and direction of the muscle fibers so that the instructor’s touch encourages the muscle fiber to contract or release. Specificity is a key. Randomly touching students will only confuse them.”

Auditory Cuing

Blom suggests that auditory cuing is often infused with imagery. The goals are to make complex biomechanics easy to understand; to promote movement coordination and efficiency; and to create a simple and lasting functional blueprint for normal daily activities. Isacowitz thinks that auditory cuing is all about sounds and that the instruction can be imagery based or analytically based.

Urbano cautions that when giving auditory cues, instructors should work out in advance how they plan to communicate with their clients. “My teacher, Romana [Kryzanowska], suggested that I record myself giving a mat session and then do the class myself, following my own recording. This is an exercise that can benefit all instructors, but it can be a personally challenging experience as well as an educational one.”

Visual Cuing

This type of cuing provides a visual picture through actual demonstration of all or part of the movement.

Isacowitz believes that people generally gravitate toward one type of cuing and which one it is depends on “life experience, learning experience and genetic makeup.” However, he says, people do not learn with just “one type of cue, but rather a combination of cues, sometimes offered simultaneously. Each type of cuing is different and relies on different senses of the body.” St. John concurs, adding that a good teacher develops a “cuing vocabulary” for each new student and should be constantly evaluating how the cues are being received and modifying them as needed.

To read additional perspectives from these six industry leaders, with specific cuing examples, see the full article in the November-December issue of IDEA Fitness Journal or online in IDEA's Health and Fitness Article Library.

Photo by Jim Coit

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About the Author

Rosalind Gray Davis

Rosalind Gray Davis IDEA Author/Presenter

Rosalind Gray Davis is a dynamic and creative author and highly regarded health, fitness and wellness industry expert, having published numerous articles in well known national periodicals. She penned the critically acclaimed book Puccini & The Girl, along with musicologlist Annie J. Randall. It is the first book to explore Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini’s most unique work, La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West), to which World famous Musicologist Philip Gossett said, “the book will forever change how we think abut Puccini’s American opera.” The director of the Met Opera Archives says, “this brilliantly researched volume will help Fanciulla find its rightful place in the operatic repertory.” As a sought after Communications Consultant, Ms. Gray Davis has provided dynamic marketing, public relations consulting, and writing expertise for numerous high profile international, national, and local companies that include McDonald’s, IDEA Health & Fitness Association, DavisElen Advertising, Chiat/Day Advertising, McGraw-Hill School Systems, Shea/Campbell, Inc., and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s volunteer department. In this role, she has been credited with developing “cause marketing” programs prior to their mainstream adoption by companies as part of their regular marketing strategies. She has served as President and Founding Partner of Gelman & Gray Communications, Incorporated, and Executive Vice President and Founder of Bob Thomas & Associates, Incorporated. Her early career history includes work as a Guest Lecturer at the University of Southern California, Senior News Writer and Producer at KCBS Television, Associate Professor of Upper Division Broadcast Journalism at California State University, and Assistant to the Managing Editor at Psychology Today Magazine. Ms. Gray Davis’ received her Bachelor of Arts in Contemporary American History and Journalism and worked toward a Master’s Degree in American History at the University of California at Los Angeles. She is a Certified Pilates Instructor, and has expanded her well-rounded knowledge of health and wellness through participation in numerous classes, seminars, and workshops in the fitness field. Her broad based expertise has resulted in her selection to several prestigious community and industry based leadership roles, including Contributing Editor of IDEA Pilates Today, IDEA Heath & Fitness Association, board member and selected author for the Carmel Author’s Table and Board of Directors for the Carmel Bach Festival.