Q:I feel stuck in a cuing rut. Although I really try to vary my teaching cues, they still sound boring and repetitive, especially the cues related to alignment and form. Fortunately, none of my participants have complained—so far! Then again, maybe they are not listening. It’s so hard to tell. Any ideas and strategies to develop interesting, helpful new cues?
I also find myself saying the same cues over and over and wondering if participants hear them, understand them or even care. Then I receive feedback from a participant thanking me for those continuous, repetitive cues that keep her on track through class. This always makes me feel better . . . but I still strive to find more variety in cuing.
When it comes to cuing, I have found that knowing anatomy is helpful. For example, when talking participants through a stretch, it helps to know where (even approximately) the muscles attach and what they look like, so we can help our participants visualize what’s happening to their bodies. This also allows you to put some of the responsibility for alignment back on the participants. For example, during a hip flexor stretch, ask participants to think about where they feel this stretch and then to place a hand in that area; this takes some of the “talking” burden off you and allows the participants to learn. Have pop quizzes, giving kudos to those who know the answers. This will encourage everyone to listen to your cues.
Another type of cuing—or noncuing—is silence. Set participants up properly, and then just be quiet for a while. Let them enjoy their fitness program for a few moments without any cues. Of course, you need to keep watching to make sure they are all safe, but allow them to find the stretch, intensity zone or motivation on their own. Then, when you do begin your cues again, your voice is a welcome sound.
Another idea is to align participants, then take them out of alignment and immediately back into alignment. This lets them feel where not to be, while allowing you to check your alignment cues or use different cues for the same exercise.
Additional ways to spice up cuing are to ask instead of telling or commanding; say please and thank-you; ask what’s next during a long combination (you’ll definitely get your regulars thinking about the answer); or occasionally try out a new word. (If you cringe every time you say a certain new word, that’s a sign it shouldn’t be in your vocabulary!) Also stay away from repetitive motivational cues. For example, mindlessly saying “Good job!” over and over is not sincere.
I have learned over the years that group fitness participants do listen. Just remember that many of them come to group classes because someone (a voice) is there to lead them. I think you’ll find participants are grateful for any cuing.
San Francisco, California
I divide my cues into different categories, and I approach the task of cuing by simply asking these questions: What is the action required? What is the cue reinforcing? What is the line of movement? Cuing is an art to cultivate. Be sure to keep cues short and simple!
Here is an example of how to cue body alignment in an indoor cycling class. I want my participants to engage the abdominal wall and lift the rib cage above the pelvis for two reasons: (1) to safeguard the lower back; and (2) to distribute upper-body weight so that participants are not collapsing into their wrists. Our position on an indoor cycle is that of a jackknife. What action is required to keep both ends of the jackknife engaged? Answer: an active abdominal wall. What is the line of movement? Answer: Lift through the torso. The weight is distributed between the abdominal muscles and the torso so that the shoulders can relax and weight is off the wrists. Here is my cue: “Press your sitz bones back into the saddle. Draw in your abdominal wall, allowing your rib cage to float over your pelvis. Retract your shoulder blades by drawing them down and in. Allow your arms to be open at the elbows and wrists.”
When I cue body alignment in standing hatha yoga asanas, such as mountain pose, I build from the ground up because so many standing postures require a deep awareness of one’s base. The action required here is awareness of foot-to-floor connection. Various lines of movement are involved: crown-of-head drawn upward (chin parallel to the floor); shoulders/ shoulder blades drawn downward; ribs and hips connected, with ribs floating above the pelvis; a sense of the legs under the pelvis; and feet planted and rooted. Here is my cue: “Roll evenly through the soles of your feet. Spread through all four corners of your feet as you roll. Feel your legs growing out of your ankles. Feel your pelvic bowl resting on top of your legs, not tipped forward or backward. Feel as if your spinal column is a string of pearls. The top pearl is being magnetized to the ceiling; the bottom pearl is dangling, lengthening toward the floor. Stand tall.”
I would also suggest keeping a small notepad on hand so that right after class, before they evaporate, you can jot down any cues you create spontaneously during class.