If you are a regular participant in well-designed large or small group exercise programs or employ a personal trainer/coach, then you are somewhat familiar with exercise technique cues that we, as fitness professionals, utilize with our clients to encourage optimal, safe and effective exercise performance. However, it may be a bit challenging to decipher these cues from time to time. Consequently, while there are hundreds of cues we give daily, follow this “guidebook” for making sense of these six cues, and as always, prior to beginning any exercise program, please consult your physician.
Cue #1:“Crack the egg between your shoulder blades” – this cue, provides an analogy/visualization to draw the scapulae together when performing exercises such as rows where the purpose of the exercise is to train the muscles of the back that act at the scapulae creating scapular retraction. So, imagine an egg between the scapulae and “crack” it.
Cue #2:“Place your body weight into your heels enough so you can “wiggle” your toes” – this applies to squats and to lunges when referring to the front leg in a staggered, front to back stance, lunge position. During lunges, to prevent the knees from driving over the toes which may be detrimental to the knee joint and tends to remove the appropriate tension from the quadriceps and the gluteal muscles, the body weight should be concentrated into the front heel controlling the femur, keeping the tibia perpendicular to the floor and the pelvis in neutral. During squats, the body weight remains predominately in both heels throughout the exercise so you can “wiggle” your toes.
Cue #3:Also, relating to a squat, you may be asked to “sit down in a chair” as the squatting action simulates sitting down into a chair. This requires the hips to hinge so that the tailbone points to the wall behind you and the torso remains in neutral keeping the spine long and tall.
Cue #4:“Pack your shoulders down/back and put your scapulae into your back pockets.” This usually refers to preparing the body for an exercise in order to provide the proper postural stance. You may also hear “keep your ears away from your shoulders” so that the scapulae remain in alignment. This is a very common cue in indoor group cycling as the rider begins to fatigue leading to loss of scapular stability and spinal alignment.
Cue #5:Which leads me to proper spinal alignment and the very common cue of “gazing at the horizon”, “keeping the head/neck in neutral” so that you are not flexing the cervical spine. Repeated dropping of the head forward not only places undue stress on the cervical spine, it stretches the posterior cervical spine and upper back muscles over time perhaps leading to thoracic kyphosis or at the very least a very sore neck! *This is common during pushups/squats/lunges— so keep the head/neck in neutral.
Cue #6:“Pelvic floor pulled up and inward and the navel pulled toward the spine.” This not only is referred to during the exercise set-up stage but also throughout the exercise as the inner core unit muscles become fatigued perhaps leading to loss of spinal alignment resulting in unsafe and ineffective exercise performance. *You must be stable before you are mobile!