As lifters, we use cues for 3 purposes
This is key for shifting the heaviest weight possible, as efficiently and safely as we can.
A good cue can make a lift, a bad cue can break it.
In order to develop a good cue for each individual lifter, we first need to understand what it is we are trying to achieve.
A beginner lifter often struggles when given too many cues, usually because they don't understand the purpose of the cue, or it doesn't mean anything to them.
A cue is only as good as the lifters understanding of the intention behind it.
For example, for the squat you may hear cues like: screw your feet into the ground, spread the floor, push your knees out/open your hips.
These cues are all communicating the same idea, just in different ways.
If you use any of these cues correctly you will create adequate tension through the hips during the setup and lowering of the squat. It's just a case of finding which one you connect with the most.
Another example, this time for bench, would be the cues: bend the bar, pull the bar apart and crush the bar with your little fingers.
Again these cues all aim to get the lifter to create tension through the arms, chest and upper back to stabilise the weight.
Personally I like the last cue, in fact, I use "crush the bar with the little fingers" as a cue on squat, bench and deadlift. I like it because it's so specific.
One of the things I'm trying to work with my clients on is developing their own cues that work for them.
The process looks a little something like this:
For example, let's say a new client comes in and complains that their knees collapse in during the squat.
First thing I'll want to look at is what's going on at ground level, so what is happening with the feet.
Are the arches of their feet collapsing? Do they even have arches or are they flat-footed?
If that's the case I'll use cues to help them maintain a stronger arch, creating more stability in the foot and see if that helps with the knee collapse.
As I'm cueing I'll ask the client if any particular cues are helping or if there is another way they can think about what they're trying to achieve.
After a bit of practice, we'll then assess the squat again to see if there's a difference.
If the problem isn't caused by a breakdown in the feet then we'll carry on assessing different things and use corrective exercises and different squat variations to fix the error (but that's a topic for another article).
So here's something I'd like you to try, I want you to think about the cues that you typically use. I want you to think about why you use those cues, what you like about them, maybe how you could reword them to personalise them.
Do you understand why you are using those cues specifically? If not maybe try out some different ideas to see what clicks.
If you've noticed some technical faults in your lifts try to come up with some cues to correct them.
If you've hit a plateau maybe try to come up with some cues to help with approaching the lift a little differently, see if that helps.
For example, some people like to think about pushing themselves down, away from the bar, during bench press, rather than thinking about pushing the bar up.
So to wrap this all up neatly, when approaching a lift that you want to improve, try to find cues that help with your positioning, tension and how you perform the lift.
The same applies to be able to lift the heaviest weight possible. The more efficiently you can move the weight the heavier it will likely be, and also the safer it will be to do so.
For those who don’t know me - I’m a powerlifting coach with a team of about 20 lifters. I’m also a bit of nerd, but so are my group so it works out nicely. If you’re worried about not being yourself when it comes to coaching your clients (or when being coached by your coach), just remember that they buy the trainer as much, often times more, than they buy the training itself.
Writers are often told to tell stories rather than to just give information. What I want to do here is show you how what you do is already a story and how the arc of your story is incredibly similar to your favourite novels, films or games.
So, how is your life, your training career similar to Star Wars?
The line between these three factors is Joseph Campbell, or rather the work he produced in his time as a University Professor. He is most famous for his work ‘The Hero’s Journey’ which after studying mythology and folklore from various cultures, countries and religions he found a common denominator in the layout of the stories. Rather than just common themes or characters, Campbell found a common structure to the stories - this structure he called ‘The Hero’s Journey.’
Campbell’s underlying layout of each major story is made up of 17 stages. Which has since been shortened into 12 stages by Christopher Vogler in ‘The Writer’s Journey.’
These 12 steps are -
Now, I can safely assume if you’re reading this you have competed, or are going to compete, and you’re now wondering how on earth this can relate to you, a competition and Star Wars of all things.
Never fear, all will be revealed next, my padawans.
Step 1 - The Ordinary World.
This is your ‘before’ picture, the you that you are before you have found your chosen sport to compete in and maybe even Luke on Tattooine at the start of ‘A New Hope.’
At this point you have maybe heard about the path you are about to embark on but have never really considered it for yourself. However, fate might have a different plan for you.
Step 2 - The Call to Adventure.
This is you stumbling across a droid with a strange, mysterious message for someone you don’t think you know. Or, more likely, you stumbling across a sport you like the look of, and you then find that not only is there a competition coming up that you could do but also that there are people and gyms for you to train in on your journey.
Step 3 - Refusal of the Call.
This is where you decide that it would be too much like an embarrassment to go to Alderaan… I mean, enter the competition.
You go through all of the potential downsides in your head and they’re quite a bit overwhelming and this leads you to flat out say no to the possibility.
Step 4 - Meeting with the Mentor.
You may have already met your mentor in step 2, just that they may not have revealed themselves as your mentor, or they may not have fully convinced you just yet.
Now this is a bit of a hard one to relate as in Star Wars Luke changes his mind only after he finds his home and adopted parents burnt to a crisp. Hopefully, this isn’t the tactic your coach takes to convince you to move forward but it does highlight that the decision comes down to you and not necessarily the coach.
Step 5 - Crossing the First Threshold.
For you, this will be starting your planned programme of training towards your competition, with the guidance of your coach. Or even deciding to fully immerse yourself into your gym life and culture in order to get the best possible outcome.
For Luke it was travelling to Mos Eisley spaceport and discovering the Cantina. This was an experience he had not gone through before and he had to rely on Obi-Wan to help him through unscathed.
Step 6 - Tests, Allies and Enemies.
Sticking to your competition prep is difficult - particularly when some things don’t go your way. Some weights don’t feel as easy as they should, you occasionally get ill or plain old real life just happens to get in the way. These are all tests that can hinder your progress but how you tackle these will determine your achievements in the months to come.
The tests that you go through will help you to determine who your friends and enemies are. It maybe at this point where you find a group or person in your gym who is on your side and able to motivate you to go on and win.
You may also find your enemies here - they could be in the form of people who discourage you from your goals or even become your nemesis. Nemeses would be easier to manage in competition life as all they will do is offer some form of rivalry, unless they’re particularly sneaky and actively attempt to ruin your progress.
In ‘A New Hope’ this is where Luke and Obi-Wan team up with Han Solo and Chewbacca and then very soon after are attacked by stormtroopers on their journey.
Step 7 - Approach.
Just leaving the Star Wars focus for a second this would be the classic Rocky training montage here. As you approach the competition you will need to approach it via training and sheer preparation.
In Star Wars they discover that Alderaan has been destroyed. When relating this to you it could symbolise the preparation being harder than you initially realised, this might mean the obstacles appear impossible to maneuver - but there is a way.
For a powerlifting competition this could be the time where you feel beat up, just before you deload, due to being over reached. This is fine, you have to go through this in order to achieve your best performance at the competition.
Step 8 - The Ordeal.
The big day. This is it, this is your competition - all the previous 7 steps have led to this and its down to you to pull it all together on this one day. It might seem like a lot of pressure if you’ve not gone through it before but if you’ve gone through the previous steps then you will be ready to take this on.
For Luke, this is when he and Han rescue Princess Leia only to then be devastated by the death of Obi-Wan at the hands of Darth Vader.
Hopefully, you won’t witness the death of your coach, or anyone, at your competition but you will almost definitely find that not everything goes to plan - you might miss an attempt at powerlifting, you might find that a muscle group is lagging behind in bodybuilding or you may have finished in a lower position than you imagined - but the main thing is that you’ve done it. You’ve completed all that you trained for.
Step 9 - Seizing the Sword/Reward.
There are a few competitions that will actually give you a pretty cool sword as a reward, however, we are talking more about symbolism than physical swords here.
What you will have seized after the competition is the experience and all of the knowledge that will have come with it. This can make you a better competitor in the future - I won’t go as far as to say it will make you a better person, but hey, it might.
In Star Wars, Luke emerges from the rescue mission as a more mature, adult hero. He also joins the Rebel Fleet as a pilot.
Step 10 - The Road Back.
This is the period after your competition where you need to get back to real life. You’re aiming to return to your Ordinary World from which you began in Step 1. There is a good chance that this will seem strange but we’ll address that in a later point.
You will get back to a point where you may not have another competition immediately on the horizon and this can affect your motivation and you may need to complete a couple of more tasks in order to get back to ordinary.
For Luke, getting back to normal involves destroying the Empire and the Death Star in order to return to any kind of normality. For most of us, we will have gone through the most traumatic part with the competition previously so this bit will be less dramatic.
Step 11 - Resurrection.
It is highly unlikely that you will be physically reborn here, and by highly I mean I doubt you’re Jesus. But, what will likely happen here is that you will take a step towards another competition or a change in lifestyle due to your experiences - a symbolic resurrection.
Towards the end of ‘A New Hope’ Luke decided to trust in the force and thus took his first steps towards becoming a true Jedi, much like you are by trusting in your new found knowledge and experience.
Step 12 - Return with the Elixir and Master of Two Worlds.
This is where you return home with the fruits of all of your labour in the previous steps. This will include any trophies or rewards you earned but it is mainly your new found experience and how you can use this to help yourself and those around you. You may find yourself becoming a mentor for a future hero, you may just use the experience to correct any mistakes you made previously in the future.
The ending of ‘A New Hope’ shows that Luke has managed to survive and rescue Leia meaning that the ‘elixir’ is symbolic of the success of their mission. As well as this, Luke was also successful in his want to leave the farm on Tattooine and make a difference that really mattered.
While the story that you write might differ to this in certain ways it is highly likely that you will experience what each step symbolises along your way, and if you’re not planning to compete you can probably apply this journey to any type of change you experience in your life.
If you want to being your heroic journey into powerlifting then check out our Editor, Danny Lee's site for more info.
Even if you're unsure of what style of training you'd like there are tools to help you decide.
Managing Editor of Strength Prose, Owner and Coach of Daniel Lee Fitness and Operations Manager of Taylor's Strength Training.
In the first Issue of Strength Prose we introduced you to various sports. If you are looking at training in any of these sports then a good understanding of some training principles will be incredibly handy - whether you are coaching yourself or not.
With this in mind, we are going to share an article from our Managing Editor - Danny Lee on Overtraining. This article focuses on what overtraining is, how to avoid it, and more importantly - how to flirt with it just the right amount in order to use it for your advantage.
If you've not yet bought Issue #1 you can find it here.
How To Overtrain.
A lot of people wonder how long their workouts should be. Personally, when it comes to training I have never really set an allotted amount of time to my training. I go in with a plan and it takes as long as it takes. However, this plan has a set amount of volume and intensity which I need to hit in order to make my required progress. A set training plan is a fantastic way to train, it not only ensures further progression for me, but also ensures that I do not overdo it in the gym. A good plan factors in rest and recovery as well as the required volume and intensity to encourage progressive overload. Training harder and for longer is not necessarily better, training and recovering smartly is key to progress.
There are still various pockets of the world (often the internet) that would insist that overtraining does not exist and that it is either under recovering or under eating. However, all of these things should be managed in a good plan. Sufficient training, recovery and diet will always lead to greater gains than pure blood and guts hard work.
Now, if you are into any sort of competitive sport or events you may be familiar with the idea of over training. This is where your plan will accumulate the volume of your exercise and workouts to the point of near overtraining. The reason for this is to elicit the ‘compensation’ effect.
When your body becomes used to a particular amount of training volume it begins to recover to that amount. If some of this volume is removed then, for a short time, your body will still recover by the same amount as before. Meaning that if the body is used to being broken down to 70% and then recovering up to 100%, you could all of a sudden train so that you are only dropping to 75% and your body will still recover by the previous 30%, putting you, for a short time, at roughly 105%. This, however, will only last for a short time as your body yearns for homeostasis and will then start to recover to your regular 100%.
This is why ‘over reaching’ is utilised in sports such as powerlifting. The athlete will be trained to a point close to over training in order to take advantage of the compensation effect. Meaning that, if planned correctly, a powerlifter could turn up on meet day at something resembling 105%.
There are obvious issues with this, as it is difficult to monitor a person or athlete to a point where they are just hovering over the point of over training. Rest and recovery need to be perfect. This state of optimal awesomeness can only be maintained for around 7-10 days and it should be quickly followed by a phase of rest and then back into training.
In this state you would be functioning as close to perfectly as possible, your functional capacities, mental arousal, as well as your neuro-muscular coordination would be perfect. Training to reach a level where you can fully accommodate all of your functions and movements sounds very inviting, but it makes sense to aim for this state after increasing these capacities as greatly as you can over a span of training. In other words, before attempting to reach this stage of training you should possess a good foundation of training, i.e – a high level of physical preparation, as well as all the biomotor abilities required for your particular area. The higher your level of training before embarking on this, the higher your effectiveness will be in this training state.
Periodisation is where you put yourself, or your athlete/clients, through a variety of training phases geared towards reaching the goal of compensation. The different training phases involve an increasing and decreasing of both the volume and intensity. As the volume in your routine goes up, the intensity should go down, and vice versa.
Volume is the amount of work done throughout a workout or programme, it covers –
-the time or duration of a workout
-the loads used or distance covered
- the repetitions of an exercise performed.
Intensity is the difficulty of the work, it is the qualitative aspect of a routine as opposed to the quantitative volume. A high intensity workout might involve lifting weights of 85% or more of your one repetition maximum or practising a particularly advanced and difficult skill.
The way in which you would periodise your own routine depends upon your goals and sport. I am from a powerlifting background so for someone like myself it is likely to follow a high volume phase at first, including some heavy work. This might only be heavy singles or doubles. Throughout this initial phase the volume is likely to slowly increase until a point just below overtraining. At this point I would take a deload week where I still train the movements but the volume is drastically cut down, and the intensity is kept moderate. Following this would be a strength phase, which would focus more upon the heavy weights and less upon the volume in the previous phase. This would be done in line with a competition phase, where I would likely take the week before the competition easy. By this point I will have acquired the essential training benefits, such as the improved functional capacities and neuro muscular coordination, and they would be difficult to improve further in a week’s time. So this energy would be saved for competition day.
As you can see from the above over reaching is where you integrate a gradual increase of training and training volume in a controlled manner so as to result in a fantastic competitive edge over a short period of time. Overtraining would imply that a similar increase in your workload will occur but in a manner that is uncontrolled or unplanned. Without a sufficient recovery phase or a planned deload, an increase in training will lead to, at best, a slower rate of improvement and, at worst, a higher chance of an injury being incurred.
When it comes to training, an athlete or gym goer will suffer from acute fatigue, and hopefully avoid chronic fatigue. Acute fatigue is simply tiredness incurred from that workout which can be recovered with sleep, rest or diet. Chronic fatigue, however, is where a person stays in the overreaching phase for too long. I’ve highlighted the benefits of going into a planned overreached phase but if you do it by accident or for too long you will suffer. Entering into a phase of chronic fatigue will be the result, and the continuation of, accumulated stress and will affect you both mentally and physically.
The symptoms of overtraining include –
Over training can come from any kind of training, whether it be strength training, cardiovascular training or technique training. Regardless of what it is it can put stress on both your mind and body and both of these need looking after.
A large portion of this has focused upon the idea of a general training phase leading to overtraining but similar effects can happen in a shorter period. For example, training past the point of tiredness in one session will lead to your movement patterns being sloppy which in turn negatively correlates to skill acquisition as well as increasing your change of an injury occurring.
To Sum Up –
Work smart, work hard but also rest smart and rest hard. Without planned rest, or even the occasional spontaneous rest, you will not progress in your fitness journey. Rest is vital to avoiding physical and mental pitfalls. If you find yourself constantly feeling ill, sore or even depressed then maybe you need to re-evaluate your training, take a step back or a day/week off and then come back to it recharged.
Overreaching can be utilised to reap great rewards via compensation. Overtraining, however, should be avoided for your overall health.
Periodisation – Tudor O. Bompa
This interview is from Issue #1 of Strengh Prose - New Beginnings.
To buy the copy click here.
By Danny Lee.
I decided Sheina was a good person to interview for this issue due to the fact that just over a year ago she was a beginner herself and is a great example of all of the opportunities that can arise when New Beginnings are capitalised on.
A bit of background on Sheina—she is 21, from Manchester and a student of University of Liverpool. Prior to becoming a powerlifter Sheina played rugby union in her first year of university.
What got you into powerlifting? -
I kind of stumbled upon powerlifting. Id never heard of it before. Id Been going to the gym for a few months and really enjoyed it, and somehow i discovered Taylor’s strength online and then I discovered powerlifting and the rest is history.
How Did You Train Before Powerlifting? -
Before powerlifting I didn’t really focus on the compound lifts, I couldn’t deadlift and I certainly couldn’t squat to depth.
Obviously my strength has improved massively, but also just generally technique has and is constantly improving. I’m also learning that maxing out constantly doesn’t work, and that following a plan will lead to gains in the long term.
What is your biggest achievement in powerlifting so far? -
My biggest achievement to date is coming 4th at the British juniors in September, my first national competition. Despite the day not going exactly to plan I still managed to bag a couple of NW records too.
I’ve got a few months now till my next comp, the British Women’s to improve on technique and strength with Danny’s help. I hope to join the 400 Wilks Club and get into the top 3 juniors in the 57kg class, as well achieve a 70+ bench.
Who inspires you in powerlifting? (before getting into it and now) -
Since starting powerlifting I have been constantly discovering inspiring lifters. Stefi Cohen is one id say is inspiring on the world stage and then there’s Cat Smith, a fellow 57kg lifter who holds the junior world record on deadlift, I can only hope to have deadlift as strong as hers very soon.
How do you maintain the work/life/training balance? -
I am currently a third year medical student, which means balancing training on top of long days and studying, and making sure to eat enough before training as well as sleeping enough, this means sacrificing having a busy social life and accepting that the occasional training session won’t go as well as I’d like. However, this makes me more determined to do well.
What advice would you give to anyone who wanted to get into powerlifting? -
I would say to anyone thinking of starting or unsure whether powerlifting is for them, everyone has to start somewhere so give it a try, it’s a very rewarding sport and by picking the right coach you will get stronger in no time.