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.