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.