Cueing is the art of getting a client to move
efficiently through an exercise, so they get the
most out of the instruction. Cueing can mean
different forms of teaching – for instance,
performing a movement with a specific intention,
quality or with the correct muscular engagement
and muscle firing patterns. A quality instructor
must be well versed in different types of cueing
which will help address each individual client. This
learned skill of communicating effectively with
clients on all levels is the key to top-notch cueing.
Whether you’re a Pilates instructor or personal
trainer, proper cueing for your method of exercise
is crucial for effective instruction which will result in best results for your clients. Experts agree that Pilates
instructors need an extensive repertoire of cues, including broad
categories of tactile (touch), auditory (verbal) and visual
(demonstration). Each of these types of cuing can be further
divided into relevant and useful subcategories such as directional
cueing, which makes use of the surrounding environment to guide
FORMS OF CUEING
According to Executive Director of Education for STOTT PILATES®, Moira Merrithew, cueing is often broken down into
tactile and verbal forms – each can be equally effective
depending on the individual client. “It is important to remember
that each category can be broken down further,” Moira says.
“A verbal cue can deal with imagery, anatomical function, or
sensory perception. Even tactile cue can be used to bring
awareness to a specific area or to help in firing an individual
muscle or muscle group.”
Proper cueing is crucial for high-caliber mind-body instruction.
“The exercise we teach requires the whole body to work as a
unit,” continues Moira. “It (cueing) is a learned discipline where
the focus is on movement patterns which require a higher degree
of participant skill and kinesthetic awareness. Our instructors cue
the firing of our intrinsic musculature to execute refined patterns.
When cueing these muscles in particular, the local and global
stabilizers, our aim is to achieve stability with mobility and control
of each pattern.”
THE FIVE BASIC PRINCIPLES
Without question, the cues that are emphasized most are those
that incorporate modern theories of exercise science and spinal
rehabilitation and involve biomechanical theories of breathing,
pelvic placement, rib cage placement, scapular movement and
stabilization, and head and cervical spine placement. By
introducing these principles and reinforcing them through a
workout, awareness of how the body moves is developed. This
mind-body awareness ensures focus on precision and control to
help realize the full benefits of an exercise program. Cues that
are founded in these principles ensure clients are maintaining a
kinesthetic awareness of the body.
Furthermore, cues that relate to proper breathing technique
promote effective oxygenation of the blood, focus the mind on
each task and help avoid unnecessary tension during exercise.
Encouraging exhaling deeply helps activate the deep support
muscles of the body. Activation of the deep stabilizing muscles
(pelvic floor and transversus abdominis) are integral in
maintaining stabilization of the lumbo-pelvic region and
should be encouraged and incorporated into the breath pattern
of every movement.
Effective cues will also emphasize stabilization of the pelvis and
lumbar spine both statically and dynamically in all positions and
throughout all movements. Cueing pelvic stability during an
exercise will ensure optimal performance of the movement and
help prevent any unnecessary stress on the lumbar spine. The
abdominal muscles must often be recruited to maintain the rib
cage, and indirectly, the thoracic spine, in proper alignment.
Instructors must cue participants to prevent the rib cage from
lifting up in the supine position or deviate forward in a sitting
position, causing the thoracic spine to extend.
Instructors should remain aware of cueing stabilization of the
scapulae and shoulders and realize the importance during the
initiation of every exercise. When stability is absent, there is a
tendency to overwork muscles around the neck and shoulders.
Since they lack a direct bony attachment to the rib cage and
spine, the scapulae have a great deal of mobility in making a
greater range of motion available to the arms. Although the
scapulae move with the arms, a sense of stability, not rigidity,
should always be maintained.
Regarding head and cervical spine placement, the cervical spine
should hold its natural curve and the skull should balance directly
above the shoulders when sitting in neutral. This position should
also be maintained when lying on the back. In most instances, the
cervical spine should be encouraged to continue the line created
by the thoracic spine during flexion, extension, lateral flexion and
rotation. Continually referring to these biomechanical principles
will ensure that the cues an instructor is providing will help all
clients or groups perform the exercises to the best of their ability.
INEFFECTIVE CUES & UNDERSTANDING YOUR CLIENT
According to research, one of the most overused cues in the
Pilates industry at large is ‘slide your shoulders down.’ “While this
may be effective with a small percentage of client groups, it can
also have some very detrimental effects on others,” says Moira.
“In many participants, sliding the shoulders down may overly depress them, produce compression on nerves of the neck and
shoulders and decrease the range of motion in the shoulder joint.
To be more effective, instructors should look at each client their
individual needs to determine what the optimal cue is for them.”
“It is important to understand what type of a learner the client is
and then be able to select cues that will be appropriate for that
individual. Someone who is a “thinker learner” will want to know
the intricacies of a movement and may not respond as well to
visual images. In this case, using phrases such as ‘feel the head of
the femur rotating freely within the hip socket’ may elicit a better
To conclude, an effective Pilates instructor will be able to relate
to any type of client, no matter how they learn best, by having a
well stocked tool box of cues available at a moment’s notice. A
good practice exercise for instructors on their own is to go
through 5‑10 repetitions of an exercise and use a different cue for
each repetition. Instructors should be clear in their own mind
why they are teaching a client a particular exercise or
modification. This will ensure they will be able to develop a
rapport with any client who walks in their door.
More importantly, emphasizing positive reinforcement when
working with clients is crucial to effective cueing, and therefore
effective Pilates instruction. Many clients will react quicker if they
are told why they are doing a particular exercise a certain way as
opposed to it being thrown at them because it comes next on the
chart. So next time you’re thinking about how to approach your
client with a new exercise or movement – remember to think
about their individual needs and how to approach them with the
change. It’ll make all the difference.