Jump. Stand up. Jump down. Shrug up. Shrug down. Pull down. Get under. Move your feet. Chest up. Push the floor down. Hips down. Punch. Reach. . . . That is a very short list of the cues I’ve heard from coaches all over the USA. All of them have worked for some lifters and failed for others. Where they seem to have the greatest effect is starting internet pissing matches over semantics, the assumption by too many being that the exactness of the cue has an exactly corresponding effect on an athlete’s technique.
A cue is an analogy. Most coaches find it more effective to describe an analogous movement the new lifter can more easily understand and apply, rather than use a detailed description of the action they are trying to elicit from the athlete. If the analogy gets the athlete performing the lift as the coach envisions it, the cue “worked.” So the measure of the utility of a particular cue is how effective it is in eliciting the desired movement pattern.
Every athlete has a different athletic, cultural, and intellectual background. This predisposes each athlete to respond in an individual way to the images and feelings presented to them as words–the cue. The way each athlete understands and translates the cue into action varies, sometimes to a surprising degree. What coaches come to understand as the most common reactions to the most common cues are not universal by any means. Sometimes a coach will exhaust all of her favorite cues and still not get the athlete to move the way she would like. This situation is the Genesis of new cues. The creative coach simply makes up a new analogy on the spot. The new cue may seem in no way like the movement the coach desires, but if the athlete can make use of it, can now move the way the coach wants them to move, it is an excellent cue for that lifter.
A friend of mine once watched a coach cuing his lifter at a meet. As the lifter approached the bar, the coach yelled out a couple of cues totally unfamiliar to my friend. “Shoot the knees!” “Whip the shoulders!” My friend thought these cues so hilariously wrong that he shouted a cue of his own. “Summon the Duck!” And near pants-wetting laughter ensued.
I don’t know what the outcome was for the lifter involved, but what if those uncommon cues worked for that lifter? What if the lifter executed a perfect movement and nailed the lift? Then that cue worked, perhaps only for that lifter, but the cue still worked.
Of course good cues are only helpful if a coach knows exactly what they are trying to accomplish technically. I keep in mind an image of what I want from an athlete, a sort of “Platonic Pull/Lift” that is the template to which I teach. If the coach’s template is fuzzy or wrong, all the great cues in the world will not help. While some very good athletes will fall into efficient lifting based on their own innate abilities, that may not have been the result of anything the coach said. Whatever cues you like to use, they are perfect if you get your lifter doing something like this:
Thanks to J.P. Nicoletta for the duck story. Still makes me laugh.
As always, thanks to Nat Arem at Hookgrip for letting me use his excellent weightlifting photos.