Personal Trainer Continuing Education

Master the Cue: Essential Coaching Tips for Better Results

Understanding Cuing

Cuing is a crucial aspect of personal training, helping clients connect mind to body and achieve better movement execution. A certified personal trainer provides expert advice and cues to prevent injuries, improve form, and enhance overall fitness.

Cuing involves giving specific instructions that direct a client’s attention to certain aspects of their movement or posture. These cues are vital for ensuring that exercises are performed correctly and safely, leading to better results and reduced risk of injury. Maintaining the proper position of the wrists and shoulders during exercises is essential to optimize performance and prevent common mistakes.
Proper cuing can be the difference between a client progressing effectively and reaching their fitness goals, or struggling with improper form and risking injury.

Understanding the significance of cuing goes beyond mere instruction; it encompasses the trainer’s ability to communicate effectively and motivate clients to perform at their best. This understanding forms the foundation of a successful training experience and fosters a deeper connection between the trainer and client.

The Science Behind Cuing

The science behind cuing involves understanding how the brain processes verbal and visual information. When trainers provide clear and concise cues, it activates specific neural pathways that facilitate muscle memory and movement patterns. This process helps clients internalize the correct techniques, making them second nature over time.

Research from sports medicine and kinesiology highlights the importance of effective cuing in enhancing athletic performance and reducing injury rates. By integrating scientific principles into cuing strategies, trainers can offer a more informed and impactful coaching experience.

Essential Cues for Better Movement Execution

Upper Body Exercises

Bench Press

The bench press is a fundamental upper body exercise that targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Effective cueing for this exercise includes:
  1. Starting Position: "Lie flat on the bench with your feet firmly planted on the ground. Keep your shoulder blades pinched together and your chest up."
  2. Grip: "Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Ensure your wrists are straight and aligned with your forearms."
  3. Descent: "Lower the bar slowly to your mid-chest, keeping your elbows at a 45-degree angle to your body."
  4. Press: "Drive through your feet and push the bar back up, keeping your core tight and your back flat on the bench."
These cues help maintain proper form and maximize muscle engagement during the bench press.


Pull-ups are an excellent exercise for building upper body strength, particularly in the back and biceps. Key cues for pull-ups include:
  1. Grip: "Use an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder-width. Hang with your arms fully extended and your shoulders engaged."
  2. Pull: "Drive your elbows down and back, pulling your chest up to the bar. Keep your core tight and avoid swinging."
  3. Descent: "Lower yourself slowly and under control, fully extending your arms at the bottom."
These cues emphasize proper technique and full range of motion for effective pull-ups.

Lower Body Exercises


Squats are a foundational lower body exercise that targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and core. Effective cueing for squats includes:
  1. Stance: "Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes slightly turned out."
  2. Descent: "Push your hips back and bend your knees, lowering your body until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Keep your chest up and your knees in line with your toes."
  3. Ascent: "Drive through your heels and extend your hips and knees to return to the starting position. Squeeze your glutes at the top."
These cues ensure proper form and engagement of key muscles during squats.


Deadlifts are a powerful exercise for building posterior chain strength, including the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. Key cues for deadlifts include:
  1. Starting Position: "Stand with your feet hip-width apart, the barbell over your midfoot. Hinge at your hips and grip the bar with your hands just outside your knees."
  2. Lift: "Engage your core and drive through your heels to lift the bar, keeping your back flat and your chest up. Extend your hips and knees simultaneously."
  3. Descent: "Lower the bar by hinging at your hips, keeping it close to your body. Maintain a flat back throughout the movement."
These cues promote proper alignment and muscle engagement during deadlifts.

Core Exercises


Planks are an excellent exercise for building core stability and strength. Effective cueing for planks includes:
  1. Starting Position: "Place your forearms on the ground, elbows directly under your shoulders. Extend your legs behind you, forming a straight line from head to heels."
  2. Engagement: "Engage your core, squeeze your glutes, and keep your back flat. Avoid letting your hips sag or rise."
  3. Breathing: "Maintain steady breathing, focusing on deep, controlled breaths."
These cues help maintain proper form and maximize core engagement during planks.

Knee Ups

Knee ups are a great way to build both core strength and overall stability. Key cues for knee ups include:
  1. Starting Position: "Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart, your hands on the back of the neck, elbows in line with your shoulders and parallel to the ground."
  2. Lift: "Engage your core, shift your weight to your right leg, and raise your left knee as high as possible, contracting your central core muscles to maintain control."
  3. Descent: "Lower your foot to the ground and re-distribute your weight evenly."
These cues promote proper alignment and muscle engagement during knee ups.

Cuing Techniques

Internal Cues

Internal cues focus on body movements, such as “engage your core” or “squeeze your glutes.” These cues help clients develop a mind-muscle connection, leading to improved proper movement execution. For instance:

  • “Engage your core”: This cue helps activate the abdominal muscles, ensuring stability and strength during various exercises like push-ups and planks.
  • “Squeeze your glutes”: This encourages the activation of the gluteal muscles, essential for exercises like squats and lunges.
  • “Keep your chest up”: Promotes proper posture and spine alignment during exercises like deadlifts and squats.
  • “Pull your shoulders back”: Ensures good shoulder alignment and upper body posture during movements like rows and presses.

Internal cues are particularly effective in helping clients focus on the feel of the movement, enhancing their ability to perform exercises with precision and control. These cues encourage clients to listen to their bodies and understand the intricacies of each movement.

Benefits of Internal Cues

  • Enhanced Muscle Activation: Internal cues promote the engagement of specific muscle groups, leading to better muscle activation and development.
  • Improved Proprioception: By focusing on body awareness, clients develop a heightened sense of proprioception, which is crucial for balance and coordination.
  • Reduced Risk of Injury: Proper muscle engagement reduces the strain on joints and ligaments, minimizing the risk of injury during workouts.

External Cues

External cues direct attention toward how movements impact an object in the environment, such as “push the bar away from you” or “drag the bar up your legs.” These cues are often more effective for quickly mastering new skills, especially for beginners. Examples include:

“Push the bar away from you”: Used in bench presses to encourage proper bar path and shoulder stability.

“Drag the bar up your legs”: Helpful in deadlifts to ensure the bar stays close to the body, reducing the risk of injury.

“Reach for the wall with your fingertips”: Encourages full range of motion and extension during overhead movements.

“Drive your heels into the ground”: Enhances lower body engagement in exercises like squats and lunges.

External cues help clients visualize the desired movement outcome, making it easier to grasp complex motions and improve coordination. These cues are particularly beneficial for clients who are visual learners or those new to specific exercises.

Benefits of External Cues

  • Quick Learning Curve: External cues allow clients to quickly understand and execute new movements, making them ideal for beginners.
  • Specific Movement Guidance: These cues provide clear instructions on how to manipulate external objects, leading to more precise movement execution.
  • Increased Motivation: Visualizing the end goal or target can be highly motivating, encouraging clients to push themselves further.

Effective Cuing Strategies

Use Simple and Clear Language

Using simple and clear language to explain exercises and movements is vital. Avoid using technical language unless clients specifically ask for it. For example:

  • Instead of “retract your scapula,” say “pinch your shoulder blades together.”

  • Instead of “maintain thoracic extension,” say “keep your chest up.”

  • Instead of “depress your shoulders,” say “drop your shoulders.”

Clear and straightforward cues ensure that clients understand instructions quickly, which is crucial during high-intensity or complex training sessions. Simplicity in language reduces confusion and enhances the effectiveness of the training session.

Visual Cues

Visual cues, such as pointing to a client’s foot, can help them understand what to do. Demonstrating the movement yourself or using video examples can also be highly effective. For instance:

Point to the heel when saying “drive through your heels”: Reinforces the importance of heel engagement in lower body exercises.

Demonstrate the movement while giving verbal instructions: Shows the correct form and technique, making it easier for clients to replicate.

Use mirrors when applicable to allow clients to see their form: Visual feedback helps clients make real-time adjustments to their posture and alignment.

Incorporating visual cues enhances the learning experience, making it easier for clients to grasp and execute proper techniques. This method is particularly useful for kinesthetic learners who benefit from seeing the movement in action.

Essential Cues for Better Movement

Shoulder Control

Proper shoulder control is critical for upper body exercises. Ensuring proper alignment and movement of the shoulder joint during exercises like planks and pulling exercises is essential to avoid excessive tension and improper activation of muscles around the shoulder joint. Use the following cues:

  1. “Pinch your shoulder blades”: Brings the client into proper posture for pulling exercises like rows and pull-ups.

  2. “Drop your shoulders” or “keep your shoulders away from your ears”: Reduces tension and improves form, particularly in exercises like overhead press and push-ups.

  3. “Keep your shoulders back and down”: Maintains shoulder stability and reduces strain during pressing movements.

  4. “Imagine holding a pencil between your shoulder blades”: Encourages scapular retraction and proper upper back engagement.
Shoulder control cues help clients maintain optimal alignment, reducing the risk of shoulder injuries and enhancing upper body strength. These cues are essential for developing strength and preventing injuries, particularly in compound movements involving the upper body.

Core Engagement and Hip Alignment

Effective core engagement and hip alignment are fundamental for most exercises. Focusing on and utilizing the right muscles during exercises is crucial for maximizing effectiveness and ensuring proper form. Key cues include:
  1. “Zip your navel to your spine” or “brace your core”: Activates the transverse abdominis, providing stability during exercises.

  2. “Square your hips”: Focuses on hip alignment, engaging the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and tensor fasciae latae, essential for movements like lunges and squats.

  3. “Neutral spine”: Encourages maintaining a straight spine, preventing excessive arching or rounding.

  4. “Tuck your pelvis”: Helps reduce anterior pelvic tilt, ensuring proper hip alignment and core engagement.
Core and hip alignment cues are essential for maintaining stability, preventing lower back pain, and optimizing performance in both upper and lower body exercises. Proper core engagement is crucial for transferring force efficiently throughout the entire body.

Lower Body Cues

To enhance lower body performance, employ these cues:
  1. “Push through your heels” or “drive through the heels”: Engages the muscles of the lower extremities, crucial for exercises like squats and deadlifts.

  2. “Tuck your tailbone”: Reduces anterior pelvic tilt, engaging the lower abdominals and pelvic floor, important for maintaining a neutral spine.

  3. “Spread the floor apart with your feet”: Promotes external rotation and proper knee alignment during squats.

  4. “Knees out”: Prevents knee valgus and encourages proper alignment during lower body movements.
Lower body cues are vital for ensuring proper alignment and engagement, leading to improved strength and reduced risk of injury in exercises like squats, deadlifts, and lunges. Emphasizing these cues can significantly enhance the effectiveness of leg and glute training.

Advanced Cueing Strategies for Personal Trainers

Creating a Mind-Muscle Connection

Creating a mind-muscle connection can significantly improve exercise effectiveness, and a personal trainer's expertise and experience can be invaluable in guiding clients through this process. Use verbal cues such as:
  1. “Squeeze your glutes”: Ensures activation of the gluteal muscles during exercises like bridges and hip thrusts.

  2. “Engage your core”: Helps clients maintain stability and proper form, preventing injuries.
    “Feel the muscle working”: Encourages clients to focus on the target muscle during isolation exercises.

  3. “Slow and controlled movements”: Emphasizes the importance of tempo and muscle tension.


Fostering a mind-muscle connection enables clients to perform exercises with greater precision, maximizing muscle activation and growth. This approach not only improves strength but also enhances muscle awareness and coordination.

Refining Your Cueing Skills

Continuously refine your cuing skills to enhance client results. This involves:
  1. Practice cueing with clients: Develop your skills by regularly practicing and observing client responses.

  2. Stay up-to-date with the latest research: Continuously educate yourself on new cuing techniques and strategies.

  3. Seek feedback from clients: Encourage clients to provide feedback on the effectiveness of your cues, adjusting your approach as needed.

  4. Attend workshops and seminars: Participate in continuingeducation opportunities to learn from other fitness professionals and stay informed about industry trends.
Refining your cueing skills ensures that you remain an effective and knowledgeable trainer, capable of delivering exceptional results for your clients. Investing in your professional development can lead to improved client satisfaction and retention.

Progressive Overload and Cueing

Integrating cuing with the principle of progressive overload is essential for continued client progress. As clients advance, adjust your cues to match their increasing skill level and strength. For example:
  1. Beginner cues: Focus on basic safety and form, such as “keep your back straight” and “engage your core.”

  2. Intermediate cues: Introduce more specific refinements, like “drive your knees out” and “tighten your core as you lift.”

  3. Advanced cues: Emphasize nuanced adjustments, such as “maintain tension throughout the entire movement” and “maximize contraction at the peak of the lift.”

Tailoring Cues to Individual Clients

Each client is unique, and their response to cues may vary based on their learning style, fitness level, and individual preferences. Here are some strategies to tailor your cues effectively:
  1. Identify Learning Styles: Determine whether your client is a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner and adjust your cues accordingly.

  2. Assess Fitness Levels: Beginners may need more basic and repetitive cues, while advanced clients might require more sophisticated and technical instructions.

  3. Personal Preferences: Some clients may respond better to positive reinforcement, while others may prefer direct and straightforward guidance.
By customizing your cues to fit individual needs, you can enhance the training experience and promote better adherence to exercise protocols.

Incorporating Technology in Cuing

Modern technology offers innovative ways to enhance cuing techniques. Here are some tools and methods to consider:
  1. Wearable Devices: Fitness trackers and smartwatches provide real-time feedback on performance metrics such as heart rate, form, and muscle activation.

  2. Virtual Coaching Apps: Utilize apps that offer video demonstrations, interactive feedback, and personalized workout plans to complement your cuing techniques.

  3. Video Analysis: Record clients performing exercises and review the footage together, highlighting areas for improvement and providing visual cues for correction.
Integrating technology into your training sessions can lead to more precise and effective cueing, ultimately benefiting your clients' progress.

The Role of Psychology in Cueing

Understanding the psychological aspects of cueing can significantly enhance its effectiveness. Consider the following principles:
  1. Positive Reinforcement: Use encouraging language to build confidence and motivation. Phrases like "Great job keeping your back straight!" reinforce good behavior.

  2. Mindfulness: Encourage clients to be present and aware of their movements, fostering a deeper mind-muscle connection.

  3. Goal Setting: Clearly define short-term and long-term goals, using cues to guide clients toward these objectives.
By incorporating psychological principles, you can create a more supportive and empowering training environment.

Common Mistakes in Cueing and How to Avoid Them

Even experienced trainers can make mistakes in cueing. Here are some common pitfalls and how to avoid them:
  1. Overloading with Information: Providing too many cues at once can overwhelm clients. Focus on one or two key points per session.

  2. Using Technical Jargon: Avoid overly complex language that may confuse clients. Keep cues simple and clear.

  3. Neglecting Individual Differences: Remember that each client is unique. Tailor your cues to fit their specific needs and preferences.
By being mindful of these common mistakes, you can ensure that your cueing remains effective and client-centered.

Mastering the Art of Cueing

Effective cueing is essential for personal trainers to help clients achieve better movement execution and prevent injuries. By mastering the art of cueing, fitness professionals can improve their clients’ overall fitness and sports performance. Remember to:
  1. Understand the importance of cueing: Recognize how crucial it is for client success.
  2. Use internal and external cues appropriately: Tailor your cues to suit different clients and exercises.
  3. Employ clear and simple language: Ensure your instructions are easily understood.
  4. Utilize visual cues: Enhance understanding through demonstrations.
  5. Focus on key areas like shoulder control, core engagement, and hip alignment: Provide specific cues to improve these foundational aspects.
  6. Continuously refine your skills: Stay informed about new techniques and practices.
By implementing these strategies, personal trainers can greatly enhance their coaching effectiveness and client outcomes.

Cueing is more than just giving instructions; it's an art that requires understanding, practice, and continuous refinement. By integrating the principles outlined in this guide, trainers can create a more engaging, effective, and personalized training experience for their clients.

Remember, the goal of cueing is not only to improve movement execution but also to foster a deeper connection between the client and their body. This connection leads to greater awareness, motivation, and long-term success in their fitness journey.