Cues are an important part of the coaching process. What are they, exactly, and how should they be properly used? Simply put, a cue is a reminder. It's a concise reminder to do a thing that has already been taught as part of the teaching process of the lift. Good coaches use cues while observing a lifter to get them to move in accordance with their movement model for the lift.
Cues are highly individualized, and often over-corrective for the movement pattern they are trying to influence. For instance, we might tell a lifter "chest up!" during a squat so that they keep a consistent back angle during the concentric portion of the lift. Based on our model for the squat, we don't actually want the chest to lift early during the concentric, but the exaggeration can fix a lifter who consistently allows the hips to rise without the chest following suit. As a result, cues are unique to each lifter and cannot be generalized.
Cues aren't exclusively verbal either. Often we will use a tactile cue, such as pressing into the upper back (or slapping it forcefully) to remind the lifter to pull her thoracic spine into extension prior to a deadlift. The terribly useful block of wood, or TUBOW, as it is affectionately known, can be used to teach lifters how and where to set their knees during a squat. Visual cues, in which the coach stands in the lifter's field of vision and signals, can also be useful in certain circumstances.
At the end of the day, cues are the bite-sized reminders that help us learn and ingrain correct movement patterns for the lifts. What feels right during the movement - our proprioception - is not always correct, and cues help us correct and regroove proper movement patterns.
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