By: Nick Soleyn, Editor in Chief
Use Task Cues to Learn the Lifts
Let’s try an exercise. I am going to teach you how to do a movement. Ready?
Good. Make sure your feet are directly under your hips. Now, at the same, time flex your knees to about 80-degrees of flexion and bend at your hips a little bit. Remember to keep your center of mass centered on your foot. Next, quickly throw your arms up over your head while simultaneously extending your hips and knees. Do this violently enough to accelerate your body mass upward. Try to build enough momentum so that once your feet leave the ground, your body continues upward for another 10 to 20 inches, depending on how explosive you are.
How’d it go? Let’s try it again and see if I can explain the movement better. Ready?
When you are learning any kind of movement there is a necessary amount of translation that occurs. How you translate information depends both on the nature of the communication and the familiarity of your own experience. Take a look at the first paragraph. Not only is it unnecessarily complicated, but you might be lost if you don’t know what “flexion” means or you are unfamiliar with the difference between “acceleration” and “momentum.” You might do something different than I intended if, when I said to do something “quickly,” “violently,” or “explosively,” your understanding of those adverbs is different from my own.
But with the second instruction, I chose instead to rely on what I assumed was our shared experience and instead, I gave you a task: Jump!
When you are learning a movement, body cues tend to involve more interpretation on your part. This can present a challenge for coaches who want you to do something. But lifter and coach sometimes do not have a meeting of the minds on what exactly that something should be. Matt and Scott talked about this recently in the podcast episode on the “Knees Out” cue. Some people will understand what the coach means when he or she yells “Knees out.” This is a body cue. The correction requires some conscious and accurate control over your body. Other body cues are “eyes down” in the squat or “elbows forward” on your press or “push with your feet” to start your deadlift.
But sometimes what we mean with these cues isn’t completely clear. We have to translate the cue into a task. “Knees out” may become “Shove your knees out to the sides” or “apart” or “away from each other,” adding in a specific goal for the movement. Or in some cases, you might turn this into a visualization as Scott does, getting them to “act like there’s a 2×4 between your knees holding them apart.” When you add a task into the mix, this is an act of translation that we hope leads to the “aha!” moment of understanding the “knees out” cue.
A good example of a task related cue is the Master Cue.
The Master Cue started as a visualization exercise for the squat. You think about the bar being over the midfoot and traveling in a straight vertical line, and by doing so, your body automatically makes the adjustments it needs to keep the bar path vertical during the squat. (See Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training 3d.) The cue has evolved a little bit to be about balance and how you maintain your balance during a lift. Once you’ve learned to feel where your balance is on your foot, simply giving yourself the task of maintaining balance as you move through the range of motion of the lift tends to fix a whole lot of issues. “Balance” or The Master Cue is like the “Jump” command up above. It encompasses a lot of movements into one easily learned and easily understood cue.
Translating information directly to movement is why a lot of people struggle to learn the lifts without a translator—a Coach—to guide them. You can read all about how to do a lift and even watch videos, but then you have to translate that visual information into movement. When you are having trouble with this translation, learning a task-related cue can help you reach your own aha! moment and help speed up your learning process.
Let us know if you have any created task cues that you use in your lifting, or if there are certain cues you struggle with. firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: To get into the science of learning and cues read Starting Strength Coach Nick D’Agostino’s excellent in-depth treatment of this topic (“The Science of Verbal Cues: Turning Words into Action”) over at StartingStrength.com.