The Power of Cueing

Knowing how to communicate effectively when using verbal cues can turn an average teacher into an extraordinary one. Now that the pandemic mandates that we keep a safe distance from students and limit our tactile cueing, developing an arsenal of clear and concise verbal cues is more important than ever.

First, let’s discuss verbal cues and how to prevent them from becoming nothing more than repetitive, ineffectual sound bites. As a teacher, it’s only natural to become a bit complacent with our verbal cues. The underlying problem is that we’re caught unaware by the common pitfalls and neglect to correct ourselves. Here are a few examples that are sure to bring awareness to your cueing:

  • Try not to use cues such as “inhale and exhale” to set a pace or to simply fill dead space. Rather, apply them to specific or direct purposes.
  • Avoid a constant barking out of cues such as “engage your abs” without specifying the degree and/or specific type of engagement.
  • Don’t call out cues like “lift your pelvic floor or squeeze your butt” just to make sure you’ve covered all your bases.
  • Use your pitch to teach, and limit verbal cues delivered in a monotone. Tone and inflection are powerful tools. Use them to keep your students listening to your every word.
  • Pace yourself. When your cues are spit out too fast, they can be misunderstood or fall on deaf ears.
  • If your voice is too loud and commanding, your students may choose to tune you out. It’s as simple as lightly whispering one cue, then raising your voice with excitement or seriousness on the next. Play around with your tone to constantly keep your students engaged.
  • Be specific. Generally cueing muscle activation without specifying the side of the body—or the specific part of the muscle or muscle group to engage—will leave your students frustrated that they can’t follow your lead.

Take time to layer your cues properly. Don’t overcue. For example, start with breathing cues on the first few exercises, then move onto abdominal cues with the next. When you’ve layered two cues, you’re ready to add direct and specific muscle cues into the mix.

When you initially set up a verbal cue, start by setting a foundation with a visual understanding. This offers your students the power to recall the cue with the initial visual demonstration. When your students have the proper visual foundation set, your verbal cues will remain powerful. However, as time goes on and students ebb and flow through your classes, be on point with your verbal cues, constantly reviewing them with a visual element.

Furthermore, be sure your students communicate with you via movement. Want to know if your verbal cues still work? Simply offer them a verbal cue, let them find the movement in their body, then adjust your cues accordingly. When a cue is effective, I recommend asking your students a rhetorical question to ingrain the appropriate cue. Be aware that your cues should be facilitating what you’re trying to convey. If that’s clearly not the case, drop those cues and find alternative ones that provide students with guidance.

To reach each student, a universal cue can bridge the path between each methodology.

With so many different Pilates methods, the different languages in our industry are so vast that students can’t learn them all. Therefore, I can’t overstate the importance of using basic cueing, setting up a foundation for a verbal cue, and making sure all students understand what each cue truly means.

Do we sound smart when we use anatomical cues? The real question is, “Do we want to sound smart or do we want to communicate effectively?” Unfortunately, anatomical cues may be lost on most students, proving to be a source of frustration. Additionally, it can create a situation where students who are lost just go along so as to not be embarrassed by having to ask a question. Instead of referring to bony landmarks and anatomical references, use more colloquial terms that are understood by everyone. This will make your communications clear not only to regular students, but to new ones as well.

By the same token, if you’ve been taught anatomical cueing and bony landmarks, absolutely use those cues if that’s your style, but make sure you create an environment that allows you to teach every attending student from that perspective. Beware that you’re only as good as your cueing, and only effective if your students completely comprehend what you’re saying.

Knowing the difference between excellent cueing and precise communicating is what makes a teacher great. Be exceptional and use your voice as a tool. Always connect with your students, making sure your cues evolve along with your practice.

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