Pitfalls and obstacles are a given on any platform when you offer virtual sessions, but there’s one thing that you can ensure is on point: your cueing. The global pandemic and safety restrictions put in place meant that coaches were put in a position that meant we had to adapt, or lose our athletes and our source of income. There’s no reason moving your services online means you have to abandon correct and important cues. Below are a few things that have helped when it comes to cueing my athletes through the camera!  

Videos Are Your Friend

If you have access to video examples of exercises, use them. It’s nice if you have access to super professional looking content, but if you don’t there are SO many free resources you can tap into with the wonders of the internet. Using videos gives you a ton of options to enhance your virtual cueing.  You can communicate with your athletes whilst they’re viewing the video demo giving them visuals to match your verbal cues, or pause the video and talk about the movements more thoroughly if needed. The athletes can also see the movement from multiple angles to better understand what their body should look like. 

For example… reinforce your “knees out” verbal cue by pausing a squat demo video and pointing out the correct positioning. Using videos upgrades your ability to cue visually and so in turn enhances your athletes virtual training experience.  

AVOID: stepping away from the camera to demo, if you can. Leaving the frame means you step away from the mic, and from all the beautiful smiling faces of your athletes. You also lose all of the benefits listed above if all you’re doing is demos in your living room and you’re not taking advantage of using video demonstrations. 

For example… you’re on the floor to show your group of ten athletes how to do a hollow-hold. They can’t hear you very well. You’re getting pretty tired. Your own form actually isn’t great at this point defeating the whole point of the demo. You hear questions from three different athletes and have to get up to hear what those questions are, then get back into the hollow position to visually cue…. It’s tiring just typing it all out. Use your resources and avoid the time suck and limitations that come with doing the movement demos yourself.

Tech Tools

Utilize available technology. Advances in technology mean that virtual training can actually improve your athletes’ experience above and beyond what you can deliver during in-person sessions. So do yourself a favor and explore the wonderful world of technology to assist you in your virtual coaching. 

For example… try out screen drawing tools! You can quite literally point out a neutral spine and what it should look like during a deadlift by drawing reference lines on top of a video while your athletes watch, it’s effective and clear. Pairing your video demos with a drawing tool is an awesome way to progress your athletes training and understanding. After all, isn’t that what cues are for?

AVOID: Doing the bare minimum. Setting up a single screen with just the video stream is not going to set you up for success to cue, or to coach, well. 

For example… ignoring technological innovation like cool drawing tools is definitely bordering on doing the bare minimum. When you’re in a virtual space and you neglect to explore and use tools that are available to you, you’ll be providing a subpar virtual training experience that will ultimately have your athletes looking elsewhere for coaches.

Use Your Words

Get really good at the verbal stuff. This may seem like an obvious point, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily being done well. Virtual training by nature completely takes away the ability to use tactile cueing (physically moving someone) and limits visual cues (demos). A good tip to avoid confusing people, and ultimately losing business, is to use your warm-up to incorporate movements that your athlete will see later on. Doing this means you lay the foundation for cues you’ll be using later on during the workout and your athletes will have a reference point to fall back on. You also have the time to really define a word or a cue and answer any questions athletes may have. 

For example… if you’ve taken the time in the warm-up to explain what the TA (transverse abdominis) is and where an athlete should be feeling it, you can then throw in a cue during the workout for the athlete to focus on their TA and they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. It’s a super simple and effective way to get the most out of your verbal cues. 

AVOID: complicated movements if you’re not laying a good foundation with your verbal cues. 

For example… asking an athlete to do an RDL (Romanian deadlift) in the middle of a workout without establishing correct form and introducing cues in a warm-up. Chances are your athlete will probably have a hard time performing the movement correctly. An easy path to frustration for your athlete, or worse, injury. 

Choose Your Words

Use appropriate and specific language. Most people don’t know anything about their anatomy and physiology. There’s vague and overused terms galore when it comes to fitness. If you ask 100 people what and where your ‘core’ is, you’ll likely get 100 different answers. This means you need to ensure your cues are specific and actually make sense to your athlete. They need to understand what is moving, what is engaging, and why. 

For example… if you’re cueing a dumbbell bent over row you could use something along the lines of, “start by squeezing your shoulder blades together, then pull the dumbbell to your pockets”. This is simple instruction, paired with body parts and positions that anyone can identify. Your athlete knows how they should be setting up, their target, and where they should be feeling the exercise. Easy peasy, for you and your athlete. 

AVOID: general and ambiguous terms, empty words or phrases, and confusing words that you understand but your athletes in most cases definitely do not. 

For example… “use your back” is a cue that’s essentially useless to your athlete because ‘back’ could mean anything to them, and it doesn’t contribute to the end goal of performing a movement well and understanding why and how that goal was reached. “keep it tight” is a great example of an empty phrase, what are they keeping tight? What does tight even mean? Throw this cue out. Words like ‘anterior’ may make sense to some, but if you haven’t established a word’s proper meaning with the athlete yet, keep it out of your virtual verbal cueing vocab. 

Keep it Simple

Your verbal cues should be as straightforward as you can make them. In a virtual training setting a lot can be lost in translation and it’s pretty tough for athletes to maintain concentration whilst struggling to breath. Keeping verbal cues short and uncomplicated streamlines your sessions and makes it easier for athletes to understand. Be sure to pay attention and learn which simple cues give you the most bang for your buck with athletes, most of the time less is more. If you take anything away from this section let it be this: make your cues real and rich substance but short, sweet, and simple. 

For example…if you have enabled an athlete to connect with their hips or glutes in the warm-up or a previous session, you’ll be able to cue them with something as simple as, “focus on your glutes”.  

AVOID: over-cueing. As an athlete, if your coach rattles off an endless list of cues when you’re in the middle of performing an exercise or doing a movement they have no idea what to focus on and are likely going to end up annoyed, confused, or both. So make sure you’re using precise and valuable directions.

For example… “Jane, keep that core tight, try not to arch your back, think about your shoulders, tuck your chin, your head is coming up, relax your neck”. All of these cues lose their value when the athlete doesn’t know what to focus on.

Know Your Athletes

Make sure your word choices change based on who your athlete is. Exercises you’re teaching or programming don’t change, but the person or group you’re coaching does. The way you cue someone will change based on different factors: experience, age, how familiar they are with exercise, how familiar they are with you, what type of motivation they need/are asking for … the list goes on. Be aware and adapt your language and verbal direction based on who you’re working with.

For example… you’re not going to give a massive list of cues to an athlete you’ve worked with for years for a movement they’ve done a billion times. They’re going to tell you to shut up. That person may just need a nudge or a reminder like, “Geoff, shoulders back”. Once you have an established relationship, your athlete has (hopefully) heard the cues a million times, they might even be able to recite them back to you like a mantra. Just saying the phrase ‘shoulders back’ is enough of a cue that they correct their shoulders and all of a sudden they correct their head, then their back and hips, etc, because they’ll likely associate that one correction with the rest of the cues you’ve given them so many times before.

AVOID: unrelatable cues. Make sure you’re tailoring your verbal cues to your athletes.

For example… Here’s a great what not to do. I was coaching a youth group the other week and my go to cue when it comes to upper body movement for a snatch is, “imagine you’re starting up a lawn mower”. It took me a couple of seconds to realize these kids had probably never seen a gas lawn mower in their life, let alone started one.

Prepare Properly

This may seem like another no-brainer but, prepare properly for every session. It is really hard to cue well when you’re flustered. On top of that, even if you ace all of the above, not putting in the work before your sessions is an easy way to lose your athletes. Coaching isn’t any easy job at the best of times. Prepping your sessions makes your life easier and means you get to do more of what you love, coaching and cueing your athletes.

For example…have the workout written out for your athletes, your timer pulled up, your videos ready to go in order. Saving yourself time and worry will also mean you get to spend so much more time actively watching your athletes increasing your ability to give helpful cues.

AVOID: coasting. You run the risk of looking like a cookie-cutter follow along workout if you’re not able to give cues because of lack of preparation. Being able to cue in real-time is so important to your athlete’s development and progress and running a workout like a pre-recorded workout you could pull from Youtube is just pointless for everyone involved.

For example… if you’re not prepared and you have to spend a minute finding a timer online instead of having your downloaded app ready to rock, you run the risk of missing opportunities to cue before, during, and after athletes movements. Mistakes happen, but don’t let lack of preparation be the reason everyone loses out.

There’s a lot we can’t control these days, but we can control the experience we’re delivering to our athletes. Virtual training can, and should, be just as worthwhile (if not more) for you and your athletes as in-person workouts are. Let us know below if you use any of these tips for your virtual training cues and how they work out for you. Stay safe, happy coaching!


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