Cueing In Context: Coaching Movement and Nutrition

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Context is king—that statement applies to all facets of life. Applying the correct understanding to the situation is the crux of success.   The key is thinking in terms of situations rather than broad, sweeping catch-alls. This is especially true for coaching movement and nutrition. We have to understand the context of what’s happening and what the situation needs from us. We must also understand how to create context for our clients so that they understand what’s being asked of them.   Let’s talk about that in terms of coaching the hinge and in nutritional interviewing.  

External Cueing, Internal Cueing and Context

  Let’s begin with simple, actionable definitions.   External cues direct attention away from the body and toward an external object with the aim of improving performance. “Spread the floor,” is a common external cue to improve positioning and increase hip drive during squat and deadlift variations. On our new website,, we also use it to cue the quadruped twerk nasty. Spread the floor and bounce, bitches.   Internal cues, in contrast, draw attention to a body part. Rather than saying, spread the floor, to get the hips working, we’d say something like “spread your hips.” Returning to our stripper strength example, we’d shout something like, “hey girl, pop that booty!”   During the past few years external cueing’s been heralded while the industry’s poo-poo’d internal cueing. There’s been a collection of great research that’s demonstrated external cueing’s superiority in performance situations. So, before considering cueing in multi-dimension, we, collectively, thought unilaterally—jumping on the external bandwagon and hoofing internal cues in the pants. I think we we’ve over-reacted.   Here’s an admission: I used to be an external cueing Nazi. It was all external cues all the time. I based a part of my coaching paradigm, which I’ve since changed, on consistent, never failing external cueing. I was wrong.   I, like most of the industry, failed to consider context. The context of different situations, and whether or not clients had the context they needed to understand a movement situation enough to integrate an external cue. I was trying to fit every problem to a single solution rather than individualizing solutions to unique problems.   But as I coached and coached, strictly using external cues, I noticed something. They didn’t always accomplish the desired end. It took a few sessions of aggressively beating my head against the wall until I was like, “Uh, hey man, stop being an idiot. This doesn’t work all the time. But you’re still really handsome and I love you. You’re what would happened if Brad Pitt and Enrique Iglesias had a gay love child and it came out red.”   I like to finish myself talk with a friendly reminder that were I someone else, I’d totally do me.   Reality is each type of cueing fits into different contexts. We start with the question, are we learning or are we performing?  


  Consider a client that’s woefully disconnected from their body. They are incredibly kinesthetically unaware. They need a combination of position and internal cueing so they can learn and integrate what movements feel like.   Let’s play-pretend that we all share a client that can’t dissociate their hips from their spine; where their hips go, their spine goes—and vice-versa.  Before we can effectively use external hip hinge cues, we have to teach them the difference between their hips and their spine.   Create context by having them attempt a standing hip hinge. Remember—letting the first rep suck is a good idea. It gives folks the opportunity to feel what shitty feels like—and that creates an important contrast to what good will feel like.   So we’ve done the hip hinge. Ask them, “Did you feel how your back rounded and you bent over rather than hinging at the hips.” They’re going to say something like, “no.” Or a similar word. Then they’ll express that they’re not sure they know the difference.   Now you get to pretend you’re a magician.   Explain that you’re going to try a few drills that will teach them the difference between their hips and their spine…and ask them if that’s cool. They’ll be like, “yes.” Or something like that.   Start them on their back with the glute bridge. Tell them to drive their feet through the floor and squeeze their butt like their trying to pinch something between their cheeks. Once they’ve done a couple of reps, and you can see that their glutes are doing the work, ask them if they feel their butt working. When they say yes, say good, those are your hips. That’s where your hips are and that’s what it feels like when they’re working. But definitely figuring out phrasing that doesn’t sound condescending.   Once they’ve figured out their hips, flip them over into the quadruped position. And I mean physically flip them over. You pick that person up and turn them over. You’re the boss. Don’t do that.   Once you have them in quadruped, coach them through the cat-camel—using your hands to kinesthetically cue if necessary. Once they start to get the movement, ask something like, “do you feel how that’s your spine moving and not your hips?” They’ll say something like, “Fuck yea, doggy!” And then you’ll be surprised because you didn’t know your grandma was so cool. And then you’ll say fuck it, you’ll both start drinking and watching Girls Gone Wild DVDs from 1999. Don’t do that.   Now that you’ve created context with position and internal cues, return to the hip hinge and work on performance.  


  Quick aside before we go on. We’re using the hip hinge as an illustration—this process applies to any movement/exercise/etc.   Ok, we’re back to the hinge. You have your grandma on her feet and you’ve talked her out of Miller Highlife and nineteen year old girls that should be studying instead of getting back at their fathers.   In the majority of cases, your client will now have a better understanding of their body and will be better able to integrate external cues. Now we’ll use our hip hinge cue mantra to get them hinging—tall and tight, reach, drive (TRD).   We’ve shifted from a learning environment to a performance environment. Could we argue that it’s still a learning environment? Of course, everything is a learning environment. But at this point we’re integrating information so that they can perform a more complex movement task.   Learning and performance exist on a continuum. One is never completely separate from the other, at least in the gym, but one is dominant over the other depending on the situation.   In a performance environment, we start with external cueing and work backwards. This means first try an external cue. If that doesn’t stick, move to some kind of pattern assistance—use some kind of implement, a pole on the spine, etc., to give them input on position and movement. If you’re still not getting anywhere, regress position and cue internally.   External cues keep us in the correct brain centers during performance. They direct action rather than initiate thought. Action keeps us in our lower brain centers. Thought pulls us into higher brain centers, which are much slower in producing movement. If a person has to think, they slow down—that doesn’t work when fluid movement is the goal.          

External vs. Internal: The Recap

  If you have someone in front of you that’s a poor mover that’s terribly kinesthetically unaware, use internal cues until they make better associations between themself and their body. This denotes a strictly learning environment.   If you’re in a performance environment, start with external cues and work backwards to internal cues.  

Cueing in Nutritional Context

  Cueing isn’t just for movement coaching—it applies to nutrition as well. Just in a slightly different, you guessed it, context.   Cues, in the nutritional interviewing and directing sense, apply to helping people guide themselves into better habits. It’s about finding bright spots and building momentum and using different interviewing response techniques to facilitate client intrinsic motivation.  

Bright Spots as Cues

  There’s always a bright spot.   Bright spots are like beacons that cue us in the right direction. As coaches, they tell us where to help our clients build momentum. They say, ‘this is what this person is already doing well, help them create more of this.’   For clients, the cue them into increasingly positive behaviors and reinforce the belief that they can make positive changes.   We talked about nutritional bright spots in depth earlier this Faction. Re-read that lesson now that you have greater context and can think of them as cues. They’re cueing you to put folks in positions to coach themselves into success. Clients run with the momentum and the belief that they can accomplish their goals.   It’s key to enter each food log evaluation, and each nutrition consultation, with a positive, open mind. Hammers always find the nails. So if you’re looking for shit, you’ll surely find it. But if you’re looking for something that’s going right, or at least not completely wrong, you’ll find it. When you find that bright spot, a bell should ring in your head that this is where we pivot and build momentum.  

Cueing in Nutritional Coaching Interviews

  Heads up, fools. This section is heavily influenced by the Motivational Interviewing process. I read the original MI book a few years back, and it’s a text book. Not super fun. But the book Motivational Interviewing in Nutrition and Fitness is still as practical, but much more enjoyable. Definitely check it out.   When interviewing folks we have to give deep attention to everything clients say. That seems obvious, but it’s the subtleties that cue us into the proper responses.   We pay attention to client’s cues so we know whether to affirm, to reflect or to ask to give direction.  



“A well placed affirmation can lead to change talk by drawing the client’s attention to the resources available within.”

  That’s a direct quote from Motivational Interviewing in Nutrition and Fitness.   Affirmations are positive statements acknowledge a person’s values, character, strengths and efforts. And they are fucking important. Want to help someone change? Help them appreciate the good things about themself.   Empowerment is the first step in helping someone motivate themself for change. Affirmations are akin to finding the bright spots on a food log. The difference is the client hears you verbally acknowledge them for something positive.   Here’s an example:  
Client: I’ve been cooking for myself for years, I guess could find some more healthful recipes to make.   Coach: You’re a good cook and you’re committed to improving your nutrition. [affirmation]  
The coach’s statement acknowledges that the client values themself as a cook and makes a statement about their interest in developing habits that help them live a better life.   The affirmation would likely pull out more positive talk, change talk as it’s called in MI, from the client.   Affirmations are great to use at almost any point during a consultation or interview. The key is paying attention to what the client says and thinking of how you can pull positive value out of it.   Even client statements that seem outwardly negative hide some positivity. Let’s say that a client says they hate eating vegetables because they don’t taste good. We could respond with something like, well we all need vegetables so we have to figure out how to incorporate them. Or you could affirm them by saying something like, taste is important to you, you’d like to find solutions that make food enjoyable.   Which one do you think a client apt to respond positively to?  


  Reflections show clients that we’re listening to them and we care about the words that are coming out of their mouths. Which shows them that we ultimately care about them.   At a foundationally human level, reflections let people know that they’re heard.   They also allow people to hear their own thoughts directed back at them so that they may process them and expand. It gives them an opportunity to evaluate their thoughts, somewhat objectively, so they can come to their own realizations.   We should be reflecting statements pretty much all the time during nutrition coaching sessions. It’s as simple deeply listening to the client, paraphrasing their statement and then stating it back to them.   Here’s an example:  
Client:  I’m not sure if I’m eating enough.   Coach: You’re worried that you’re not getting enough food.
  Really. It’s that simple. They’ll go on to explain themselves, and then you’ll reflect that statement while also looking for opportunities to make affirmations.   There are complex forms of reflections, but it’s good to get at basic ones first. Also, it’d be much better for you learn about them in depth from an MI resource. I just want to give you a tool so that you can get to work.  

Asking to Give Direction

  Sometimes clients are just stuck—they don’t know what to do. Maybe they’re trying to figure out how to get more veggies into their diet or how to decide which protein sources to eat.   The frustration is palpable.   In these moments, we ask permission to give direction. Rather than blurting out, ‘try this..’ or ‘here’s what you should do’, we save the clients autonomy and ask them if they’d like our help.   Let’s use eating more veggies an example.  
Client: I know I need to eat more veggies, I just don’t know what to do.   Coach: So you feel like your diet needs more vegetables but you’re not sure what strategies to use to eat more of them.   Client: Yes, I’m at a loss.   Coach: You’re committed and you want to need forward but you feel like you need some help.   Client: Exactly.   Coach: Would you like to hear about some strategies that have worked with some of my other clients?   Client: Yes, that would be awesome.  
And there you have it. Client gets the direction they are seeking without the coach undercutting their autonomy. It rules.  

Context in Closing

  Whoa. That was a fucking lot. They key is to match the cues to the situation while coaching movement and to pay attention to food log and conversational cues while coaching nutrition. Context is king. You have the tools, just use the right ones for the right jobs.

In 2010, two dudes Chris and Todd, started the business that would eventually become Strength Faction.

You know how they say the rest is history? Well, it’s not.

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