The art of cueing: a review of the First Principles of Movement webinar with Nick Winkelman

“Would you want to work for a micro-manager that didn’t set clear goals? Probably not. However, this is exactly how we are ‘managing’ our athletes’ motor systems every time we cue using overly technical internal cues that are void of a clear external goal to be achieved.”

Cueing is both a science and an art. Whether on the sports field, gym or rehabilitation environment, what we say and how often we say it matters. This is an often neglected subject despite the ramifications being really important to not only motor learning and performance but also self-image and pain management. Dr Craig Liebenson of LA Sports and Spine recently hosted a webinar with The Language of Coaching author and head of Irish Rugby strength and conditioning Nick Winkelman.

Nick has done extensive research into the science behind cueing movement and the practical application through his time as Exos and now with Irish rugby, while Dr Liebenson has extensive experience in the rehabilitation of both high level athletes as well as the general public. There were two messages that really stood out for me. The first is that in the rehabilitation setting we need to be incredibly mindful of what we say around movement and pain. Using words such as ‘weak’, ‘unstable’, ‘imbalance’ etc, can have far reaching negative implications on the patients mindset and subsequent improvement. We need to reinforce positive movement experience outside of pain to empower people to trust their bodies again. We want to move away from the Fragilista model of making people scared of movement and overly reliant on healthcare practitioners and excessive movement oversight (perfectionism). Micro managing the patient through the rehabilitation process, even with something as simple as drawing attention to the injured area can contribute negatively to an already overly sensitized central nervous system. Practitioners should prioritize listening to their patients’ full history and story so that there is mutual trust and buy-in. Finally, don’t get imprisoned in corrective exercise, if you want people to build true strength then get them on their feet and training patterns with high transfer to life such as the squat, hinge, pull, carry and press. We live on our feet and the goal should be to get people confident of being there.

From a performance standpoint S&C trainers and coaches need to be equally cognisant of what they are saying to their athletes. Compromised motor learning and choking in high pressure environments are just two of the consequences of an overly internally focused mind. On the training ground if we want athletes to truly own the skill we are teaching they need to be given an environment where our cue guides them in a direction but allows their body to work it out. Nick gives the example of putting the co-ordinates into a GPS device and then leaving the device to work out the best way to get to the destination. By correcting every minor ‘mistake’ we get in the way of the athlete truly learning, when it comes time to put these skills to the test they are less likely to be able to execute without you standing next to them shouting instructions. Ensure that the limited cues you do give are for the most part external in nature, cueing someone to engage their hamstrings and glutes when they run is just not effective and reliable, instead use analogies like ‘driving the ground away’ from you or ‘punch the ground’. Remember, for the most part the best movement is sub-conscious, our job is often to simply get someone out of their own way.

In conclusion, whether from a performance standpoint or in the rehabilitation setting we have a job to show compassion to our clients and to quote Dr Liebenson, create tangible hope around an achievable plan. The best training plan or exercises will have little value if they are poorly taught and micro-managed.

For anyone interested in the webinar, the link is below.   

Photo credit: Kevin Sawyer