I got a lot of great feedback on my previous podcast about weightlifting cues.
In that episode, I covered my favorite cues for the squat, deadlift, and bench press.
So, I thought I would do another episode covering the best cues for the front squat, overhead press, pull-up, chin-up, and the barbell row, which are some of my favorite exercises besides the “big three.”
So, if you want to learn what weightlifting cues are, as well as my favorite cues for better form and performing better in the gym, listen to this episode!
Lastly, if you want to support the show, please drop a quick review of it over on iTunes. It really helps!
2:19 – What is a cue?
8:17 – Front squat cues
11:24 – Overhead press cues
15:34 – Pull up and chin up cues
18:55 – Barbell row and dumbbell row cues
Mentioned on the Show:
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Hello, and welcome to Muscle For Life. I am your host, Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today to learn about weightlifting cues. Now, I know I recorded an episode on weightlifting cues several months ago, and it did well. I got a lot of good. Feedback on it. And so I thought I would do another one because in that original episode, I only talked about three exercises.
I talked about the squat, the deadlift, and the bench press. And in this episode I’m gonna share effective cues for the front squat. For the overhead press, for the pull up and Chinup and for the barbell row, several of my other favorite exercises. Also, if you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my health and fitness books, including the number one best selling weightlifting books for men and women in the world.
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All right. Let’s start with a quick definition of terms. What is a cue? It’s really just the dictionary definition. It’s something that prompts you to do something. And in terms of weightlifting or really any athletic activity, a cue is a simple idea that helps you do the movement pattern. Correctly.
For example, I shared this cue in the first episode that I recorded for the deadlift, and that is to imagine you are squeezing oranges or tennis balls in your armpits, and that’s gonna help you engage your lots and it’s gonna help you get your shoulders and your torso in the right position for the poll.
Now, cues that you use for weightlifting or any physical activity really can be categorized in two ways. They can be internal or external. Cue. Internal cues direct your attention toward what you’re doing with your body. So maybe something like push through your heels when you’re squatting. You’ve probably heard that one.
Or brace your core when you are overhead. Pressing external cues, on the other hand, they direct your attention toward how your movements are. Impacting something in your environment. So maybe push the floor away from you when you’re deadlifting or squatting. That’s a good one. Or break the bar in half when you’re bench pressing.
And that may seem pedantic. It may seem like I am splitting hairs unnecessarily, but research shows that external cues are far superior to internal ones when you want to learn new skills faster. For example, studies show that external cues help you produce more force. They help you perform more reps, they help you learn proper technique faster.
They can improve balance, they can increase your time to failure and decrease your perceived effort. How hard a set feels can go down with the right external cues and they can also increase agility and all that is why studies have found that. Using an external focus. So using external cues is superior to internal focus or internal cues, and that’s been shown in a number of activities.
It’s been shown in weightlifting, of course, but also football, basketball, soccer, golf, figure skating, dart throwing, . Yes, there is research on external cues and dart throwing. Now if you want. External cues as effective as possible. You want to do a few things. One, you wanna make these cues short. They need to be simple, six words or less.
They have to be easy to remember, and they have to be easy to repeat in your head as you are performing an exercise, and especially as it starts to get hard. You want to start cues with a verb. They need to be active. Statements, drive, crush, explode, something that directly relates to what you want to happen, how you want to move.
What you should avoid is starting with a modifier, like quickly push or a noun like the bar should be under your eyes. Again, you wanna start with an active verb that colorfully. Describes what you’re trying to do. And my third tip for better external cues is to only focus on one thing at a time, one cue at a time.
If you try to combine two or three or more cues, it’s gonna dilute your focus and it’s gonna mess up your movement patterns. Now internal cues are not entirely useless. External cues are better, but internal cues can be helpful if you have already mastered proper technique for an exercise or any other athletic movement.
And research shows that at that. Point. The right internal cues can help you fine tune other aspects of your technique and help you get even a little bit better at what you’re doing, but make sure that you focus on those external cues first. For most people, it’s probably the first six to 12 months of learning a new exercise or learning a new movement pattern.
If you are one of those people, you are going to get a lot more from external cues than internal cues. But if you are a veteran weightlifter and Form on exercises is pretty damn good. And that means you have videoed yourself and you have scrutinized the video and you know that you know what you’re doing.
And especially when you get deeper into sets, because that’s normally how it progresses when you’re brand new, your form is a bit wonky from rep one to the final rep of every set, right? But then as you. Better. The first half of each set is looking pretty good, but then as it starts to get harder, your knees start to cave in a little bit.
When you’re squatting, your lower back starts to round a little bit. When you’re dead lifting, your elbows start to flare a little bit. When you’re. Bench pressing. And then finally, as you get even better at the exercises, you’re able to maintain really good form throughout the entirety of every set. And you want to focus on external cues until you reach that point.
But once you get there, you’ll find that you don’t need the external cues anymore. You naturally just stop paying attention to them. And again, if you go on camera at least once every. Couple of weeks, which I would recommend doing at least on the big exercises, and do it from a couple of angles and without thinking about those external cues.
If your form is just really grooved in, then you can get a little bit more performance usually out of incorporating some internal cues. For example, when you are good at squatting, you can boost your performance a little bit by simply thinking, explode. That is the idea, right? When you’re at the bottom of the squat, when you’re in the hole, and you have to move through that sticking point as you come up the hardest stretch of the exercise.
Okay, so that’s it for the preamble on weightlifting cues. Let’s get to the cues themselves, and let’s start with the front squat. First. Cue touch the ceiling with your elbows, and this can help prevent your elbows dropping, because if your elbows start to point down at the floor throughout any point of the rep, the bar is gonna start sliding down your shoulders.
Your torso is going to start tipping forward, and you are going to have to. Energy to get yourself back into the proper position. And if you’re deeper into a set and the weight is particularly heavy, you may not be able to, You may have to end the set there. So again, the cue is touching the ceiling with your elbows or touching your elbows to the ceiling, if that communicates better to you or is clearer to you.
And you’ll find it particularly helpful when you’re standing up because that’s often when the elbows want to. Okay, let’s move on to the second cue, which is grip the floor. And this can help you prevent tipping forward or feeling like you may fall forward. It can also help your stability and help your balance so you don’t feel unsteady throughout the exercise, throughout each set and during each rep of each set.
And the idea here is to try to grip the floor with your big toe, your pinky toe. Heal like you are an eagle grabbing your prey. And what you will probably notice if you do that is it helps you ensure that the bar moves straight up and down, which is what you want. You don’t want it moving toward or away from you at all.
Just straight up and down. And it will also help keep the bar over your center of gravity, and that of course, is gonna help you. More stable and that’s gonna help you lift heavier weights and get more reps with your working weights and progress that much faster. Okay, the third cue here is to look at the ceiling.
Now, why is that important? Because if you look down mid rep, especially as you are, Just beginning to stand up. Your elbows are almost certainly going to drop down. And again, as they point toward the floor, instead of staying straight out in front of you, the bar’s gonna start to slip and your torso’s gonna start to tip and you’re gonna have to adjust.
And it’s awkward and you may not be able to, You may have to end the set. There. So generally speaking, wherever your eyes are looking, your body is gonna follow. And if you remember to look at the ceiling, it just reminds you to gaze upward. You don’t have to literally look at the ceiling, of course, and that’s gonna help keep your elbows high, and that’s gonna keep the bar in its proper position.
And that means better posture, better efficiency in your movement, more strength and more comfort. So again, don’t look directly up at the ceiling, but just tilt your head back a little bit so you can see some part of the ceiling when you’re looking.
If you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my health and fitness books, including the number one best selling weightlifting books for men and women in the world. Bigger, lean, stronger, and thinner, Leaner, Stronger, as well as the leading flexible dieting cookbook, the shredded.
Okay, let’s move on and talk about the next exercise. I have three cues for the overhead press, and I should probably say an overhead press because these cues will help for any type of overhead pressing, whether it’s seated or standing, or barbell or dumbbell. So let’s start here with this first cue, and that is to push your head through the window, and this helps you avoid the mistake of pushing the bar or the dumbbells too far in front of your.
And the reason that is a problem is it feels awkward because now the weight is no longer over your center of gravity, and now you have to waste energy to bring the weight back over your center of gravity, which you are going to do instinctively. So to execute this queue properly, let’s talk about the barbell first because it is most useful with barbell pressing, but it is useful with dumbbell pressing as well.
So what you wanna do is as soon as the bar is over your forehead, You want to push your head under it between your arms, that’s the window that you’re pushing your head through, and by doing that it will help keep the bar over your center of gravity so it’s gonna feel stable and you are going to feel strong in that position.
But it will also help you maintain tightness in your shoulders and your upper back, and that’s important for performing. Optimally on this exercise, it’ll help align your body so your hands, shoulders, hips, and feet. If you’re standing, are all stacked on top of each other, which again, maximizes performance.
You will be able to lift the most weight that way, and you’ll be able to get the most reps with your working weight that way. Now, if you’re pressing dumbbells, of course you can keep your. Head in this proper position throughout each rep because you don’t have a bar that gets in the way. When you have a bar, of course you have to move your head a little bit back.
You have to tilt it a little bit back to allow it to clear, and then you can put your head into the optimal position. When you are pressing dumbbells, you just want to remember to keep your head in the window so you don’t. Push it through the window like you do at the barbell, but you have to keep your head in the window.
Okay? The next cue is to throw the bar or the dumbbells into the ceiling. And this can help if you tend to fail reps somewhere between eye level and the top of your forehead, or if you struggle a lot toward the end of your sets during that difficult portion of the rep and. The reason why that particular range of the exercise is really hard, it’s just a couple of inches, is that’s just an inherently weakened position because your elbows are not stacked over your shoulders, your wrists aren’t stacked over your elbows.
So a good way to work through that sticking point is to just create a. A lot of momentum as you start each wrap. So if you’re pressing a bar off of your shoulders, explode that bar upward, throw it into the ceiling. Same thing goes with dumbbells. Of course, the bar is not resting on your shoulders or your upper chest, but as you start each wrap of dumbbell pressing, you want to throw those dumbbells into the ceiling and that will encourage you to.
Quickly and forcefully and build up that momentum that will help take the weight up to the top. The next cue is to squeeze your glutes simple. But if you relax your lower body when you’re overhead pressing, you are going to have a harder time vi You’re gonna have to waste energy trying to maintain your posture throughout each rep.
And of course, that is most applicable to standing pressing. But this queue does help with seated pressing as well. And when you’re standing. If you squeeze your glutes, it just helps bring your body into alignment. Like I mentioned earlier, you want your hips over your feet, your shoulders over your hips, your hands over your shoulders, and that improves your stability and it improves your performance.
How much weight you can lift, and how much you can do with. You’re working weights, and if you’re wondering why this is an internal and not external queue, it’s simply because it’s a good one. It does work well, but if you wanted to turn it into an external queue, you could imagine you’re trying to pinch a credit card or some other.
Small object of your choice between your butt cheeks. Okay, let’s move on to our next exercises, and they are the pull up and the chin up, which are two of the best upper body exercises you can do for gaining muscle and strength, and particularly for your pulling muscles. Of course, your biceps in your back.
So the first cue is to smash your. Into the bar and where this can be particularly helpful is at the top, and that is where the hardest part of each rep is. That’s the sticking point of the chinup and the pull up is when you are getting toward the. Top of the rep and you’re trying to get your chin over the bar, and a good way to get around that difficulty is similar to what I shared with the overhead pressing.
Just imagine pulling yourself up with enough force to smash your chest in the bar, explode upward. Attack each rep, and that may sound d. But you are not going to actually smash your chest into the bar. You may not even touch your chest to the bar. Another cue that helps here is to slam your elbows into the floor.
You can try both of those and see which one works best for you or just appeals most to you. Another cue here is to stay tight, simple, but this is useful because as you get deeper into a set and the exercise starts to get hard, you tend to swing your legs and use momentum, and that just reduces the effectiveness of the exercise.
What you can do instead then is brace your core, arch your back, squeeze your glutes, stay tight, keep everything tight while you’re doing your pull ups in your chin-ups, and that will help prevent you from swinging. It’s gonna help you not use momentum to make your reps easier. It’s gonna force your back and your arms to continue doing most of the work.
And it’s also gonna reduce how much energy you waste keeping your body from swinging if you loosen a lot of the muscles in your body. That are not being actively trained by the exercise, it’s actually harder to prevent swinging. And then what usually happens when you start to swing is you waste energy overcompensating to try to stop the swing.
It costs less energy to just stay tight core, tight back tight, glutes tight, and that will translate to better performance. And this, by the way, is a good example of the weightlifting maxim, or really just athletics maxim, if you’ve heard it. Tighter, is lighter. There’s a lot of truth in that. Okay, my next queue for chin ups and pullups is to do a reverse shrug.
And this can be particularly helpful if you struggle to actually feel your back and your lots in particular working when you’re doing chin ups and pullups, if you feel it mostly in your biceps, for example. And so what you wanna do here is at the bottom of each rep, you want to lower yourself so that your shoulders are rising up to your ears and you’re in a dead hang position.
Before you actually start the rep, you wanna do a reverse shrug. You wanna pull your shorter blades together and you wanna pull them down and then finish your rep, and it’s gonna look like a smooth motion when you do it correctly. It may not look any different from how most people do pulps and chins, but it is a little point of technique that can make a big difference in activating the la.
Okay. The last exercises I want to help you with are the barbell row and the dumbbell row, two of my favorite horizontal pulling exercises, the chinup and the pullup vertical pulling, and the barbell and dumbbell horizontal pulling. And a little programming tip is you wanna be doing, Both in your workouts, you don’t want to be doing just one, at least not for extended periods of time.
I do a couple of pulling sessions per not pulling sessions. I do a couple, let’s say rounds of pulling per week because I’m following my beyond bigger, leaner, stronger program, which is a combination of some push pull legs and some whole body. It doesn’t exactly conform to one split or another, but in a couple of the upper body focused workouts, I’m doing some pushing as well.
Pulling, and in one case it’s vertical pulling. In another case it’s horizontal pulling. All right, let’s get to the cues. So the first cue here is to slam your elbows into the ceiling. And this is helpful for the same reason that the exploding upward sensation in the chinup and the pull up and the overhead press is helpful because it helps you.
To the top of the rep and a barbell row and a dumbbell row. Those exercises are most difficult when you’re at your weakest, and that’s gonna be toward the end when the bar or the dumbbell are just a few inches from your torso. And you can’t change the physics, but you can lift more explosively, you can generate as much.
Force in the beginning of each rep as possible, and that can help you get through the sticking point. And so this cue here of slamming your elbows into the ceiling, of course if you’re dumbbell rowing, it’s probably one at a time. So it’d be elbow if your barbell, it’s elbows that can help you get that weight moving explosively.
And it can help you engage your mid traps and that can help you lift a bit more weight and get a bit more performance out of each set. Another rep or two maybe with your working weights. Okay. The next queue here is mostly applicable to the barbell row, but it can help with the dumbbell row as well, depending on how you set up and just depending on your physiology and your biomechanics, and that is to drive your.
Feet into the floor, and that helps you pop the weight off the floor when you’re barbell rowing. And that’s what you want to do just before you initiate the pole from the floor. You want to remind yourself to drive your feet in the floor, and that helps you extend your legs a little bit and explode up and build that momentum that you need to complete each rep.
And that’s. Improper form, by the way, You should have a little bit of leg extension at the beginning of each barbell row rep, and that helps pop the bar off the ground. Again, that queue is mostly relevant to the barbell row. Let’s move on now to the next one, which is to push your chest into the floor.
And this is, Not to make the exercise easier, it actually makes the exercise a little bit harder because it forces you to use proper form. It helps you prevent the mistake of whipping your upper body upward to help move the weight. So you wanna do is as you start to pull the barbell or the dumbbell towards your torso, you wanna imagine that you’re pushing your.
Toward the floor. So you don’t want to be leaning backward, or at least not more than maybe an inch or so. You want to use your lats, you wanna use your back muscles, you wanna use your biceps to lift the weight. You don’t want to use momentum. All right. That’s it for this episode. I hope you enjoyed it and found it interesting and helpful.
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And that’s it. Thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.
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