I have been taking group exercise classes for 20 years and teaching them for eleven (seventeen if you include teaching dance!). Teaching exercise is a beautiful marriage of my love of language and my love of movement.
Yes, language is so important to movement.
A class I took recently reminded me of this, as the instructor said several things that I found not helpful and perhaps even harmful. It got me thinking about cues that I have eradicated from my teaching script. Here are five of them.
5 Cues I Never Say When Teaching Exercise
“Work off your weekend!”
Guilt talk about food makes my heart ache. In my book, guilty feelings about food are the least productive, most harmful approach to “diet and exercise”.
“Straighten your back”
A strong, healthy, beautiful back has two strong, healthy, beautiful curves (three if you are speaking of the whole spine). What you will hear me saying (a lot!):
“Lengthen your spine”
“Support your back by engaging your abdominal in towards your center like a corset”.
“Pin your shoulders back and down”
Ugh, do people really still think this is good for them?
Pulling your shoulder blades “back and down” overengages your upper and mid-back muscles while overstretching your chest, in other words, puts you in a position that is not neutral, functional, or balanced.
The correct neutral alignment for the shoulders (especially with any type of load baring activity, like push ups, planks, and all weight lifting) is a broad upper back with the shoulder blades wrapping wide around the ribs. In general, the shoulder musculature is most stable* and working most effectively when the scapula are “flush” to the ribs, no winging, poking, or protruding of any of the scapula bones.
*Mobility in shoulder blades and joint is also crucial for a healthy ‘girdle but this cue is specifically addressing stability for exercises.
“Do (fill in the the blank) for me!/Give Me More…”
It’s your workout my friend, it’s really not about me. Do it for yourself! Give yourself five more! 🙂 Or, rest if it’s time for a rest (see my next “no-no” cue).
“Don’t give up”
I am all for pushing yourself past the point of “comfortable” but please stop before you push past your limits. When your form starts to fail you it is time to rest or perhaps modify. This is not giving up, this is working your edge but not going past it. This is respecting your body and recognizing that your experience is wholly unique; it’s not the same experience of the instructor or the dude next to you. A good trainer/instructor can correct form, offer advice and suggestions for modifications and progressions, and encourage you to work hard, they cannot feel what’s going on in your body.
What cues do you love and which do you loathe from exercise instructors? I’d love to hear your thoughts, it will help me improve my workouts and my teaching!
Whether you’re working out in the woods, in the living room in your pj’s, or in a group class I encourage you to listen to focus on form, listen to your body, and enjoy the process! Happy moving!