Teaching Pilates is all about finding the right cue for each client in each exercise. I look at strategies to improve your verbal cuing, from recording yourself teaching, listening to other teachers' cues, changing your cue structure, cutting out the unnecessary stuff, and creating the atmosphere you want in your class through your cues. Tune in!
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[00:00:00] Welcome to Pilates Teachers' Manual, your guide to becoming a great Pilates teacher. I'm Olivia, and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and the Pilates community on Instagram at @pilatesteachersmanual and visit buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts to support the show. Today's chapter starts now.
Hello, hello everybody. Welcome back to the [00:01:00] podcast. This is my first time recording. In my new space, so it might sound a little bit different. Hoping it sounds close to the same, or at least fairly clear. Today's episode is about cuing and how to cue a little bit more clearly, a little bit more concisely perhaps, and just my general tips for cleaning up your cuing so that you can just lead your way through the exercises in superstar teacher fashion.
I definitely wouldn't call myself an expert at this and I also have room for improvement. So some of the tips that I'm going to be sharing with you are also tips that I'm reminding myself to follow. Cause I mean, without stressing, this is something that we can all keep working on and really work on improving for as long as we're teaching. Right? [00:02:00] You don't reach perfect cuing and then you don't have to think about it anymore.
If you really want a deep dive into queuing from a motor learning theory standpoint, I cannot recommend enough Chelsea Corley's What You Say Matters course through the Kinexology method. It really changed the way that I thought about cuing and giving feedback. So if you want to really deep dive, like a six week intensive, into not just cleaning up your cuing, but also cuing in a way that research has proven to help students learn movement. Um, really recommend that you check out that course. It is linked in the show notes.
I'm definitely going to be sharing some tips from things that I learned in her course, because that has had a profound impact on me. I know that Adam McAtee, he's [00:03:00] @adammcateepilates on Instagram. I'll link to him as well. He also has a motor learning theory cuing workshop that I think is about two hours that he's been offering occasionally. That also looks like a really cool way to again, make your cues not only more concise, but also in a research backed way, like ways to cue better. There are lots of really great resources out there, I think. Those are two of them.
Something that I really pride myself on is my ability to teach people who are brand new to Pilates. And I would say like, not to toot my own horn, but it is something that I'm really proud of that other clients have come up to me and said, you know, I want my friend to try Pilates and I told them to take your class because you really clearly cue not only the exercises, but also the transitions between the exercises. And so I never feel lost.
And I think that Pilates is complicated and the Pilates equipment [00:04:00] is complicated and the movements are compound and complex. Being able to break down those complicated things into bite sized pieces is a real skill and a real teacher superpower. It's something that is helpful to your students and will guarantee that people will enjoy your classes because they won't feel overwhelmed or lost.
So when we think about cuing, what is it? Right. So there's lots of different types of cuing. I'm going to be speaking mostly about verbal cuing, but there is also visual cuing, that's a demonstration, or touch queuing as well, but I'm going to be sticking with verbal cuing, which is probably what you're doing more of any way. I'm not currently offering touch cues. And I do try to keep demoing to a minimum. Again, because I've learned from Chelsea and others in motor learning theory. Land that [00:05:00] demonstrating isn't actually the best way to teach it is a great way to get someone in position if they're really not on the same wavelength as you, but in terms of them learning the movement. There are better ways for that than just you doing it next to them. Right?
So cuing is what we're saying or doing to get a client to perform an action. You're telling them what to do or showing them what to do. And that could be a Pilates exercise. It could be anything. You're giving instructions pretty much.
There are goals for your cuing. And definitely the primary goal is safety, right? We want our clients to be moving safely on the equipment, off the equipment, in the world. So safety is a concern. I would say that promoting autonomy is something you want to be thinking about as well, because you want them to execute the movement for themselves, not just for you. And then you're also cuing to refine their execution [00:06:00] of the movement and to offer a challenge. So I would say, I don't know if that's a textbook definition, but that's what I think about with cuing. I think about getting them to move safely, giving them, um, options, you know, giving them ways that they can make choices for themselves about the exercise and then refining it. You can give corrections definitely. And then also offer challenge. Right?
I would say, if you're interested in cuing and if you're thinking, Oh, I do need to work on my cuing or you're thinking, Oh, I don't need to work on my cuing. I would really recommend recording yourself teach. And this is something that you do almost weekly and Chelsea's course, and it was really transformative for me to just see what you're doing that is great, and what you're doing that isn't great. You get to see not only what you're saying, but also your body language and your tone. How clear are you if you're teaching in a mask, like, are students able to hear you and understand what you're saying? [00:07:00] If they can hear you, do they know what you mean when you say things, right? If you recorded yourself teaching a class, could you take your own class and, you know, follow along?
It may seem awkward at first and you'll be like hyper-aware of the fact that the camera's there, but it's really important to see what habits you have and what kind of patterns you have in your teaching. What words do you repeat? And we all have words or phrases that we repeat a bunch. And it just really gives you a starting point to look at. And also because we don't always remember what we said, sometimes you say something awesome. And then you're trying to tell someone what it was and you're like, I forgot, or you really stumbled over something and you want to- it's, it's good. Record yourself. And then you'll definitely learn a few things for sure.
When I think about bare bones cuing, like the building blocks of what our cues are, I would say that it's [00:08:00] important to name the exercise, especially if you're doing like a classical Pilates exercise or more traditional exercise, because you want your students to begin to make an association between when you say down stretch and then what the body position is, what the exercise is. So you want to tell them what the exercise is, so that they can build that connection.
You want to get them into the starting position for that exercise, and that means cuing them through the transition. In my opinion, transitions are parts of the exercise. So if we just did footwork or bridging or we're supine in some way on the reformer, and now we're going to do down stretch, you need to tell them how to get there.
Of course, in more advanced classes, you may not need to tell them how to get there. You might just say, you know, roll up to seated. We're doing down stretch and your students could be like, ah, yes, down stretch. And I'm sure also, if you're a classical teacher, they probably also know the choreography, especially if they've been doing it for a long [00:09:00] time. They've internalized a lot of that, but yeah, you want to give them a chance to start thinking about it before you're telling them.
But again, also for people who don't know what down stretch is, you want to get them into the position, into the starting position, cue the action and make it an action. And that action is like, what do you want them to do? Like give them some verbs of things, like push the bar away. You might say like, Oh, well that's such a simple cue. And it's like, yeah, we're not trying to confuse them. We want them to do a thing. And then from there we can talk about refining it and, you know, thumb with your fingers or straighten your arms or draw your shoulders on your back, like whatever you're refining.
Whatever you're seeing them do that's what's going to shape what your next cue is, depending on what they do to begin with. Right? If they're already drawing their shoulders down their back, you don't need to tell them to do that. Right. They are already doing [00:10:00] it so you can tell them something else. Or you can say nothing. You don't have to talk the whole time. Um, which is also, I think something kind of revolutionary. You can just let them move and then, you know, jump in when you see something.
For really complicated movements and complicated exercises. You definitely want to break it down into smaller pieces and then build on those pieces. So if you were going to take something like coordination, maybe if it was an advanced class, I would say, okay, now we're doing coordination and then they would just do it. And that would be cool. But if it's like maybe an intermediate class or it's a mixed level class or. You know, the great thing about, you know, building the exercise is that you are giving people options as part of building the exercise.
So for something like coordination on the reformer, we might start supine arms, hands in straps doing a tricep press, [00:11:00] and you can stay with the tricep press, or you can add a chest lift, or you can straighten your legs when you straighten your arms. And maybe from there you say, okay, if you want to take it into full coordination, hold arms long, legs long, open close the legs, knees bend first, arms bend second. You know, something like that. You can make that exercise, like already have options within it.
And it builds in the challenge because you've given people places to push themselves. Like just in that exercise, you've given three different ways of doing it. And you might have people doing all three different ways. People just doing the tricep press with legs and tabletop people, straightening the arms and legs together, and then people who are doing full coordination. And that's awesome. That's like, fantastic. That's the dream.
I also recommend in addition to recording yourself, that you listen to what other teachers are saying, whether you're watching their classes online or you're taking classes at the studio [00:12:00] or at something like Momentum Fest, which is coming up in, Oh my gosh. It's the end of April. It's practically May. So that's coming up in just a couple months.
Pilates Teachers' Manual podcast is sponsoring Momentum Fest this year. And if you're looking for a place to check out some incredible expert master teachers and their cuing, I mean, that's a great place to take a bunch of classes with a bunch of really cool people and hear what they have to say about the exercises that you also teach all the time. From that perspective, it's a great way of like continuing education, whether it's for credit or not. You will definitely improve as a teacher the more you hear amazing teachers say awesome things, you know, cause cues are meant to be shared.
So if you're interested in checking out Momentum Fest, that's happening June 25th through 27th. It's happening in person in Colorado and also virtually. You can check out tickets and see the full schedule. I think they just released it. That's available [00:13:00] online at momentumfest.com. Check it out.
Coming up after the break, I'm going to share with you some things to avoid, I think, in your cuing and also ways to use invitational and empowering language, because what you say matters and so does how you say it. That's coming up after the break.
Hi there. I hope you're enjoying today's chapter so far. There's great stuff coming up after the break, too. Be sure to subscribe wherever you're listening and visit buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts to support the show. There you can make a one-time donation or become a member for as little as $5 a month.
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I've definitely done some work around a trauma informed approach to teaching Pilates and I'm just going to share with you some things that I try to avoid in my cues and when I'm teaching, because I don't think that there is really a benefit to approaching things this way.
And so one thing I try to avoid is gendered language where I don't cue saying, Oh, you know, roll up to your bra strap or something in bridge, or greeting people as, Hey ladies. You know, students haven't told me their [00:15:00] pronouns all the time and I'm not going to make assumptions. I also don't want to get into a habit of cuing things in a way that's like only directed at women because I can imagine how uncomfortable that might be if you were a guy in class and people kept telling you that Pilates was for men too. And then you took this class and the teacher says, like, to get your body bikini ready or something. And yeah, I don't see the point of doing that.
I avoid any violent imagery or violent language and things like, you know, push someone away, even like the punching stuff. I try. Yeah. I try to avoid that as well. While it's not particularly triggering for me, I can imagine that if you ever had an experience in which you were attacked and then being told to push someone away. There's other ways to communicate what I'd like you to do.
I don't make comments about [00:16:00] my students' bodies and I definitely don't make any shaming comments. Uh, weight loss is kind of a hot button issue because you know, people will come in very excitedly and say, Oh my gosh, I lost 20 pounds. And what I'll usually do is ask them like, how do you feel? Because if you feel great, that's amazing, but if you lost 20 pounds because you've been in the hospital for two weeks and you've been, you know, only eating liquids, like that's also not great. So yeah, I try not to attach a judgment to weight loss that's positive or negative, but I let them tell me, you know, how they're feeling about it.
And body shaming comments in terms of like, you know, you're doing arm exercises, like let's blast that arm fat. I've heard before. I'm like, that's not my style. Well, I'd say, um, I want students to feel really empowered and able to explore. And I don't think blasting your arm fat is a cue that is useful to me.
I really try to avoid [00:17:00] calling things easy or hard, advanced or beginner, or calling things modifications. I don't even call things level one, level two, unless I'm literally referring to exercises that you would do in a level two class because that's how the studio I teach at characterizes their exercises. Yeah. I just don't make value judgments about an exercise.
I try to use very invitational language or say things like if you've got gas in the tank, or if you've got some extra bandwidth, then you may want to add on this other thing. But I want it to be an option the same way I would say, you know, if something doesn't feel quite right here, you might take your feet from the foot bar to the platform when you're bridging for a little more stability.
And so the idea is that you're letting the student make the choice. I would like more stability, or I would like to try this other thing. Very strongly encourage that you choose what feels right in your [00:18:00] body. Not that you have to do this because this is the hard one. You know what I mean?
You may see what I'm sharing here that like, wow, that's really overkill or you're being way too sensitive. I mean, I would much rather be sensitive than turn someone off to Pilates or my classes because I was cavalier in my language choice. Like what you say does matter how you say it matters as well. I want my students to try things and not worry about being perfect or being judged by me or anyone in the class. So that's the kind of space that I'm attempting to create. And I talk a lot in the class, so I want to make sure that my words are also in alignment with that.
Some studios want you to cue anatomy and cue the muscles. We know from motor learning theory and research that naming the muscles does not help students execute and exercise any more accurately or better. So, if [00:19:00] you do teach at a studio, that's like, Oh no, you gotta name body parts, you gotta name some muscles. I usually use them as a secondary cue. I will tell them what to do and very concrete action words. Do this. For footwork, you know, straighten the legs, push the foot bar away, press the legs straight. I mean, I can talk about your quadriceps engaging, but you know, telling someone to engage their quadriceps, like that's not going to help them necessarily, but it might be, um, thing that you throw in, again, as I said, like as a secondary cue.
Like, I told you to press your leg straight. And then with your exhale, bend your knees- like I can still name body parts- to bring the carriage back towards the bar. You know, feel your hamstrings, pulling the bar in. Can you feel the back of the thigh?
Because what I feel in terms of the muscle cuing is that, if you're a person who doesn't know what your hamstrings are. And as Pilates teachers, [00:20:00] we know what hamstrings are, but the general public may not know what all of these little muscles or big muscles or any muscles are in our bodies. And you just don't need to like unnecessarily complicate something that's already complicated. You can use it as another teaching idea, but in terms of executing the exercise, it's not the most important thing. It's not as important as getting them moving safely.
In terms of refining their movement and giving feedback, that's really where you shine as a teacher. And that's what separates you from a Pilates DVD, because a recording can tell you how to move, but as a teacher, you are looking at the students, seeing how they're moving, seeing where an imbalance is, where something, you know, isn't the way it, you know, quote should be, and then you are giving them a correction, in a very supportive way.
Like it's called negative feedback in the research because you're [00:21:00] telling them that they're doing something wrong, like in the loosest terms. But that negative feedback is really a positive thing because that's where you're giving them options to change how they're moving or to move differently or to try it in another way.
And when you frame it in this really invitational. You know, okay, we're doing standing lunges next to the reformer or scooter lunges, I've heard them called as well. And you would like them to keep their knee over their ankle on their standing leg. And they are straightening their leg as they're pressing back so it's more of like the hamstring stretch. You can say, you know, how would it feel if you bent into your standing knee and pressed back, keeping your knee over your ankle? Like you can frame it in a way that is invitational, or you can make it even shorter, more succinct to the point, you know, bend your knee as you press the carriage out something along those lines, you know.
It's like [00:22:00] you cue exercises all day long and I feel like I'm on the spot and be like, well, how would you say that? Um, you could say it an infinite number of ways, but when you make it an invitation and you give them the option to do it, I think that that's a really great thing you can do for your students. Like really the art of teaching Pilates is giving this feedback, giving these corrections.
And my suggestions for you on that point would be to simplify the correction so that you're giving them almost another movement cue. You're giving them another directive to bend your knee or to pull the shoulders down the back. You're telling them to do something instead of not do something. So, in that case for that lunge, if you're saying, you know, don't straighten your leg, it's not as helpful as telling them to bend their knees. Like, what do you do in the absence of that thing that you just told them to not do, right? Give them something to do, try to frame it positively in that regard.
And then pick one thing [00:23:00] to correct. I think that's where we start to like overwhelm people, because then we start like running through a checklist. You know, you just like from the top of the head to the soles of their feet, start giving them corrections on everything. That's a lot. I would say, pick what is the most important thing or pick one thing that you've been working on if there's a theme in your class, you know, like let's talk about it. And just talk about that so they don't feel bombarded.
Because we want our students to learn and we learn a little bit at a time and every class has dozens of exercises in it. So if you give just one correction, for each exercise, that's already a ton, you know. And the ideas that we're going to learn over time and we're going to explore together over time. And I think that's really where the fun is. You know, it's a longterm adventure. I hope that that helped, or at least gave you some ideas about cuing.
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Thanks for listening to this week's chapter of Pilates Teachers' Manual, your guide to becoming a great Pilates teacher. Check out the podcast Instagram at @pilatesteachersmanual and be sure to subscribe wherever you listen. For more Pilates goodness, check out my other podcast, Pilates Students' Manual, available everywhere you listen to podcasts. The adventure continues. Until next time.