Cueing is a special skill that fitness instructors use to guide their students through a workout. The goal is to get the students to follow with precision for a safe and effective workout that will ultimately give them a sense of achievement and personal satisfaction.
When training instructors about the importance of good cueing skills, I like to use the analogy of driving a car with friends following in separate vehicles. Most of us have experienced this before; if not as the lead car, then probably as one of the following cars.
In the lead car, it is important for a driver not to drive in a way that is most comfortable and pleasing to him only. He must drive in a way that is most comfortable and pleasing to the people attempting to follow him. In other words, the lead car driver might prefer to drive faster, or change lanes more frequently, but when people are following, this way of driving could cause them to get lost.
In order not to loose the followers, the lead driver may choose a less complicated route to get to the destination. Sometimes that less complicated route may take longer to reach the destination or even be further in miles, but it’s worth it just to keep everyone together. This is also the analogy I use for training instructors in proper transitional skills.
There is so much more to cueing than an instructor saying what he or she wants the students to do, in time for them to do it. Instructors must also consider the music, the words to use and not to use, the timing of each cue, the accuracy of each word, and the consistency of it all. Let’s begin with music.
MUSIC & THE CUE SPOT
An instructor must have a basic understanding of music. A class can consist of any kind of music and any kind of workout style, but the instructor’s ability to work in unison with music is vital to the success of the group fitness workout.
Songs are made up of beats. These beats are organized in little packages of 8, called phrases. Group fitness music is specifically mixed together to create continuously consistent phrases of 8 beats. Within each 8-beat phrase there is a location for the instructor to cue. That location to cue is on beat 5, and I call it the “cue spot.” If you were to count out loud it would sound like this “1, 2, 3, 4, cue, 6, 7, 8.” This does not mean an instructor must cue on the cue spot within every 8-beat phrase; it only means that the option is there in case the instructor chooses to use it.
Beat 5 is the most accurate spot to cue for this reason: if the instructor cues on beat 5, the students will hear it on beat 6; they will comprehend it on beat 7; and finally they will send the message to their legs on beat 8, in preparation to begin the next move on beat 1. The greatest challenge for the instructor is to think of what to say before beat 5 and then to hold off on performing the new movement until beat 1. It’s an organized coordination, like riding a bike or driving a car, that anyone can learn to do, but it takes practice. Knowing how to do it is not enough. It must be physically practiced - a lot!
As an instructor, the words that you choose to cue must be clear, to the point, and consistent. Cues must never be suggestions, questions, or sentences. They are polite, yet energetic commands. Each word must be easy to understand and must accurately match the movement it is describing. For example, if you are squatting, call it a “squat.” If you are doing a step touch, call it a “step touch.” If you are doing alternating knee lifts on your step, don’t call them “alternates”; call them “knee lifts.” Then be consistent every single time you use those terms. Your students will appreciate the consistency.
Another important factor in cueing is that the words you use are said in the appropriate order. I have found that students follow more precisely if they hear the leg movement first, and the direction, rhythm, and/or style variations last. If you want them to do a “grapevine” then say “grapevine.” Instructors should never say “take it to a grapevine.” As you might imagine, by the time they hear the most important word “grapevine” it will be too late to perform it on time. Likewise, if you want your students to do a step touch moving forward, then say “step touch move forward.” Instructors should never say “move forward step touch.” The most important words “step touch” would be heard too late.
Finally, I can’t over-emphasize the importance of consistency with all instructor skills. If you begin your class by showing your students that you will cue on time, use accurate words, and use them in the proper order, your students will remember this and begin to rely on that consistency. If you are consistent, your students will feel successful, and you will be praised. If you are not, your students will become frustrated and discouraged. First impressions are important. Your students will try to figure you out in the first 5 minutes, so show them your best, and then be consistent!