Cueing and Feedback: Science or Art – Does it Matter?

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Cueing and Feedback: Science or Art – Does it Matter?

by Gregory Hess and Mark Rippetoe
| May 02, 2023

The Coaching Eye, presented by Dr. Stef Bradford, details
what constitutes an actual coach. An authentic coach is presented as
an individual who understands a movement model and can quickly
correct any movement pattern errors. This ability to correct movement
patterns stems from the coach’s understanding of the basic movement
model and personal experience with the movement patterns, which
constitute a “filter” through which movements are evaluated and
then corrected.

Within the theory of the coaching eye,
the motor cortex is activated through the coach’s interpretation of
the performer and the coach’s personal experience with the
movement. The trainee’s movement is compared to both a movement model
and the coach’s understanding of the executed movement. For a barbell
coach, experience under the bar as a lifter and dedicated coaching
permit strategies and cues to develop within the coach’s repertoire
of feedback interventions.

A dedicated amount of time, trial and
error, and progress under the bar should be accumulated by the coach.
These experiences provide the prerequisite background understanding
and framework for quick, quality feedback for lifters.


The actual movement signals that cause
an athlete to correct a part or parts of a movement pattern are
referred to as cues.
Cues may be considered as reminders of what the performer
should be doing or thinking about during the execution of a skill,
based on previous instruction and correction. Appropriate usage of
cues is contingent on an established understanding of the meaning of
the cue between the coach and performer. Cues should be kept concise
to result in appropriate movement outcomes; cues must be given
correctly to avoid over-cueing and confusion. (One underappreciated
reason that the power clean is an important lift is that it takes
place in a little over 1 second, and there is no time for cueing
within the movement itself. Cues have to be given before the pull,
and both lifter and coach have to think clearly about the movement

Strength coaches typically develop
favorite cues for specific movement goals and movement errors.
Rippetoe defined two distinct varieties of cues for the barbell
coach. Body cues reference part of the body or a specific part
of the intended movement. In the motor learning domain, these can be
identified as “internal cues” for the individual. Bar cues
reference the object – the barbell itself – being lifted. The
motor learning sources identify these as cues “external” to the
individual. Despite the coach’s preference for the type of cue
being utilized, a quality coach will attempt to individualize cues to
optimize the performer’s movement. Some lifters respond better to
body or internal cues, while others may respond better to bar or
external cues.

These two types of cues cause us to
question whether one or the other are the most effective and
efficient way to provide lifters with feedback. Should one version of
cueing be prioritized during barbell training? This brief overview
attempts to associate the motor learning definitions with the
established bar and body cues for basic barbell training.

As previously mentioned, internal cues
(body cues) direct the lifter’s attention to the individual
components of the kinetic chain involved in the movement – the
lifter’s body itself. External cues (bar cues) call the lifter’s
attention to the resultant goal of the movement pattern with the bar,
and are thought to provide new learners more autonomy in completing
tasks. The portion of the kinesiology and exercise science-paper
industry aimed at investigating these concepts employs methods that
utilize tasks that are not genuinely trainable, in the sense
of long-term incremental progress, and are not directly applicable to
barbell work. Examples include but are not limited to standing long
jumps, vertical jumps, agility tests, and ball tosses. Despite most
of these investigators having no concept or appreciation for the Two Factor Model of Sports Performance,
there appear to be a few concepts from this area that may be useful,
or at least interesting, for a barbell coach.

Constrained Action Hypothesis

A cornerstone of the motor learning
material is the Constrained Action Hypothesis. This holds that when a
performer or lifter focuses on the end-state effects of a movement,
it permits motor actions to occur “automatically.” This
hypothesis implies that focusing on the constituent parts of the
kinetic chain of a movement pattern may interfere with conscious
control and accuracy of the performance. This is especially true of exercises where the bar is in the hands: deadlifts, cleans, presses,
and bench presses – “Keep the bar closer to your shirt
works better than a reference to the hips.

The squat is quite receptive to cues
specific to the hips, the chest, and the knees. Most people try to
squat with too vertical a back angle, and a body cue is effective for
correcting this – “Drive your ass up first, after you bounce
out of the hole.
” But for the other lifts, a correct bar cue is
very effective for allowing the lifter to solve the mechanical
problems by feeling the effects of changes in the bar position
relative to the mid-foot balance point and the gravity vector over
that point. “Start with the bar over the middle of your foot, and
then push the floor away from the bar. Keep it close to your

Guidance Hypothesis

Another related concept from motor
learning sources is the Guidance Hypothesis. This states that
performers may become overly dependent on, or too distracted by, too
much feedback, especially when the cueing is exceedingly specific. An
impairment in the natural and automatic movement patterns may occur
for the lifter if the coach inundates him with too many body cues
about pieces of the movement. If excessive cueing accumulates
to the level of micromanagement,
the lifter cannot pay any attention the movement pattern for
himself because he’s too busy listening to cues about separate pieces
of it, and not busy enough learning the flow of the whole movement.
The use of feedback works best when it is consistent, minimal, and
focused on the movement pattern components that require the most

Regarding coaching skilled movement,
the literature points to a few areas the barbell coach could
consider. First, the utilization of bar cues appeared to be superior
to body cues for the novice lifter, which may explain why the squat
is harder to coach to novice lifters. Second, the lifter’s maturity
level and ability to comprehend the cues provided must be considered
early on during training.

The constrained action hypothesis
appears to apply to both inexperienced and experienced lifters. The
utilization of bar cues can be prioritized by barbell coaches to
avoid higher-order motor programming interference. Additionally, the
barbell coach must take time to establish a relationship with each
lifter, so that a common vocabulary is created. By doing so, the
coach will learn about the lifter’s prior experiences and the
potential to receive regular feedback.

The motor learning concepts relating to
basic barbell training are intuitive – they must be applied by the
coach based upon the bridge between lifter and coach supplied by his
personal experience on both sides of the bar, and the real-time
nature of this interaction doesn’t permit a lot of analysis. No
amount of scholarly study or any unique teaching model can replace
the hours of experience the barbell coach accumulates on the
platform. This experience permits cues to be quickly and accurately
provided, one rep at a time. There may be a time and place to
prioritize a bar cue over a body cue, but proper feedback will always
come from a coach’s extensive history of training, teaching, and
observing the lifts.

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