Some of these cues are as old as lifting weights.  Some of these cues are meant with good intention, while others are just something I think the coach or trainer made up to sound good while they yell across the gym with their chest puffed out.

1. When cueing a squat and/or deadlift, “look up”- This is a cue I first heard while taking a weight training class in high school, and I continue to hear today. When this cue is given its generally meant with good intention but let’s take a look at a couple of things that happen when we “look up” while squatting and deadlifting.

  • Your cervical spine goes into hyper extension- because the cervical spine connects to the thoracic spine which in turn connects to the lumbar and pelvis, by messing up the alignment of one thing we could in turn create a laundry list of problems.
  • When we look up, our pelvis wants to naturally posterior tilt, and if you are sitting in the bottom of a squat or in the setup of a deadlift, a posterior tilted pelvis could make the lift a lot more difficult than it should be.
  • From cranking on the neck multiple things can happen other than the ones listed above:
  • Hyper extended lumbar
  • Valgus knees
  • Pronated feet or ankles collapsing in
  • The inability to breath properly, since the ribs could potentially be flared up.
  • If the spine is in a bad position, the shoulders can possibly be put in harm’s way

The list can go on and on. Instead of cueing both lifts with “look up”, cue the lift with a tucked chin, or neutral neck/spine. Depending on the lifter, I may even cue them to look to the floor, which is more natural to do in deadlifts, but I think it also has some positive carry over for some people when doing squats.

2. “Get Tight”- I don’t think this cue in its entirety is bad, I do think it is misunderstood and not explained. When people are performing squats, we often hear, “get tight” or “stay tight”, which is not a bad thing, but in my experience, I tend to find when people are given this cue, they tend to breathe in through their chest, puffing it out, and at this this point the air they just inhaled is sitting in their chest. A big inhaled, puffed out chest can lead to a big rib flare, and because the ribs attach to the spine, it will lead to lumbar extension.

Instead of just cueing “get tight”, be sure to explain where to get tight. Cue the inhale through the belly, and cue the “ribs down”. This will help create maximal tension in the torso, and keep the lower back safe.

3. “Push through your heels”– While I don’t mind this cue in things like hip thrust, glute bridges, or even quadruped hip hyperextensions, I hate it in the squat. It’s important to feel the whole foot in the squat, from your toes to your heels. While I think cueing someone to drive through the heels is meant with good intention, when most people hear this they don’t have sufficient balance to do the squat well. I have also found people tend to try to lower the weight with little to no pressure applied in the front of their foot. I have even seen a few people lift their toes off the ground when being given this cue.

Instead of giving this cue, cue them by “having balance through the feet.” Think about the foot as a tripod, where the three contact points are the heel, the big toe, and the little toe. For proper squatting and maximal lifting, the lifter must have proper balance though the whole foot.

4. “Rip the bar from the floor”– This is a cue given to people during both the deadlift and clean. It is a cue give to encourage power from the floor, but majority of time it’s not needed, and sets the lifter up for a bad lift. When people go too fast from the floor in these lifts, the hips tend to lift to quickly causing the lumbar to round, transferring the force from the hamstrings and glutes to the lower back. When the lower back is injured in a deadlift it will often come from the lifter going too fast.

To avoid this, cue the lifter to “stay patient” with the hips, and drive their feet through the floor. The heavier the weight being lifted gets, the more impossible it becomes to “rip the bar.” Increasing weight and using this cue can be a recipe for a lower back injury.

5. “Throw Your Hips”– I don’t hear this one as often, but every now and then I will hear someone describe a hip thrust or glute bridge as throwing the hips to the ceiling. This cue for me sounds too out of control. Although you want the hip extension during these two movements to be powerful, it’s also important for the movement to be controlled, with the ribs down, and the pelvis sitting in a posterior tilt.

Cue this by first cueing the lifter to keep the chin tucked. This cue alone will force people to keep the ribs down and the pelvis in a posterior tilt. Cueing the lifter to “squeeze the butt”, is simple yet effective. With the chin tucked and glutes maximally squeezed, it becomes very hard for the lifter to get out of control, thus go into lumbar extension.

Happy Training,

Brett Cummins