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Kettlebell Cueing

January 24, 2011 02:19 PM

Cueing is language art. It colors a descriptive picture for the listener to see and feel through words. Cueing is logical sequencing: a skill that will develop over time.

Your first cueing priority is to tell the client what to do.   Demonstrate and explain the exercise. “Use your hip drive to power your swing.” The person has to understand what he/she is doing first.

Keep initial cues simple. Do not overwhelm the client. The key is to use verbs that give simple instructions to help a person perform a task.   Verbs are active. Verbs equal action. “Sniff, hike, snap.“

Once the client knows what the movement is and begins practicing the skill, you can cue points of refinements. You can tweak it. “Relax your jaw as you swing.” You interject points of refinement to help the person make corrections, modify or improve a movement. “Make sure you connect with the lats.” “Lengthen out the bottom of your spine to the top of the head.”

When possible, start cueing in the position of stability. Remember stability fuels mobility. “Stay long (which is stability cue for abdominal bracing) as you sniff, hike, snap.”

Another cueing strategy is to tell the client what initiates the movement.

Inhale: spine lengthens

Exhale: hips drive the kettle

You can also use space as a point of reference. “Reach your bottom back to keep your long spine set-up.” “Look toward the wall in front of you.”   “Press toward the ceiling.”   “Stomp your feet into the ground.”

Another strategy is using bony landmarks as a point of reference. “Keep the arm in the shoulder socket as you swing.” “Thrust your sits bones between your legs as you brace and stand up.”

Kettlebell training is a layered, integrated, dynamic, progressive, effective and active approach to total body fitness.   Your cues direct your client to where in this pyramid he/she needs to focus. In addition, your cues can remind students to float their attention.

As a coach you also must anticipate the expected movement. Give your cue just before the client needs to do the action. Otherwise you can confuse the client’s timing.

Guided sequencing is another valid way to cue. “Press into the floor to drive your hips under the bell as you snatch and lock out your elbow.”

But avoid being too descriptive.   Guidance should only be implemented during the cognitive stage of learning, to acquaint the performer with the characteristics of the task to be learned. Overuse of guidance can actually be detrimental to learning.

Verbal questioning is one of the most effective tools to enhance motor learning through awareness. It can be seen as “guided discovery” or a method of “verbal problem solving.” Verbal questioning stimulates the use of perceptual skills, curiosity and cognitive processing. Purely showing someone how to do a movement, getting clients to observe a demonstration or telling them how to move better is not always the most effective intervention. The verbal questioning tool may help an individual understand how to “initiate a movement”, “perform a movement,” or“ improve the quality of a movement.” “Are your lats engaged?” “Is your weight in your heels?” Some individuals learn better if they work out what it is they have to do. They may discover new sensations in the flesh and new feelings in the mind. It is this internal sense of effort that will initiate changes and guide them,

Finally, remember people will zone out if you keep repeating the same thing. Fluctuate the tone of your voice, vary your cues, use different language, change your pace, your emphasis. Use your voice to excite your client’s curiosity. And make sure the client understands your cue. “Lengthen through the spine,” may not work for everyone. You might have to switch to “Stand tall.” Changing your cues to fit the person’s history. Drill sergeant language might not work for a dancer.

Cueing can also be in the form of touch. Proper touch is the most direct way to influence one’s perception. Touch should not be taken for granted. It may provide reassurance, feedback or resistance. 

But do not use tactile cueing to manually fix clients. Give clients tactile cues to assist them find new movement patterns. Educate clients so they can find the correct position themselves. Your goal is to inspire and teach your clients. You are not taking care of them. You want them to be self-sufficient.

Make your clients feel successful by giving them tasks they can achieve.   You may have to break down the exercise in bite-size pieces. No matter how small you chunk the exercise, it is better clients feel successful and that they are making progress. It is easy to forget how challenging (motor learning) these kettlebell exercises are/were. There is a lot of sensory input for facilitation of learning and processing a new reality. There is a lot going on between setting up connections and the physiology. For some people it is more mental then physical at first and once they get it, of course, the work is very physical. Remember everyone goes through the cognitive and the associative stages of learning before a movement is automatic.

Verbal instructions are frequently over used, and do nothing but confuse/distract the individual. It is important that cues are brief, clear, given only when necessary.

“Be impeccable with your words, say only what you mean,” Carlos Castanada.

“Work on the simple side of complexity, rather than the complex side of simplicity,” author unknown.

To sum this up, verbal instructions and explanations provide useful information about a specific movement/task to be learned. Cueing helps your clients feel their ‘RKC core “is the power generator and the arms and legs are the force transmitters.

Remember, exquisite cues are used to make learners aware of certain components of the task before they begin. Cues should provide information on how to recognize one’s errors and correct them. Yes, specificity, simplicity, frequency and timing of communication make you an artist…a cueing sensei!


A.C. Sundberg, RKCII has worked with sports teams and professional athletes, rehabilitation clients, seniors and orthopedic patients in the US, middle east and Europe. She can be reached at 480-991-8811; or