Home Blog Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 6

Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 6

Written on April 23, 2013 at 7:15 am, by Eric Cressey

It’s been a while since I published a new installment in my “Coaching Cues” series, so here are three new ones you can put into action.

1. “Imagine I have a rope around your waist and pull it back.”

It goes without saying that teaching a proper hip hinge is essential to get the correct posterior weight shift we need for good deadlifting and squatting patterns.  Unfortunately, it can sometimes be much easier said than done, as lifters with poor kinesthetic awareness and body control might not even know what it feels like.  Take, for instance, this example from my 15 Static Stretching Mistakes article; he has so much congenital laxity (loose joints) that he can perform an “extreme” toe touch without any posterior weight shift.

Just because he can do it doesn’t mean that he should do it, though. Just saying “sit back” or “hips back” doesn’t always correct this, though. I’ve spoken about the “touch your butt to an imaginary wall behind you” external focus cue here, but I also like the idea of telling folks to pretend like I’m tugging them backward with a rope, as this fits the correction into a scenario with which they’re familiar.

2. “Ribs down, scaps up.”

We work with a lot of athletes who have a heavily extended posture, and their overhead movements often look like this:

Essentially, they will substitute lumbar extension (arched lower back) in place of keeping a stable core so that the scapula (and, in turn, humerus) can move appropriately with respect to the rib cage.  Most of these athletes lack scapular upward rotation, so we need to help them to get the scapula moving a bit while keeping the ribs down.  Here’s a great exercise for which this cue would be appropriate:

In other words, you can use this cue with your core stability exercises and shoulder mobility drills in this population. Keep in mind, though, that this cue probably won’t be appropriate for folks who sit at desks all day and are really kyphotic.

3. “Push yourself away from the bar.”

One of the biggest bench press technique problems you’ll see is that folks lose their “tightness” at the top of the rep by protracting the shoulder blades too much.  This sets you up for problems – both in terms of shoulder health and strength – on sets with more than one rep. 

With that in mind, one of the easiest ways to coach folks out of this bench press technique problem is to think about pushing themselves away from the bar, as opposed to pushing the bar away from them. It gets them into the “ground yourself” frame of mind and ensures that the upper back is a stable platform from which to press. It’s not uncommon at all to see larger than normal dropoffs from 1-rep max loads to what you see on multiple-rep sets, and I firmly believe it’s because a lot of lifters lose their tightness on the subsequent reps.  So, if you find that you can bench 315 for one rep, but only 265 for three reps, this cue could very well be a solution for you.

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11 Responses to “Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 6”

  1. Mark P Says:

    Nice post, Eric.

    The video of the guy substituting lumbar-extension for scapular-mobility.. is this phenomena common, or is it more of an extreme case?

    When I raise my arms overhead, I’m able to keep my ribs down, but lack that mobility to completely “lock-out” on top. I seem to have a good control over whether I use lumbar-extension to reach that end-range or not.

    Again, good post.

  2. Jake Johnson Says:

    The rope around the waist cue is a great one, and I’ve found that it corrects people’s hip hinge fairly quickly.

    Great post, Eric.

    Jake Johnson

  3. Shane Says:

    I find the hip hinge the most single hardest thing to teach a new exerciser. I love this cue. I will try it. Great stuff as always.

  4. Eric Cressey Says:


    Incredibly common. It’s why a lot of people really aren’t well prepared to safely get overhead.

  5. Dre Says:

    Hey nice article. As far as the 2nd video goes “should flexion substitution..” The man clearly has a left rib flare. What do you have your clients do to fix such a problem? Or could you point me in the right directon. Thanks

  6. zach even - esh Says:

    As always, GREAT stuff, EC

    As the years pass on, I see more and more issues w/scapula tightness.

    Love all U do, brotha!!!


  7. Derek M. Says:

    Hey Eric,

    How do you deal with someone who has chronically overloaded muscles. I slipped a disc in my neck back in the end of February, and I started rehabbing it with a bunch of neck stabilization exercises. I was doing the exercises everyday for a period of two weeks. I overdid it and was diagnosed with chronically overloaded muscles in the anterior portion of my neck (strap muscles). Its been a month, but I still continue to experience fatigue from the slightest of exercises. I cannot fully activate them for more then 2 seconds without spasming and extreme fatigue. I also have poor motor control in these muscles as well. My doctor said avoid all aggravating exercises and build its tolerance capacity back up. What do you suggest and have you had any athletes experience this?

  8. Chuck Says:

    These are great cues-especially the first! Thanks Eric

  9. Eric Cressey Says:


    Check out posturalrestoration.com; lots of good stuff there. The biggest thing is constant awareness of posture; no amount of exercise is going to fix something that is constantly re-engrained with poor posture (feeding into the rib flare). That said, this is extremely common in throwers.

  10. Brent Says:

    Great cues, though for general pop. clients, some of them are a little confusing (‘ribs down, scap up’). IF someone has noticeable rib flair, or I can see them with major league lumber hyperextension I just stay out of direct overhead work. I have tried but so far failed at getting the ‘ribs down’ cue to work for these clients.

  11. Scott Gunter Says:


    In #2 you said, “Keep in mind, though, that this cue probably won’t be appropriate for folks who sit at desks all day and are really kyphotic”

    Just trying to clarify, is this saying because kyphotic individuals already have their ribs down and most likely abducted scapulae, so cueing ribs down would be contraindicated?

    Also, you were right on pointe with “no amount of exercise is going to fix something that is constantly re-engrained with poor posture.” Goes along with that great quote you’ve got on your walls: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” by Aristotle. Good stuff, and great words to live by.


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