Communication is an Art: 3 Effective Cueing Techniques to Improve your Classes

November 23, 2020
Author: Suzy Levi, NCPT, PMA Board of Directors

Communication is defined as, “the act of transferring information from one place, person or group to another. Every communication involves (at least) one sender, a message and a recipient.” In theory, the definition is very straight forward and it sounds easy to be successful at communication. How we communicate impacts every aspect of our lives, both personally and professionally.

It can be difficult to communicate clearly, and it takes work to become an authentic and effective communicator. This fact is true in our roles as Pilates teachers. Our communication skills and methods have a direct impact on our students’ learning experiences. It requires diligence and dedication, just like an artist painting many revisions on their canvas. We use cueing as the art of getting a client to move efficiently through an exercise. We continue practicing our techniques to improve the delivery and the end result, so our students get the most out of the instruction.

With the onset of COVID-19, many of us have transitioned to teaching virtually. For me, teaching through the computer screen has been, and continues to be, a big adjustment. It is challenging to deliver the same message and training without using my two favorite ways of training: tactile cueing, and standing with my students, reading their bodies to deliver the appropriate words and gestures. In order to reach my full virtual-potential, I decided I needed to go back the basics. I tapped into memory to recall other great ways of communicating that I learned as a new Pilates teacher and dove back into the basics of “cues.” My main objective is to provide clear communication using verbal and nonverbal ways to ensure the safety of my students and deliver a positive experience.

Below are three cueing techniques I rediscovered that have helped me to effectively communicate with my students to improve the flow of their movement and enhance their understanding of the exercises even if they are in their living room and there is a computer screen that separates us!

Use Directional Cues
Provide specific references to action and position with your cues. I find this to be especially helpful when teaching virtually. Whether on-screen or in-studio, using directional cues with your students helps keep the focus on the exercise and the precision of the movement. Here are some examples:
  • Stretch your leg up to the ceiling vs. Extend your leg
  • Reach toward your toes vs. Reach your arms
  • Lower your leg toward the floor vs. Drop your leg
  • Turn towards the computer screen or (in-studio) turn towards the mirror vs. turn right or left

Descriptive Cues Improve Movement Quality
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” This is true, and applicable, when using descriptive cueing in teaching Pilates. Using words or images that create a picture in your student’s mind, not only helps them understand how to execute the exercise, but also enhances their quality of each movement. It also makes our job much easier - virtually and in-studio. Here are some of my favorite imagery cues and descriptive words I use in when working with my students:

Imagery Cues:
  • Supine pelvic clocking. When rolling pelvis from neutral to imprint and arch, use the marble analogy: “Roll the imaginary marble to your navel (imprint), then your pubic bone (arch) then to center of your pelvis (neutral).”

  • Rolling the spine back down onto the mat. When doing exercises such as Hip Bridge, and Roll Down: “Melt your spine down into the mat like chocolate melting in the sun.”

  • Side lying or kneeling exercises. To keep body in a straight line and the ribs in: “Imagine you are between two panes of glass and if you rock forward or backward, it will shatter.”

  • Exercises that involve planking. To encourage students to reach their spine and body long: “Reach long from head to heel like a steel beam.”

  • Twisting exercises. To emphasize drawing ribs to centerline with twisting exercises, such as Saw, Spine Twist, Short Box Twist, and Criss Cross: “Wring out every last drop from your lungs and squeeze your ribs in, as if you were wringing out a wet rag.”

Descriptive Words to Use:
  • Lengthen
  • Activate
  • Reach
  • Float
  • Scoop
  • Stretch
  • Connect
  • Lift
  • Soften
  • Pull
  • Push

Move Beyond Mere Words
If used strategically, non-verbal communication is incredibly powerful and can be very impactful. There are several ways to get your message across without using words. Three modalities I have found successful are: voice volume and dynamics, facial expressions and movement demonstration.

  • Voice volume and dynamics can affect how your message is delivered by adding rhythm and flow to cues. It’s not always “what you say, but how you say it.” Your tone of voice and volume can add inflection in order to change intensity and enhance movement. Try reviewing audio of your teaching so you can analyze your voice and make changes to improve your delivery and your students’ experience. These strategies are especially effective when teaching virtually, since they can’t feel your energy through the computer screen.

  • Facial expressions are a powerful communication tool that can motivate and encourage your students. Your eyes and your smile can speak volumes and are a great way to acknowledge progress to your students. This works very well in studio, and I have also had success with it virtually as the screen of the teacher is usually what they are looking at as opposed to the whole class, so their eyes are focused on YOU as the teacher!

  • Demonstrating an exercise is always a good way to help understanding of execution. Moving with strength and precision is important to provide clear understanding of proper technique and flow. I tend to practice this mode more often in my virtual classes, as it is easier for students to follow along. It can also be helpful in-studio as there are always a few visual learners. There is one flaw I see with this method – it can sometimes prevent us from seeing and watching how our students move. I like to use demonstration sparingly, however, I am glad I have it in my toolbox!

Implementing these re-discovered cueing techniques has improved my communication with my students. The artistry of the communication and flow has enhanced my teaching and renewed my enjoyment as a teacher of the Pilates method resulting in a win-win for both me and my students.

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